Happy Planet Index 2.0 is here

NEF have released the latest version of the “Happy Planet Index” (HPI – which, I’m afraid, just begs to be tagged as the Hippy Index…). The HPI is a composite index constructed out of three sets of data: life expectancy, life satisfaction, and ecological footprint (explanation starts p.52 of the Report Appendix, which can be found here).

Among other things there is a neat animated graphic showing countries’ performance on the index vs GDP over time (select the countries you wish to observe in the tick box menu on the right, then push the ‘play’ triangle bottom left).

Looking at New Zealand’s performance since 1961 (when the data set starts) what is striking is just how poorly we have performed on both counts: there was a steep rise in our HPI number, while GDP grew at only a modest rate.  I thought it might be interesting to look more closely at the three indicators, using the background data NEF has made available here.

A couple of intruiguing points emerge: New Zealand’s Ecological Footprint declined fairly steadily from 1961 through to 1989 – starting at 8.98 and ending at 6.06 – only to rise again for the period 1990 to 2005  from 6.22 to 7.59 (the data-set ends in 2005). I would like to understand the reasons for that better. It is not obviously explained by changes in real oil prices.  Second, the life expectancy and life satisfaction indices track each other fairly closely, from 1961 through to  1988, after which the two lines diverge (1988-92) to develop a gap that they have maintained ever since.  I suspect the widening of income inequality during this period was a factor.

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