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A highly respected New Economic Foundation (NEF) think-tank based in the UK has released their report, The Happy Planet Index: An index of human well-being and environmental impact, published in association with Friends of the Earth, moves beyond crude ratings of nations according to national income, measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to produce a more accurate picture of the progress of nations based on the amount of the Earth’s resources they use, and the length and happiness of people’s lives.

In 2006 the report placed Vanuatu at the No. 1 spot out of 178 countries. Read the article here “Vanuatu tops wellbeing and environment index“.

Happy-Isles-of-Vanuatu

The report argues that a growth in GDP implies economic activity, which in turn implies that people are spending money and improving their quality of life. "But GDP is insenstitive to the distribution of income within countries. A country with a high rate of poverty, a small but affluent elite and high exports could have a similar GDP per capita to a country with little inequality and a thriving domestic economy. GDP is also a poor indicator of welfare in key respects. Interpreting it as a standard of living measure means assuming that income is closely correlated with well being at the national level. General well being does not increase as the economy grows as has been repeatedly shown in recent years."

The new Happy Planet Index incorporates three separate indicators. Life satisfaction, life expectancy and the ecological footprint for the country.

The Ecological footprint measures how much land area is required to sustain a given population at present levels of consumption. It takes into account land available to grow food, trees and biofuels, areas of ocean used for fishing and land required to support the plant life needed to absorb Carbon Dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. The footprint of a country is a measure of its consumption and its worldwide environmental impact.

The report states "The same methodology can be used to calculate, in the same units the Earth’s biocapacity – its biologically productive area. Currently the biocapacity of the earth is around 11.2 billion hectares or 1.8 global hectares per person in 2001. At the same time, humanity’s demand on the biosphere – its global ecological footprint – was 13.7 billion global hectares or 2.2 global hectares per person. The report sends an alarming message stating that currently, the planet’s living stocks are being depleted 23% faster than nature can regenerate them."

So why did we rate so high on the happy stakes? Our low population and large land area, our 2500 kms of exposed coastline, a life expectancy of age 69, a very rich and available land source for growing crops, unique rainforests, little logging and an excellent democracy record. We emit next to no carbon emissions.

More important is the fact that 80% of our population live happily in the rural areas with few cares and worries and ample food gardens. The community spirit in the rural villages under control of chiefs rates high towards contentment with life compared to people living under pressure in crowded cities.


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