Monday, August 18, 2014

Making Minnesota Milestones More Meaningful

Recently, My Minnesota noted that the Minnesota Milestones 2011 Summary reported one in ten of the environmental indicators showed a positive trend. "On the positive side, lake water clarity in Minnesota appears to be improving overall, with more lakes showing improvement than deterioration." Although lake water clarity improvements are desirable, this improvement needs to be considered in light of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's findings that "Monitoring suggests that about 40 percent of Minnesota's lakes and streams are impaired for conventional pollutants..." We don't know the relationship between the 40 percent impaired and the improved clarity lakes. Clarity could be improving in a lake that failed water quality standards not directly related to clarity, such as mercury or coliform bacteria. A general observation is that government could probably stand to undergo major improvements in the way it collects and presents data. Too often, it seems, there's overwhelming data with little information provided. This returns us to our earlier thinking about ways and means. An economist I've long admired, Herman Daly, developed a triangle that help's show what's involved. I prefer this to some other models because I like the way it portrays human well being and society's intermediate means being dependent on the natural environment.

from the Sustainable Sonoma County web site

For work that she did with the Balaton Group, Dana Meadows elaborated on Daly's Triangle in the report Indicators and Information Systems for Sustainable Development. That version (from page 69 of the report) looks like  the one below (download the PDF from the linked page to see it in a larger size):

Alan AtKisson has taken the Daly/Meadows triangle and turned it into a compass. Auburn University has chosen the Compass model and has a nice explanation of essential sustainability concepts on the linked page of their Office of Sustainability section of their web site. Any of these examples offers an improved way to organize, present and think about Minnesota Milestones. The existing model, which should be built upon since it came from out grassroots, could be augmented to include other relevant, regularly collected metrics (MPCA's impaired waters list comes to mind) and organized to fit a hierarchical framework such as Meadows'. I don't think government needs too many more stories about government programs with insufficient oversight or training. We can't all be like Daniel Langton.


By Daniel J. Langton

I was sent home the first day
with a note: Danny needs a ruler.
My father nodded, nothing seemed so apt.
School is for rules, countries need rulers,
graphs need graphing, the world is straight ahead.

It had metrics one side, inches the other.
You could see where it started
and why it stopped, a foot along,
how it ruled the flighty pen,
which petered out sideways when you dreamt.

I could have learned a lot,
understood latitude, or the border with Canada,
so stern compared to the South
and its unruly river with two names.
But that first day, meandering home, I dropped it.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.