Happy Planet Index Shows Good Life Needn’t Cost the Earth

05/30/2010 12:48 AM

Costa Rica tops the list of countries able to provide long and happy lives for its citizens on a low Ecological Footprint, according to the Happy Planet Index, released this month by nef (the new economics foundation), a Global Footprint Network partner. Created as an alternative yardstick to economic-growth based measures of social progress, the Happy Planet Index (HPI) is designed to measure the ecological efficiency with which countries provide a high quality of life for their citizens.

HPI rankings were achieved by multiplying years of life expectancy by life satisfaction, as measured by two worldwide polls, Gallup and the World Values Survey, to obtain “Happy Life Years.” This number was then divided by pressure on ecosystems, as measured by the Ecological Footprint.

Those countries with the best HPI scores tended to be those that were neither at the top or the bottom of the scale in terms of income per-capita, yet reported high to average levels of life satisfaction. High-income countries earned high points for longevity and life satisfaction, but also had large Ecological Footprints.

However, some high-income countries scored lower on both life satisfaction and longevity than other countries with significantly lower per capita Footprints. Such results, says nef, support its contention that good lives can be achieved without “costing the earth.”Costa Rica, for example, scored higher than the U.S. on both longevity (78.5 years as compared to 77.9) and life satisfaction (8.5 as compared to 7.9 ), yet has an average Footprint one-quarter that of the average American. With a per capita Footprint of 2.3 global hectares per person, Costa Rica narrowly exceeds the 2.1 global hectares that is available per person on the planet  

The bottom ten HPI scores were all sub-Saharan African countries, regions with extreme poverty, short life expectancy and low levels of life satisfaction.

The countries at the top of the list are not places without their share of misery, the report notes, pointing out that many face challenges including inequality, political violence and slums. Yet two factors stand out in these places: the presence of relatively non-materialistic aspirations and values compared to countries with similar economic conditions (for example desire to develop a good philosophy of life over the desire to make a lot of money), and strong social capital in the form of family and community ties.

 

Learn More:

Read the report.

Learn about the Happy Planet Index

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