Vanuatu Tops “Happy Planet Index”
Travel Blog • Michael Yessis • 07.14.06 | 11:42 AM ET
And the nations with the world’s largest economies finished down the 178-nation list. Way down. Germany ranked 81st, Japan 95th and the United States 150th. The New Economics Foundation, which bills itself as a “think-and-do tank,” says its inaugural Happy Planet Index “moves beyond crude ratings of nations according to national income, measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).” The new index, they say, produces “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.” A BBC News story quotes Richard Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, as saying that the index “was an interesting way to tackle the issue of modern life’s environmental impact.” Layard continues: “Over the last 50 years, living standards in the West have improved enormously but we have become no happier.” So which countries besides the island nation of Vanuatu are happiest? Colombia and Costa Rica round out the top three. Burundi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe finished at the bottom.
The NEF issued a brief release highlighting the results. Among the more interesting findings:
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.
Countries classified by the United Nations as ‘medium human development’ come out better than both low and high-development countries: Only one ‘low-development’ country has a strong HPI score, whilst 21 per cent of countries classified as ‘highly-developed’ do. However, 44 per cent of countries with ‘medium-development’ score well. This is because, beyond a certain level, vastly increasing consumption fails to lead to greater well-being.
Well-being is not based on high levels of consumption: For example, Estonia—with high consumption—rates poorly on well-being. And, in the Dominican Republic where well-being is high, consumption is not above a globally equitable share.
For more details, see the NEF’s full 59-page report.