Green and Happy?

You’ll be interested to know that in July, the independent think-tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) published the European Happy Planet Index of carbon efficiency and well-being in the EU.

It reveals that Europe is less carbon-efficient at delivering well-being (measured in terms of the happy, long lives of its citizens) than it was over 40 years ago. This might come as a surprise to some people – after all, as a whole we are wealthier than ever.

The good news is that some European countries are doing pretty well in terms of high levels of well-being (a combination of how satisfied people feel with their lives overall, and their life expectancy at birth). Those in the North such as Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, as well as Switzerland, report the highest levels of subjective life satisfaction. Interestingly, Iceland and Sweden also have some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints, despite being amongst the richest nations. As a result, Iceland tops the European Happy Planet Index, followed by Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.

And the bad news? Some economically-advanced countries feature pretty poorly in the Index. Take the UK for example – it comes 15th out of 30 in rank order for both life satisfaction and life expectancy. It also has the 4th largest per capita carbon footprint in Europe, behind Luxembourg, Estonia and Finland. As a result the UK ranks 21st out of 30 overall in the European HPI, only slightly ahead of ‘transition’ countries such as Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Countries like Germany, Finland and France don’t fare much better either, coming 15th, 16th and 18th in the Index respectively.

So what can we conclude from this? Quite simply, as I’m sure you already know deep-down, consumption is not the main route to well-being. If this were true, the poorer countries would always feature at the bottom of NEF’s league tables, but they don’t.

What the report also shows us, however, is that it is not impossible to be prosperous, happy and green. Perhaps we should be looking towards countries like Iceland and Sweden for some answers?

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