Posted by: Mike Grenville | 21 July 2009

The (un)Happy Planet Index 2.0

Un-happy planet cover
Believing that good lives don’t have to cost the Earth, The new economics foundation (nef) has updated its Happy Planet Index 2.0. It is a global ranking of the ecological efficiency with which the world’s nations deliver long and happy lives for the people who live there.

Rather than measure Gross Domestic Product or GDP, the Happy Planet Index or HPI measures life expectancy, happiness and the environmental impact of different nations. Unsurprisingly the top ten countries are not the richest nations but middle income countries in Latin America, Asia or the Carribbean where there is a high level of life satisfaction and low carbon footprint.

According to the report the greenest and happiest country on the planet is Costa Rica. They top the list because they report the highest life satisfaction in the world, they live slightly longer than Americans, yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size.

The UK comes in at 74 out of 143 countries behind post-Soviet Georgia at 72. Rather strangely the military dictatorship Burma is at 39 and in spite of its civil war Sri Lanka is at 22. Apparently the low ranking of the UK was largely due to social problems or what has been labelled “broken Britain” and the high carbon footprint of most of the population. If everyone in the world wanted to live as people do in the UK, it would require the resources of more than three earths.

The new Index is based on improved data for 143 countries around the world, representing 99 per cent of the world’s population. By stripping the economy back to its ultimate outputs (lives of varying length and happiness) and fundamental inputs (the Earth’s finite resources) the HPI claims to be the definitive efficiency measure.

“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” said said Nic Marks, founder of the centre for well-being at NEF. “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.” Marks advocates using 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.

NEF researcher and the report’s lead author Saamah Abdallah said that “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.”

The full report and data are available for free download here:

It is also possible to take a personal test to see where you are on the Index:


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