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Do carbon emissions make countries happy?

I don’t know enough about this subject to argue one way or another but I found this very interesting.

Questioning the presumptive link between GDP and happiness is really important, because growth in GDP generally requires growth in use of the planet’s dwindling resources and in pumping its overburdened atmosphere full of greenhouse gas. As a result, some opponents to cuts in carbon emissions claim such cuts would mean cuts in GDP and therefore happiness. In other words, as their argument goes, the happiness of the people is pitted against the happiness of the planet.

Except that more and more, GDP is proving to be a very poor predictor of people’s happiness, suggesting that cutting carbon emissions may not hurt a country’s happiness at all. Indeed, the truth may be that it is not the environment that is pitted against people’s happiness, but an overarching policy emphasis on growth in GDP instead of on happiness itself.

This, anyway, is one of the conclusions of a recent report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) on its Happy Planet Index (the HPI). The NEF argues “that governments have been concentrating on the wrong indicators for too long. If you have the wrong map, you are unlikely to reach your destination.”…

The HPI gives countries points for the life satisfaction and life expectancy of its citizens and takes them away for the size of citizens’ average ecological footprint. In other words, the HPI measures the efficiency, essentially, of a country’s economy in terms of the health and happiness per ton of greenhouse gas emitted (see the map above for a graphic representation of worldwide results).

Out of the 233 countries ranked by HPI, guess where the United States falls? 150th.

This means, according the to the New Economics Foundation webpage, “it is possible to live long, happy lives with a much smaller environmental impact: For example, in the United States and Germany people’s sense of life satisfaction is almost identical and life expectancy is broadly similar. Yet Germany’s Ecological footprint is only about half that of the USA. This means that Germany is around twice as efficient as the USA at generating happy long lives based on the resources that they consume.”

Andrew Simms, the NEF’s policy director, told the BBC, “These findings question what the economy is there for. What is the point if we burn vast quantities of fossil fuels to make, buy and consume ever more stuff without noticeably benefiting our wellbeing?

4 Responses to Do carbon emissions make countries happy?

  1. I dunno Dan. Presumably you are about to drive across Canada and back because you will derive happiness from it.

  2. Thats not the point of the article.
    The point is that many countries are able to achieve the same levels of happiness with less GDP, and that maybe GDP is the wrong metric to measure how well a country is doing. That if we all lived more efficient lives we could still be just as happy.

    Looking at specifics it is easy to see how going on a trip, or getting the latest gadget makes you happy, but in the big picture this may not be the case. That is the point of the article.

  3. Or maybe “happiness” however defined isn’t the right indicator. New Brunswick consistently polls as the happiest province in the country, yet also has one of the highest emigration rates in the country. Conjoined twins ironically also seem to poll as being just as happy if not happier than non conjoined twins, yet, I’m pretty sure its safe to say most of us would not say that in the big picture it would be better if we were all tied to our siblings.

    For a good book on happiness read “stumbling on happiness.”

  4. I agree that Western CO2 emissions are much too high and happiness is too low. However, I don’t think it’s possible or desirable for governments to manage the economy on a “happiness” basis. The path to happiness is different for everyone. Governments should ensure all citizens should have sufficient food, shelter, medical care, leisure time, cultural facilities, etc. etc., while safeguarding the natural world insofar as possible. That is, individuals should be empowered to find their own happiness.

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