Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary
Culture/Gross Domestic Product


This page was designed with CSS, and looks best in a CSS-aware browser—which, unfortunately, yours is not. However, the document should still be readable, though not presented in the most sophisticated manner.

A while back, an economist claimed that there is no limit to the number of people the earth can support, showing that at least one economist was lousy at math. There are other economic ideas out there that are less than brilliant. Take the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, a record of the goods produced during some time period, such as a year. It's widely used as a measure of economic well being. Oh, the GDP is up? Obviously we're in great economic times; or, conversely, the GDP is down and recession is upon us.

There's a problem here: the gross domestic product is all about credits and ignores debits. Clear-cut an acre of forest for lumber, and the value of the lumber adds to the GDP; the fact that there now is an acre less of valuable forest is ignored, as is the loss of forest services such as slowing erosion and cleansing water. Locally, the late 19th century saw great cattle production. Did anyone calculate the losses caused by the overgrazing? Yeh, real likely!
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.