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Too much happy juice

Chris Snowdon is having some fun with the New Economics Foundation over its "Happy Planet Index", which purports to create some sort of a rank of countries - it is, says NEF, a "new measure of progress" and "a clear compass to help us all move in the right direction". The index is calculated from a formula that incorporates three factors:

  • experienced wellbeing
  • life expectancy
  • ecological footprint.

Here's a flavour of Snowdon's article:

If the good people of Luxembourg (ranked 138th) have not already bought a one-way ticket to more desirable destinations such as Malawi (72nd), Haiti (78th) or Afghanistan (109th), they can console themselves that they are still one place ahead of Sierra Leone (139th), although that could all change if the Sierra Leoneans buy a wind turbine.

A couple of days back, I came across this picture, which tells a story all of its own. On one side is Haiti and on the other the Dominican Republic. I note below their respective ranking for "ecological footprint".

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Reader Comments (50)

I suppose that this is evidence that a researcher into the environment would do well to get out of the office and rarely go back.

Sandy Sinclair

Jun 20, 2012 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

As long as the planet's happy, I guess it doesn't matter how the residents of Haiti feel. Perhaps the NEF should relocate...

Jun 20, 2012 at 1:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Ah I see. That explains Julian Assange asking for asylum in Ecuador. They're 29 places ahead of Sweden in the happiness index! ;)

Jun 20, 2012 at 1:35 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

I suppose that if your "experienced wellbeing" was low it wouldn't be much comfort to find that you had a high life expectancy.

Jun 20, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

So we can confidently expect all the eco-zealots to relocate to places such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, then?

Jun 20, 2012 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Its would be funny if not for the fact that these people are serious .

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR


I personally would be wary of using that photograph without a bit of research as to its origin.

I do hope you did some.

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

This gave me the best laugh I've had in a long time. I have visions of living a rich life dodging the Taliban. Churchill did say there was nothing in life more exhilarating than being shot at. So much more fun and fulfilling than dreary old western Europe.

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSebastian Weetabix

Apparently ecological footprint tracks economic vitality. Duh!

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

As I wrote in "Unthreaded", the figures can be used to argue that greens would like for us a sad and early death.

If this doesn't kill "ecological footprint" I don't know what ever will

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:10 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Mexico = 52.9
USA = 37.3

yes we already knew this because millions of people flood out of the USA preferring to live illegally in Mexico (oh, wait....)

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:20 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Jack Savage Jun 20, 2012 at 2:04 PM

you could try these

Sandy Sinclair

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Mmmm, no figures for North and South Korea. I guess the contrast would have made the scheme look ridiculous.

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Yes, that was the first place I clicked on and it made me highly suspicious that they managed to leave out North and South Korea..... if their scheme can't give an accurate and reasonable comparison there then it's worse than useless, it's deceitful propaganda. Probably they'll say they can't get reliable data for North Korea, it may be in their documentation somewhere although the whole scheme is too implausible to be worth looking at more closely.

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:39 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

I think KnR says it best - this would be hilarious if it were not for the fact of them being serious.

On the other hand, this is so idiotic even regular attendees at the Church of Holy Mother Gaia will probably shake their heads and remark on the inadvisability of eating mushrooms before going into work.

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

If this "study" doesn't give me reason to move to North Korea (lack of data provided) at least it should give me reason to want to move to Myanmar or Cuba:

USA = 37.3
Myanmar = 44.2
Cuba = 56.2

btw, with Belgium showing up so poorly at 37.1 is that enough reason to close all the EU offices there? Why should EU bureaucrats be forced to live in such a low-HPI country?

ofc what they are really trying to portray is the "efficiency" and "sustainability" of their HPI, how much well-being is produced by unit of resources. So they don't claim it's any overall assessment of well-being, but rather an index relative to resources utilized:

"The Happy Planet Index, compiled by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) ranks countries based on the health and happiness they produce per unit of environmental input, using global data on life expectancy, happiness and environmental sustainability."
"Happy Planet Index is the leading global measure of sustainable well-being. The Happy Planet Charter has been endorsed by leading environmentalists, economists, and politicians ahead of next week’s United Nations Earth Summit."

p.s. wow, I finally used a blockquote!

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:47 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Wait till the EU legislates that every company needs a Happiness coordinator.

You'll not be be happy then, I'll get my coat.

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Picking two of the countries I have been to at random, I see that both India and Mozambique are rated pretty high for their "ecological footprint". I guess that the fact that both countries are basically rubbish dumps doesn't count.

Jun 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

The ideal life on the Happy Planet.

Jun 20, 2012 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Die early. Produce less carbon.

Jun 20, 2012 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Hmmm, perhaps I should start a happiness exchange where people can buy happiness credits?

Jun 20, 2012 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterPatrick M.

How can the IPCC force it's staff to endure a brutish, short & unhappy life in Geneva when they could so easily move them 6 points up the happiness scale to Bangladesh?

They might even be able to save us all some money at the same time.

But hang on - isn't Bangladesh where many of those 300,000 per year die from climate change - and where those millions of climate refugees are going to be flooding out of shortly.

So some of the happiest people in the world are the ones the IPCC thinks are about to be wiped out.

It's all very confusing - I think I need to go and lie down.

Jun 20, 2012 at 3:59 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

@Sandy Sinclair.

I never doubted the contrast in deforestation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and indeed I had already seen one of the photos you sent me to before this.

That is why I thought the Bish's photo looked just a bit photoshopped or "enhanced" in some way.
I think it might have appeared in the book version of "An Inconvenient Truth" and as such is automatically likely to have been "adjusted" for maximum effect even though it is not necessary in this case!

Jun 20, 2012 at 4:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

The Bishop's point re Hispaniola is quite right - see Jeffrey Diamond's book. And confirmed by my own work on the island. Are nef not aware of the new windfarms in Dom Rep - that are actually almost unsubsidised - the only ones in the world perhaps? Or of the environmental advantage of the irregular electricity supply (oops I am helping rectify that "advantage") But noone surely takes the nef stuff seriously. Not even environmentalists and the politically left wing.

Jun 20, 2012 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterjheath

Is this what they call experiencing wellbeing?

Jun 20, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

models and weighting ...ah tuning is all

Jun 20, 2012 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

I say we start a charity to help those poor, poor Luxemburgians (or whatever they're called). I volunteer to hold the boodle... er, I mean, proceeds....

Jun 20, 2012 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

I suppose that this is evidence that a researcher into the environment would do well to get out of the office and rarely go back.

Sandy Sinclair

When Polly Toynbee (familiar to all Uk readers, methinks), was a journo at the BBC, she was known as "The Eternal Flame". I'll leave you all to work that one out :-)

Jun 20, 2012 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Bruce Says: Jun 20, 2012 at 3:42 PM "Die early. Produce less carbon."

What is the carbon foot print of a decomposing cadaver?

Jun 20, 2012 at 6:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterRayG

Did you see the list of the people who support them? A McKibben, that's obvious, but all those MP's! I'm not overly familiar with British politics, but you have my sympathy...

Jun 20, 2012 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered Commentercdc

Reminds me of an earlier such survey where Finland came top. I had an Italian colleague - very Italian! - who said: the Fins may well be happy living in Finland, but can you imagine me, an Italian being happy in Finland?! Cold winters, short winter days, people who don't like to talk much, very expensive alcohol, etc, etc...

Jun 20, 2012 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterOakwood

Mockery is all very well — indeed there are times when it is obligatory — but this is the second time this month (Gergis et al was the first) that I have identified what could, if properly handled, be a major embarassment to the enviro-mental community.
This NEF report, whether intentionally or not (presumably not but you never know) more or less expressly links well-being with poverty.
Since all human experience, not to mention common sense, tells us that poverty is probably the most significant barrier to well-being, one is tempted to ask what is going on here and how do we capitalise on it?

Jun 20, 2012 at 7:56 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Tut tut Jack Savage, the environmental devastation in Haiti is very well documented - that's what extreme poverty does to a small country with a high population density. A classic case for cheap energy from efficient fossil fuel power stations if ever there was one.

Note that the UNFCCC exempts such countries from CO2 emissions reductions, recognizing that expensive renewables retard economic progress. That is only for the sinful Western nations, who by willfully squandering their wealth and prosperity on wind turbines and the like have less capacity to assist countries like Haiti. A small fraction of the money spent on BS CAGW research and renewables could have lifted Haiti and much of the rest of the third world out of poverty years ago. Great logic there, UNFCCC!

Jun 20, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

If the environment is such a great place why don't these people go and live there?

Jun 20, 2012 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Spot NEF's sponsors:

nef income for 2010/11 was £2,505,069 derived from 3 sources:

1. Grants and donations

£100,000 to £200,000
AIM Foundation
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Network for Social Change

£50,000 to £99,999
European Commission
Freshfield Foundation

The Hadley Trust

The Oak Foundation
The Tudor Trust

Jun 20, 2012 at 8:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterstun

Hi Ho, Hi Ho I'm off to Mexico - thank you NEF for showing me the direction to Happiness.
As my great grandfather always used to say "Bullshit makes the flowers grow, and NEF
plants them row by row. Hi Ho!

Jun 20, 2012 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered Commentermiklos (US CITIZEN)

I have actually visited the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti and it a really surreal experience. On one side green and verdant hills, on the other side they are grey and dead.
So, sure, Haitians are bound to have a small ecological footprint. There isn't enough ecology left to put a foot down on.

Jun 20, 2012 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

Having clicked on the survey and attempted to understand my country's (NZ) ranking, I discover that our long lives and satisfaction are undone by our 'huge ecological footprint'.
I gather that our national crime against ecology is our very successful grassland farming, a mix of the innovative use of technology and our country being sited in a convenient temperate zone, which enables us to feed a fair number of the world's hungry instead of letting the poor buggers starve, which (reading between the lines) seems to be the NEF's favoured outcome.
I know lunatics have their place, but to see how well they are paid in this attempt to run the asylum is a tad disturbing.

Jun 20, 2012 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

A bit of time on Wiki reveals that El Salvador, the fifth "happiest" country - also has the world's second highest "intentional homicide" rate.

I suppose at least they die happy.

Colombians are pretty happy too - but I think we can guess the reason for that.

I'm wondering, when the "Happy Planet" team go to some lawless, starving, third world hell-hole country - who exactly do they ask to fill in their "ladder of life" happiness questionnaire,

Presumably they steer well clear of the poor buggers who are actually sick or starving and pop into to see the local NGO teams in the Holiday Inn bar.

They would be pretty happy I guess.

Jun 20, 2012 at 10:00 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

If this report is supposed to be about a Happy Planet Index but it compares countries, not planets. Why don't the Greens compare the Earth with other planets in the Solar System? They could omit Pluto since astronomers have demoted it which, presumably, makes it a Very Unhappy Planet.

Jun 20, 2012 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy


Jun 20, 2012 at 10:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Saying Haitians have a small ecological footprint is identical to mixing up deficit and debt.

Jun 20, 2012 at 10:42 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

@ Chris M

For the second ( and last!) time, I am not questioning the deforestation of Haiti...merely the photograph used to illustrate it.

Jun 20, 2012 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Aaarrgghhh!! There is a HAITIAN DEFORESTATION DENIER in our midst!

ps just kidding

Jun 20, 2012 at 11:19 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

How much did this study cost?

Jun 21, 2012 at 1:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterNoblesse Oblige

My mother was from the Dominican Republic and I have been going there for decades, and indeed I am writing this from Santo Domingo. The problem with Haiti goes far beyond the ecological disaster that it is and it does not lack for foreign aid. There were 10k foreign aid agencies in Haiti BEFORE the earthquake. The people have stopped trying to grow things on the little arable land that they have because aid shipments mean they don't have to do anything.

I was speaking to a UN guy this weekend, and he remarked that the saddest thing of all was that for 2-3 months after the earthquake things were truly improving but as soon as the 'government' started to function all the progress ceased and Haiti went back to business as usual: demanding bribes to accept charity (no, that is not a typo) beating up anyone they wish and might makes right and the population is so passive they just wait for the tiny amounts that get to the people once the govnment has taken its huge slice. They no longer have a concept of a better future. Most of food that is eaten by Haitians is grown here. Initiative is not rewarded, rather it can cost you your life if you challenge the wrong person.

A big problem is the US congress and especially the Black Caucus who announced that "the sovereignty of Haiti is inviolate". If there ever were a place that could be improved by getting rid of every single member of the government, this is the place. Haiti has been a ecological disaster for decades and decades and there is NO chance that things will improve either in standard of living or its environment without some foreign government taking charge of the place for at least ten years.

Jun 21, 2012 at 1:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterConiston

The NEF index reminds me of the upside down Tiljander ... got it ? LOL !

Jun 21, 2012 at 4:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

Odd. Experienced wellbeing. Past tense.

So those who foresee a life of pain ahead –as might be expected by a person with an incurable disease – come out as high as those who foresee a disease free future.

Do people actually get paid our tax money to come up with such bunkum? When government budgets are being cut?.

Come on Mr Cameron - live up to your promises!

Jun 21, 2012 at 5:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

Jack Savage,
sorry, I misunderstood your point.

Sandy Sinclair

Jun 21, 2012 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Having navigated the whole Haiti/DR border on Google Earth, it's hard to tell where the picture was taken. There are only two or three places where the vegitation is noticably different on either side of the border. And how much of that is down to Haitians actively denuding their land and how much is due to DRians farming their land whist Haiti doesn't do anything with it is hard to tell.

A good place to look is where the 45 road follows the border for a while.

Jun 22, 2012 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterSadButMadLad

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