Thursday, July 13, 2006

Don't Worry, Be Happy!
Wealthy Does Not Equate Contentment

New Economics Foundation is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. They aim to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues. NEF was founded in 1986 by the leaders of The Other Economic Summit (TOES) which forced issues such as international debt onto the agenda of the G7 and G8 summits. NEF is unique in combining rigorous analysis and policy debate with practical solutions on the ground, often run and designed with the help of local people. NEF also create new ways of measuring progress towards increased well-being and environmental sustainability.

A new global measure of progress, the Happy Planet Index, reveals for the first time that happiness doesn’t have to cost the Earth. It shows that people can live long, happy lives without using more than their fair share of the Earth’s resources. The new international ranking of the environmental impact and well-being reveals a very different picture of the wealth, and poverty, of nations. The Happy Planet Index, an innovative new index from NEF launched on Wednesday 12 July 2006, is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which countries provide long and happy lives. The results are surprising, even shocking. The ranking unmasks a very different world order to that promoted by self-appointed global leaders, the G8.

Top HPI In The World
1) Vanuatu - 68.2
2) Colombia - 67.2
3) Costa Rica - 66.0
6) Cuba - 61.9
9) El Salvador - 61.7
12) Vietnam - 61.2
15) Sri Lanka - 60.3
17) Philippines - 59.2
21) Tunisia - 58.9
23) Indonesia - 57.9
31) China - 56.0
32) Thailand - 55.4
37) Morocco - 54.4
38) Mexico - 54.4
41) Bangladesh - 53.2
44) Malaysia - 52.7
47) Argentina - 52.2
54) Nepal - 50.0
61) Austria - 48.8
62) India - 48.7
63) Brazil - 48.6
66) Italy - 48.3
67) Iran - 47.2
70) Netherlands - 46.0
81) Germany - 43.8
84) Taiwan - 43.3
88) Hong Kong - 42.9
94) New Zealand - 41.9
95) Japan - 41.7
102) Korea - 41.1
108) UK - 40.3
111) Canada - 39.8
117) Israel - 39.1
129) France - 36.4
131) Singapore - 36.1
139) Australia - 34.1
150) USA - 28.8
156) South Africa - 27.8
176) Burundi - 19.0
177) Swaziland - 18.4
178) Zimbabwe - 16.6

NEF’s report, published in association with Friends of the Earth, moves beyond crude ratings of nations according to national income, measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to produce a more accurate picture of the progress of nations based on the amount of the Earth’s resources they use, and the length and happiness of people’s lives. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) strips the view of the economy back to its absolute basics: what we put in (resources), and what comes out (human lives of different length and happiness). The resulting Index of the 178 nations for which data is available, reveals that the world as a whole has a long way to go. In terms of delivering long and meaningful lives within the Earth’s environmental limits - all nations could do better. No country achieves an overall ‘high’ score on the Index, and no country does well on all three indicators.

The HPI shows that around the world, high levels of resource consumption do not reliably produce high levels of well-being (life-satisfaction), and that it is possible to produce high levels of well-being without excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources. Key findings of the Index are:

1) Self appointed world ‘leaders’ – the G8 - score generally badly in the Index: The UK comes a disappointing 108th – with the remainder of the G8 faring little, if at all, better. Italy is 66th, Germany 81st, Japan 95th, Canada 111th, France 129th, United States 150th and Russia 172nd.

2) Central America is the region with the highest average score in the Index: The region combines relatively good life expectancy (an average of 70 years) and high life satisfaction with an ecological footprint below its globally equitable share. Central America has had a notorious history of conflict and political instability, but the last 15 years have been relatively peaceful, which perhaps, with traditionally high levels of community engagement, explain its success.

3) Life satisfaction varies wildly country by country: Questioned on how satisfied they were with their life as a whole, on a scale of 1-10 (1 being ‘dissatisfied, 10 ‘satisfied’), 29.4 per cent of Zimbabweans rate themselves at 1 and only 5.7 per cent rate themselves at 10. By contrast, 28.4 per cent of Danes rate their satisfaction with life 10/10, with less than one percent rating 1. Life expectancy also varies wildly: Babies born in Japan can expect to live to 82, but only to 32 and a half if born in Swaziland.

Overall, we are over-burdening the Earth’s currently available biocapacity: By consuming 22 per cent above our ecosystems’ ability to regenerate we are eating into and degrading the natural resources that our life-support systems depend on. In the process we are depleting the environmental goods and services that future generations will depend on, with potentially devastating consequences. We are used to comparing countries in terms of crude riches or what they trade. There are international league tables for performance on issues from corruption to sporting success. But, NEF's Happy Planet Index measures something much more fundamental. It addresses the relative success or failure of countries in giving their citizens a good life, whilst respecting the environmental resource limits on which all our lives depend. The order of nations that emerges may seem counter-intuitive. But this is because, to a large degree, policy makers have been led astray by abstract mathematical models of the economy that bear little relation to the real world.

Some of the most unexpected findings concern the marked differences between nations, and the similarities among some groups of nations:

As the HPI clearly demonstrates happiness doesn’t have to cost the Earth. It also reveals that there are different routes to achieving comparable levels of well-being. The model followed by the West can provide widespread longevity and variable life satisfaction, but it does so only at a vast and ultimately counter-productive cost in terms of resource consumption.

Friends of the Earth proposes a Global Manifesto for a happier planet, outlining how we might begin to both live within our environmental limits and increase well-being. Necessary first steps include:
a) Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

b) Improve healthcare.
c) Relieve debt.
d) Shifting values from those which emphasise individualism and material consumption to those that promote social interaction and a sense of relatedness.
e) Support meaningful lives. Governments should recognise the contribution of individuals to economic, social, cultural, and civic life and value unpaid activity. Employers should be encouraged to enable their employees to work flexibly, allowing them to develop full lives outside of the workplace and make time to undertake voluntary work. They should also strive to provide challenges and opportunities for personal development at work.
f) Identifying environmental limits and design economic policy to work within them. The ecological footprint gives us a measure of the Earth’s biocapacity that, if over-stretched, leads to long-term environmental degradation. Globally we need to live within our environmental means. One-planet living should become an official target of government policy with a pathway and timetable to achieve it.


The report highlighted a remarkable comparison between Malaysians and Singaporeans. It said, "Consider two countries that share many cultural similarities: Singapore and Malaysia. HLY (Happy Life Years) in both countries is comparable at just over 54 - Singaporeans live a few years longer on average, and report lower life satisfaction, but these are fairly small differences. Malaysia's HPI is 52.7, whereas Singapore's is just 36.1. The reason, of course, is that Singapore's Footprint (the ecological footprint, the regenerative capacity of the biosphere in relation to sustaining human economic activity) is more than double that of Malaysia. It seems that Malaysia is considerably more efficient at converting fundamental inputs into ultimate ends. Increasing economic growth would almost inevitably increase Malaysia's Footprint. However, the experience of Singapore suggests that overall differences in terms of well-being would be negligible. The difference in terms of environmental cost, on the other hand, would be dramatic. From a policy perspective, then, should Malaysians be encouraged to become more like Singaporeans, Singaporeans more like Malaysians? The answer given by the classic conception of growth is essentially the former - but the answer suggested by the HPI is unequivocally the latter".

for a complete research report, methodology and variables employed by NEF, please visit:
www.neweconomics.org

2 comments:

the ultrabeast said...

Hmm, this really is something different from what we read and what we (or at least, I) think everyday.

It's really some food for thought.

Umminajah said...

I like what I'm reading. Quite a eye-opener. Thanks so much.
I've always believed that we shouldn't be in a hurry to destroy our natural resources out of greed and solely for economic returns. Instead we should take from nature what is sufficient for our needs.
Cutting down trees and shaving the greens off mountainsides are manifestations of human greed which benefit mostly the already rich developers.
There's actually a lot to learn from the tradition of orang asli or the simple kampung folks in Malaysia or the Indians of America and other natives of the world who look upon nature as their brothers.

Seeking your permission to quote what's been written.