leftrightSunday, May 18, 2008

LET'S get one thing straight — the Happy Planet Index (HPI) that ranked Singapore 131st out of 178 countries does not actually measure happiness as we know it.

It is an innovative measure of how efficiently a nation converts the planet's natural resources into long and happy lives for its citizens. The word "happy", by which many have been seduced, is just one component of the index.

So it is wrong to assume that nations that score low in this index are the unhappiest places in the world. A low score says quite something else. To properly understand this, we must look at the three basic components of the index.

These are life satisfaction, life expectancy and ecological footprint. The HPI is arrived at by multiplying life satisfaction and life expectancy (the result being an indicator of a happy and long life), and dividing that by the ecological footprint (that is, how much planetary resources are consumed).

In short, the HPI represents the efficiency with which a nation converts the earth's finite resources into well-being for its citizens. Singapore scored 6.9 for life satisfaction, 78.7 for life expectancy, and 6.2 for ecological footprint. The first indicates that Singaporeans are generally satisfied with their lives — not a bad score, considering the highest was 8.2, achieved by Switzerland and Denmark.

In life expectancy, we outperformed the United States (77.4 years) and just tail Australia (80.3 years) and Japan (82 years). Since life expectancy reflects a country's medical conditions, that's something to cheer about.

So why did we score so badly overall in the HPI?

This happened because we had a very high ecological footprint measure. This indicator measures how much of the planet's environmental resources are used up to sustain a nation at its present levels of consumption, technological development and resource efficiency.

The higher a country's ecological footprint score, the more that country uses up the earth's resources, and the bigger its global environmental impact.

The beauty of the ecological footprint indicator is that it takes into account the fact that, in a global economy, people consume resources and ecological services from all over the world.

So, a coffee plantation in Brazil, for example, will count towards the ecological footprints of all the countries where Brazilian coffee is consumed.

Now, since Singapore apparently leaves such a big ecological footprint, we should consider why we consume so much of our planet's resources.

Some will suggest that this is an inevitable by-product of our economic development; others, that our high standard of life makes it psychologically far easier for us to donate money to save an endangered elephant, than to give up a car, switch off the air conditioner or reduce the use of plastic products.

Ultimately, we have to face this uncomfortable question: Can we live long and satisfied lives without using up so much of the earth's resources? Top-ranked Vanuatu proves it is possible. But we are not Vanuatu.

Can Singapore find a way to outperform Vanuatu? It will be a challenge to each and every one of us.

This article was first published in Today on 21.7.2006

For more information visit this websit:

You can also calculate your own HPI in this website.

[Mayflower] [2:21 PM]




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