Atop The Happy Planet Index And Terrific Costa Rica Ecotourism, Too!

Disneyworld brags it is the “happiest place on earth” but the most fulfilling place in the world to live is officially tiny Costa Rica, winner of the 2009 Happy Planet Index.

Sure,you’ve heard about great Costa Rica vacations. 800 miles of pristine beaches on two oceans.  Mighty volcanoes and five percent of all the species of plants and animals on the globe. In a land of mighty volcanoes with an astounding five percent of every kind of plant and animal on the globe (higher than any other country on earth), Costa Rica is spoken of in superlatives.   All that and. . . top of the Happy Planet Index, too!

What, precisely, is the Happy Planet Index? Broadly speaking, it is an index that evaluates both  human well-being and the environmental impact that was introduced by the New Economics Foundation in 2006.  The HPI  is best conceived as a measure of the environmental efficiency of supporting well-being in a given country, now and in the future.

Even though this might seem a bit technical  the concept behind it is really quite simple and, more importantly, its approach is adapted to   the 21st Century.

The Index  is generally based on three principles, namely, that:

(1)  Most people alive today want satisfying, long lives;

 (2)  Future generations are entitled to the same kind of lives, too; and

 (3)  What we do with our resources today will have an impact on the well-being of our successors.

Traditional indices evaluating any country’s development  commonly look to its current situation  using metrics about Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI) to get a sort of snapshot of a nation’s current situation and then compare that to how it has done over time and, of course, how it compares to other countries.

The Gross DomesticProduct  is a metric  of a country’s overall economic output.  Though it does not measure a country’s standard of living, it it is often used as such an indicator, on the rationale that all citizens would benefit  from their country’s increased economic production.

The HDI is a broader index that considers Life Expectancy, Education, Standard of Living, and GDP.

Though both are great indices, they are so. . . 20th  Century.

Each has limitations and fails to take into account  the effect our lifestyles and impact on the environment will have on thosefolks still to come .   Put another way, neither of the standard indices take sustainability or future inhabitants of the earth into account.

Stop and consider that last point.

“Me.”  “Us.”  “Money.” “Get rich quick.”  “I want it all.”


You get the idea.  So, 20th Century.

The Happy Planet Index takes particular exception  to measuring a country’s development by looking at its economic output (GDP)  since most people’s aim  in life is not to get rich but, instead, to live happy, fulfilling and healthy lives and to pass on a similar opportunity for their children and grandchildren.

 For example, consider Saudi Arabia which possesses the largest oil reserves on the planet.  While its Gross Domestic Product is relatively high, its peoples’  overall satisfaction with the quality of life leaves  much to be desired.  Certainly that is true for half its population, women, whose quality of life is controlled by men, not themselves.  Women aren’t permitted to drive or make important decisions affecting their live, whether going to college to traveling.

And, of course, the country’s current  wealth is dependent upon exploiting and depleting an ever decreasing supply of one of the most environmentally hazardous materials on the face of the earth, raising the question of whether the well-being of future Saudis is at risk.  Put another way, to the extent that a country’s wealth today is the result of exploitation and diminution of finite resources, there will be less of those available for those who come after us and this could have an adverse impact on their quality of life and well being.

Since the Human Development Index considers several factors beyond Gross Domestic Product, it is perhaps more useful as a present day  measure of well-being of humans but it has a flaw in its methodology.  Specifically, it fails to take into account the cost of today’s actions that will be paid by  future generations.

Therefore, the Happy Planet Index takes into account sustainability, something that neither GDP nor HDI  consider.

In the view of the Happy Planet Index, the country which is doing the best is the one that allows its citizens to live long and satisfying lives while avoiding  infringing on the opportunity of future people and people in other countries to do the same.

143 nations covering 99 per cent of the world’s population,  were scored,  for three things: life expectancy, satisfaction with the quality of life, and ecological footprint.

 Costa Rica was clearly the winner—and by a wide margin over most countries.

Yes, though Costa Rica ecotourism is famous and a favorite of tourists, this little country sits alone sits atop the 21st Century index because, while other nations talk about providing quality living to its inhabitants today and into the future, it has acted to ensure that this is the case today and will continue to be so in the future.

Most folks probably think the wealthiest nations will rank at the top of the list but they would be surprised. The richest, most developed nations fall somewhere in the middle of the Index. The highest-ranking developed Western nation is the Netherlands – 43rd out of 143. The United Kingdom places 74th and the United States is a long way back in 114th place..

The difference between Costa Rica and the USA is striking. Costa Ricans live longer than Americans (health care is nationalized, nearly free, and universal in Costa Rica), report much higher levels of life satisfaction (they are very happy with their life), and yet have a carbon footprint which is less than a quarter the size of the States.

Costa Rica reached the top of the rankings for many reasons. The country does not just talk about sustainable development, it is committed to it. While the developed world and rising powers of China and India rely upon nonrenewable resources (think oil) for power while contributing to serious global pollution and global warming, an incredible 99% of Costa Rica’s energy is completely renewable and sustainable. Its people are already among the longest lived in the world and their satisfaction of life is very high already.  The goa is to ensure those same levels of longevity and fulfillment of life to the next generation, and the next, and the next, by sustainable—not exploitative—development.

As the States and other developed countries dither about how to address power needs, chase more and more resources to use up, and argue about the challenges of global warming, tiny Costa Rica has been taking action. Even as more and more of the world is being deforested, there are 20% more forested areas in Costa Rica than just 20 years ago.  And, incredibly, in the last 30 years, 25% of its lands have been permanently set as Costa Rica National Parks.

So, if considering a Costa Rica vacation, be happy!  In the champion of the Happy Planet Index!

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