|The New York Times, July 6, 2009
The Happy Planet Index
We’ve written before about alternative measures to gross domestic product. These are generally attempts to take into account how happy, healthy and environmentally friendly a nation is, not just how much it produces in goods and services.
One of these measures is the Happy Planet Index, produced by the New Economics Foundation. The foundation has just released its 2009 rankings.
The name “Happy Planet Index” may be a bit misleading, because it does not actually indicate which countries are happiest, or have the highest well-being. Rather, the measure is about environmental sustainability relative to well-being — that is, how efficiently a country consumes ecological resources to support a given level of happiness.
It is calculated based on “average years of happy life,” as measured by life satisfaction and life expectancy. That number is then divided by the populace’s “ecological footprint,” as measured by “the amount of land required to provide for all their resource requirements plus the amount of vegetated land required to sequester (absorb) all their CO2 emissions and the CO2 emissions embodied in the products they consume.”
Scores range from 0, the worst, to 100. To get a perfect score, a country should have high levels of life satisfaction and life expectancy, as well as a small ecological footprint. But a country could score relatively well if its citizens are, for example, very happy and use a moderate amount of natural resources (e.g., Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic), or if its citizens are just moderately happy but use very few resources (e.g., Vietnam and Egypt).
By these measures, the United States does not do very well.
With relatively high levels of life satisfaction and life expectancy, but a very large ecological footprint, the United States ranks 114th on a list of 143 countries ordered by the Happy Planet Index.
Latin American and Caribbean countries, on the other hand, represent 9 of the top 10 highest-ranking countries in the index:
Find the full report here.
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