Happy Planet Index for the ETP

  • Business
  • Saturday, 25 Sep 2010

THE recent Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) open day attended by some 4,000 people was a historic event for us.

Many are eagerly looking forward to contribute towards a high-income nation. It's time for us to hold hands and walk the path.

While we start our journey to achieve ETP goals and aspirations, let's not lose sight of how these economic developments can improve our quality of life. We need to be mindful because not all developments improve human wellbeing if it is at the expense of our ecosystem.

Preservation of green nature instead of building concrete jungles, reducing carbon emissions from lorries, buses, cars and motorcycles, lesser cars on the road and better public transportation system, cleaner streets and more efficient waste management, improved irrigation and drains to prevent flash floods are important improvements too.

We only have one planet Mother Earth. No amount of money can buy a cleaner, greener environment for healthy living if we mess this planet up.

Recently, I came across a report published by National Economic Foundation (known as nef www.neweconomics.org) called The Happy Planet Index (HPI). I was intrigued by the report's profound findings, which our decision-makers ought to take note of.

This report introduces a measure of something more fundamental. The HPI addresses the relative success or failure of countries in supporting a good life for their citizens, while respecting the environmental resource limits upon which all our lives depend. It takes a very different look at the wealth and poverty of nations.

The HPI measures the ecological efficiency with which, country by country, people achieve long and happy lives. In doing so, it strips our view of the economy back to its absolute basics: what goes in (natural resources) and what comes out (human lives of differing length and happiness).

The HPI is built from three different indicators, two of which are objective: life expectancy and the ecological footprint a measure of our use of environmental goods and services.

The third indicator is people's subjective wellbeing or life satisfaction (like mental and physical health).

The HPI differs markedly from the central indicator of national income usually relied on by the government to measure their success gross domestic product.

Some may view the report's finding with surprise, or even shock. Among the findings include:

Countries classified by the United Nation as medium-human development fare better than both low-development and high-development countries. It seems that countries with high development suffer from diminishing returns. Beyond a certain level, vastly increasing consumption fails to lead to greater wellbeing. In fact, greater materialism, diminished community and destruction of natural capital are probably reducing our wellbeing. G8 countries generally score badly in the index the UK ranked 108th, Japan 95th, the United States 150th and Russia 172nd, very nearly the bottom;

Social, cultural and political structures are strongly associated with life satisfaction within a nation's population. High levels of life satisfaction were found in countries where more people belong to community groups (like voluntary organisations) where they value concepts such as adventure, creativity and loyalty over material wealth and possession, and where government is open and democratic; and

By consuming 22% more quickly than our ecosystem can regenerate, we are eating into and degrading the natural resources that our life support system depend on. In this process, we are depleting the environmental goods and services which future generations must depend on.

In the report, nef proposes a global manifesto for a happier planet and highlighted policies that countries with low life expectancy, poor life satisfaction or high ecological footprints must focus upon, including: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; improving healthcare; relieving debt; shifting value away from individualism and material consumption towards social interaction; supporting meaningful lives; ensuring a healthy work-life balance and recognising the value of social, cultural and civic life; empowering citizens and promoting open governance; working towards one-planet living by consuming within our environmental limits; designing systems for sustainable consumption and production; and working to tackle climate change.

As Malaysians, we have reached the crossroads. One road leads to distress, economic loss and potential failure (risk of getting stuck in the middle-income trap). Another leads to success and achievements of our national goals.

Other neighbouring counties have travelled on similar roads ahead of us. Some have had to backtrack because of the mistakes they've made. We must emulate those that have laid the pavement best.

The decisions we make today are crucial to final success for the wrong choice of road will affect each and every one of us. Let's get involved to ensure we take a balanced view that Malaysia in 10 years, will become a high-income society and a Happy Planet superstar. At least now we have the Happy Planet Index as a reference.

● Yip is a personal financial coach and also founder and CEO of Abacus for Money.

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