The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact that was introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in July 2006. The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI), which are seen as not taking sustainability into account. In particular, GDP is seen as inappropriate, as the usual ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy. Furthermore, it is believed that the notion of sustainable development requires a measure of the environmental costs of pursuing those goals.
The HPI is based on general utilitarian principles — that most people want to live long and fulfilling lives, and the country which is doing the best is the one that allows its citizens to do so, whilst avoiding infringing on the opportunity of future people and people in other countries to do the same. In effect it operationalises the IUCN's (World Conservation Union) call for a metric capable of measuring 'the production of human well-being (not necessarily material goods) per unit of extraction of or imposition upon nature'. Human well-being is operationalised as Happy Life Years. Extraction of or imposition upon nature is proxied for using the ecological footprint per capita, which attempts to estimate the amount of natural resources required to sustain a given country's lifestyle. A country with a large per capita ecological footprint uses more than its fair share of resources, both by drawing resources from other countries, and also by causing permanent damage to the planet which will impact future generations.
As such, the HPI is not a measure of which are the happiest countries in the world. Countries with relatively high levels of life satisfaction, as measured in surveys, are found from the very top (Colombia in 6th place) to the very bottom (the USA in 114th place) of the rank order. The HPI is best conceived as a measure of the environmental efficiency of supporting well-being in a given country. Such efficiency could emerge in a country with a medium environmental impact (e.g. Costa Rica) and very high well-being, but it could also emerge in a country with only mediocre well-being, but very low environmental impact (e.g. Vietnam).
Each country’s HPI value is a function of its average subjective life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth, and ecological footprint per capita. The exact function is a little more complex, but conceptually it approximates multiplying life satisfaction and life expectancy, and dividing that by the ecological footprint. Most of the life satisfaction data is taken from the World Values Survey and World Database of Happiness, but some is drawn from other surveys, and some is estimated using statistical regression techniques.
178 countries were surveyed in 2006, compared to 143 in 2009. The best scoring country in 2009 was Costa Rica, followed by the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Guatemala, with Tanzania, Botswana and Zimbabwe featuring at the bottom of the list.
Much criticism of the index has been due to commentators falsely understanding it to be a measure of happiness, when it is in fact a measure of the ecological efficiency of supporting well-being (see, for example, the following blogs in Heavy Lifting and Spiked).
Aside from that, criticism has focused on the following:
- That the HPI completely ignores issues like political freedom, human rights and labor rights.
- That the World Values Survey covers only a minority of the world's nations and is only done every five years. As a result, much of the data for the index must come from other sources, or is estimated using regressions.
- General suspicion of subjective measures of well-being.
- That the Ecological Footprint is a controversial concept with many criticisms.
Nevertheless, the HPI and its subcomponents have been considered in political circles. The Ecological Footprint, championed by the WWF, is widely used by both local and national governments, as well as supranational organisations such as the European Commission. The HPI itself was recently cited in the British Conservative Party as a possible substitute for GDP,. A recent review of progress indicators produced by the European Parliament, lists the following pros and cons to using the HPI as a measure of national progress:
- Considers the actual ‘ends’ of economic activity in the form of life satisfaction and longevity
- Combines wellbeing and environmental aspects
- Simple and easily understandable scheme for calculating the index
- Comparability of results (‘EF’ and ‘life expectancy’ can be applied to different countries)
- Data online available, although some data gaps remain
- Mixture of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ criteria; takes into account people’s well-being and resource use of countries
- ‘Happiness’ or ‘life satisfaction’ are very subjective and personal: cultural influences and complex impact of policies on happiness
- Confusion of name: index is not a measure of happiness but rather measure of environmental efficiency of supporting well-being in a given country
See also Edit
- Global Peace Index
- Gross national happiness
- Satisfaction with Life Index
- Genuine Progress Indicator
- Legatum Prosperity Index
- ↑ Template:Cite book
- ↑ Template:Cite book
- ↑ Adams WM (2006). The future of sustainability: Re-thinking environment and development in the twenty-first century. Report of the IUCN Renowned Thinkers Meeting. Also, Paehlke R (2005). Sustainability as a bridging concept. Conservation Biology 19:36-8.
- ↑ Veenhoven R (1996). Happy life expectancy: a comprehensive measure of quality-of-life in nations. Social Indicators Research 39:1-58.
- ↑ Ecological Footprint - Ecological Sustainability. Global Footprint Network.
- ↑ Marks, N., Abdallah, S., Simms, A., Thompson, S. et al. (2006). The Happy Planet Index 1.0. New Economics Foundation.
- ↑ Abdallah, S., Thompson, S., Michaelson, J., Marks, N., Steuer, N. et al. (2009). The Happy Planet Index 2.0. New Economics Foundation.
- ↑ Heavy Lifting - thoughts and web finds by an economist. Heavy Lifting. July 12, 2006
- ↑ Who’s happiest: Denmark or Vanuatu?. Spiked. August 7, 2006
- ↑ Steffan, Alex. Happy Planet Index. World Changing. July 12, 2006
- ↑ Johns H & Ormerod P (2007). Happiness, Economics and Public Policy. London: The Institute of Economic Affairs
- ↑ The Economist. September 19, 2002. "Treading Lightly".
- ↑ Cameron to offer green tax cuts. The Sunday Times. September 9, 2007.
- ↑ Goossens Y, et al. (2007). Alternative progress indicators to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a means towards sustainable development. IP/A/ENVI/ST/2007-10. Study provided for the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. 
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