Want to Live a Long, Happy, Sustainable Life? Consider Central America

happy world map

Happy, healthy & sustainable: Green countries scored the highest, yellow and orange in between, red the worst. Image via happyplanetindex.org.

What if, instead of comparing different countries on the basis of things like GDP, we measured the health, happiness and ecological footprint of people living in those countries? Would the map look different – or does economic well-being encompass everything else? The Happy Planet Index, an alternative development index just released by the New Economics Foundation, is an attempt to do just that, and the results are fairly unexpected. Surprisingly, almost all of the top ten countries according to the index are located in Central America and the Caribbean, with Costa Rica coming out the clear winner. With the highest reported life satisfaction in the world, Costa Ricans live longer than Americans (78.5 years), yet their ecological footprint is one quarter of the size of the gringos to the north.

The HPI report praises Costa Rica for producing 99% of its energy from renewable sources, reversing deforestation and aiming to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021. How did Costa Rica become such a sustainable and happy country? The report notes that the country had the foresight to combine its ministries of energy and environment way back in the seventies, and abolished its army even before that, in 1949.

With a third of the country set aside for preservation and an active local NGO sector, the Dominican Republic took a surprise second place. In third place: Jamaica (here even the authors of the report note their surprise). With a per capita GDP one tenth of that of the USA, the island maintains good levels of health and a very low footprint (in general, the report notes, small island nations did pretty well).

At the other end of the scale (the red countries) are most of Sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, the UAE and yes, the USA. While the report notes that some countries (Germany, Russia, Brazil) are on a clear positive trajectory, in other "prosperous" countries such as the USA, China and India, the authors note that people's lives are measurably less happy and less sustainable than they were twenty years ago.

Still, no country, not even Costa Rica, has yet achieved what the NEF calls "one-planet living" - consuming its fair share of natural resources. The report's lead author, Saamah Abdallah, sums it up this way:

"The HPI 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."

Wanna know how your country measured up? Find it on the map here.

Via: The Guardian.