June 15, 2010, 12:25 p.m.
Costa Rica recently topped the New Economic Foundation’s Happy Planet Index, confirming what the country’s enlightened leadership has been propounding to its neighbors for years: countries with the greenest policies are usually the best places to live. Costa Rica generates 90% of its energy from renewables, and Costa Rican law requires national development plans to factor in sustainability, which has encouraged successive governments to create a thriving tourism economy based partly on the country’s ecological assets. The UK, with a GDP per capita three times as large but timid environmental legislation, only ranks No. 74.
The NEF’s Index, first published in 2008, is not the only set of societal tracking that seeks to go beyond GDP. Last year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy endorsed a report by leading economists Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz that called for governments to consider factors like health care and leisure time in measurements of national well-being. The report noted that the U.S.’s GDP has nearly tripled over the past 50 years but with little indication that the country is any happier.
The Happy Planet Index is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure environmental efficiency. The Index doesn’t reveal the ‘happiest’ country in the world; rather, it shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens. The nations that top the Index demonstrate that it is possible to achieve high levels of satisfaction and long life expectancies without over-stretching the planet’s resources.