Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index reveals the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered. The index combines environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which, country by country, people live long and happy lives.

The HPI is an innovative measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world. It is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives. The second compilation of the global HPI, published in July 2009, shows that we are still far from achieving sustainable well-being and puts forward a vision of what we need to do to get there.

The Index doesn’t reveal the ‘happiest’ country in the world. It shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens. The nations that top the Index aren’t the happiest places in the world, but the nations that score well show that achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources is possible.

The HPI shows that around the world, high levels of resource consumption do not reliably produce high levels of well-being, and that it is possible to produce high well-being without excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources. 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.

On a scale of 0 to 100 for the HPI, we have a target for nations to aspire to by 2050 of 89. This is based on attainable levels of life expectancy and well-being and a reasonably-sized ecological footprint.

Based on the results of HPI 2.0, published in July 2009, the highest HPI score is only 76.1, scored by Costa Rica. The lowest, and perhaps less surprising than some other results, is Zimbabwe’s at 16.6. No country achieves an overall high score and no country does well on all three indicators. Costa Rica, for example, has an ecological of life expectancy at 69 years.

The message is that when we measure the efficiency with which countries enable the fundamental inputs of natural resources to be turned into the ultimate ends of long and happy lives, all can do better.

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall – when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more’ (by Thomas Friedman - ‘The inflection is near?’ The New York Times, 8 March 2009).

Download the new report The Happy Planet Index 2.0: Why good lives don’t have to cost the Earth.

What can you get from a global hectare?

A global hectare is the same as 10,000m2. Based on calculations by the US NGO Redefining Progress, 1000m2, one-tenth of a global hectare, can get you one of the following:
  • 288kg of fruit and veg (9% above the US annual average per-head consumption)
  • 20kg of cheese (35% above US annual average)
  • 178 litres of milk (72% above US annual average)
  • 8kg of beef (average US consumption over 15 weeks)
  • 10kg of local only beef
  • 7kg of fish (US annual average)
  • 125 bottles of imported wine (three times US average)
  • 350 330ml bottles of imported beer
  • 990 pints of locally produced beer
  • 18 medium chickens (1.6kg each)
  • 258 baguettes (made from local wheat)
  • 440kWh of electricity (based on mix of energy with 5% renewables; would cost £65, and is what average American uses in six weeks)
  • A 10-mile round-trip city commute by saloon car every working day for two months OR a round trip, by car, from London to Newcastle.
  • A desktop computer with a 20” screen, keyboard and small deskjet printer, but not the energy to run it.
To achieve one planet living under current trade, economic and energy production systems, each individual would need to restrict themselves to a total of 21 such portions of consumption per year. Of course, with more locally produced food and goods, and more renewable energy generation, each individual could consume more.

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