Happy Planet Index: ecology, economy and well-being

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somriures GhanaI’ve just found out about the Happy Planet Índex (HPI) by the New Economics Foundation, and the question is why should the HPI be a better alternative to GDP as a guidance index to human development? Very simply, because it takes into account factors that can no longer be ignored when, such as:

  • Life expectancy
  • Life satisfaction
  • Ecological footprint

The index tries to capture what resources are spent and how they translate into life expectancy and life satisfaction.  While the overall results in most countries are far from brilliant, the index successes in capturing the ecological efficiency of countries development. For instance it points out that while poorer countries tend to have smallest per capita footprints and richer countries big per capita footprints, “however, some richer countries do have smaller (if not small) Footprints. South Korea has a footprint of 3.7 gha. The Netherlands achieve the same level of happy life years as the USA, but with a footprint less than half the size (4.4 gha). Furthermore, some countries do achieve high levels of, for example, health, with very low footprints. For example, life expectancy in the Philippines is 71 years, only seven years less than that in the USA or Denmark – and yet the country’s per capita footprint is only 0.9 gha. ” (pg 24, The Happy Planet Index 2.0).

Astonishingly – specially if compared to GDP – the 3 higher scoring countries in HPI are Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

The HPI is not perfect and authors know it. It does not take into account toxic air pollutants, consumption of non renewable resources, or soil degradation.  Calculating people’s happiness in a way that can be compared worldwide is not a straightforward task.

Nonetheless, the HPI is a sensible step for moving from the “economic growth” paradigm to another one that measures what should really matter to ourselves and our leaders: quality of life and a sustainable planet for future generations.

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