nef’s (un)Happy Planet Index 2.0: US 114 of 143

Thanks to Dr. Paul Ray for distributing this through our State of the World Forum discussion list:

www.happyplanetindex.orgPicture 1

As the G8 prepare to meet in Italy this week, the second global ranking of the ecological efficiency with which the world’s nations deliver long and happy lives for the people who live there – the ‘Happy Planet Index’ – reveals a surprising picture of the relative wealth and progress of nations.

  • Latin America tops the Index with Costa Rica the ‘greenest and happiest’ country.  Nine of the ten highest-scoring nations are Latin American
  • The USA, China and India were all ‘greener and happier’ twenty years ago than today
  • The World’s richest plummet from 1960s to late 1970s, with scores still lower today than 1961
  • The UK comes 74th, USA 114th out of 143 nations surveyed.

The report, The Happy Planet Index 2.0: Why good lives don’t have to cost the earth, published today, Saturday 4 July 2009, by nef (the new economics foundation) presents the results of the second global compilation of the Happy Planet Index (HPI). The new Index is based on improved data for 143 countries around the world, representing 99 per cent of the world’s population. The report, with a foreword by the ecological economist, Herman Daly, shows that globally, we are still far from achieving good lives within the Earth’s finite resource limits. And, although there are signs of hope, overall we are still heading in the wrong direction.

The HPI provides the first ever analysis of trends over time for what are supposedly the world’s most developed nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The results are not promising:

  • OECD nations’ HPI scores plummeted between 1960 and the late 1970s. Although there have been some gains since then, HPI scores were still higher in 1961 than in 2005. Life satisfaction and life expectancy combined have increased 15 per cent over the 45-year period, but it has come at an earth-shattering cost – an increase in ecological footprint per head of 72 per cent.
  • Of a group of 36 major nations it was possible to track over time in detail, around two-thirds increased their HPI scores marginally between 1990 and 2005, but the three largest countries in the world China, India and the USA (all aggressively pursuing growth-based development models) have all seen their HPI scores drop in that time.

As the world faces the triple crunch of deep financial crisis, accelerating climate change and the looming peak in oil production we desperately need a new compass to guide us. Following the siren’s song of economic growth has delivered only marginal benefits to the World’s poorest whilst undermining the basis of their livelihoods. What’s more, it hasn’t notably improved the well-being of those who were already rich, or even provided economic stability. Now we must use the Happy Planet Index to break the spell and chart a new course for a high well-being low-carbon economy before our high-consuming lifestyles plunge us into the chaos of irreversible climate change” says Nic Marks, founder of the centre for well-being at nef.

By stripping the economy back to its meaningful outputs (lives of varying length and happiness) and the ultimate inputs (the Earth’s finite resources) the HPI is the definitive efficiency measure. It provides a clear guide to what ultimately matters to us – our well-being in terms of long, happy and meaningful lives – and what matters for the planet – our rate of resource consumption.
But the Index also provides clear signs of hope. Overall, the HPI reveals that the world is heading in the wrong direction, but nations that perform well on the Index provide valuable insights into how we could do things differently:

  • Costa Rica tops the Happy Planet Index 2.0. Costa Ricans report the highest life satisfaction in the world, have the second-highest average life expectancy of the New World (second only to Canada) and have an ecological footprint that means that the country only narrowly fails to achieve the goal of ‘one-planet living’: consuming its fair share of the Earth’s natural resources.
  • Latin America tops the Index. Nine of the top ten nations on the Index are in Latin America. The highest-ranking G20 country in terms of HPI is Brazil, in 9th place out of 143 nations.
  • Island nations perform well. Five of the ten small island nations included in the HPI are in the top 20 per cent of the HPI rankings.
  • Middle-income countries, like those in Latin America and South East Asia tend to be the closest to achieving sustainable well-being. Our current development model performs best at middle-income levels, but even at its optimum, it is unable to deliver good lives that do not cost the Earth.

In fact, the countries that are meant to represent successful development are some of the worst performing in terms of delivering well-being within the Earth’s limits:

  • Rich, developed nations fare poorly. The highest placed Western nation is the Netherlands – managing only 43rd out of 143. The UK still languishes midway down the table – 74th, well behind Germany, Italy and France. It is just pipped by Georgia and Slovakia, but ahead of Japan and Ireland. The USA fares particularly poorly, in 114th place out of 143.

No one country listed in the HPI 2.0 achieves all three goals of high life satisfaction, high life expectancy and one-planet living. But the differences between nations show that it is possible to live long, happy lives with much smaller ecological footprints than the highest-consuming nations. And there may be other positive pay-offs. For many in the West, the struggle to increase incomes has come at the expense of our social capital and mental health. The challenge for the West, the report says, is not to continue increasing our monetary incomes, but to ensure meaningful lives, and strong social ties. Often, achieving these aims means reducing the focus on consumption, and freeing up time for other pursuits.

The HPI shows that good lives that do not cost the Earth really are possible. Comparisons show that long, happy lives can be achieved with far lower levels of resource consumption:

  • People in the Netherlands live on average over a year longer than people in the USA, and have similar levels of life satisfaction – yet their per capita ecological footprint is less than half the size (4.4 global hectares compared with 9.4 global hectares). The Netherlands is over twice as ecologically efficient at achieving good lives as the USA.
  • Costa Ricans also live slightly longer than Americans, and report much higher levels of life satisfaction, and yet have a footprint that is less than a quarter the size.

The economy, communities, lifestyles and aspirations of a happy planet will be very different to those that lock us into our current ecological inefficiency. The Happy Planet Index suggests that the path we have been following is, without exception, unable to deliver all three goals: high life satisfaction, high life expectancy and one-planet living. Instead we need a new development model that delivers good lives that don’t cost the Earth for all. We should look to the Happy Planet Index to guide us in that endeavour” says Saamah Abdallah, nef researcher and the report’s lead author.

The report sets out a ‘Happy Planet Charter’ calling for an unprecedented collective global effort to develop a new narrative of human progress, encourage good lives that don’t cost the Earth, and to reduce consumption in the highest-consuming nations as the biggest barrier to sustainable well-being. The charter calls for:

  • Governments to measure people’s well-being and environmental impact consistently and regularly, and to develop a framework of national accounts that considers the interaction between the two so as to guide us towards sustainable well-being;
  • Developed nations to set an HPI target of 89 by 2050 – this means reducing per capita footprint to one planet living, increasing mean life satisfaction to eight (on a scale of 0 to 10) and continuing to the gradual increase in mean life expectancy to 87 years;
  • Developed nations and the international community to support developing nations in achieving the same target by 2070.

In times of great crisis, come great opportunities. According to the Happy Planet Index, now is the time for societies around the world to speak out for a happier planet, to identify a new vision of progress, and to demand new tools to help us work towards it. The HPI is one of these tools. But if it is to be effective it must also inspire people to act.

Click here for the entire 64 page report.

Visit the Happy Planet Index website to measure your own HPI and to support our Charter for a Happy Planet.

One Comment

  1. What a great if not depressing article. Thanks for posting it.

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