“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it” . . . . . Lord Kelvin
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  • HSI Component: Environmental protection

    Posted on November 2nd, 2009 editor0 No comments

    Do people feel safe and comfortable in their environment? Is the community relatively well protected from public health and environmental hazards – and well served by preventive, mitigative, early warning, response and recovery mechanisms? Are people and communities safe from biological, chemical and physical contamination including of food, water, and air? Are they living sustainably? Are they free of need to burn non-renewable resources (e.g. gas - petrol) for transportation, heat or cooking? If they have electricity, is it from renewable sources? Is their housing a sustainably low resource and energy consumer?

    Many societies are low on environmental impact because they are materially poor. How sustainable is this if they develop to moderate material levels? Quite a few societies have made progress in some areas of environmental stewardship – but often the job is far from done.

    There are innumerable environmental indicators. HumanSecurityIndex.org’s selection of component indicators is an attempt to be somewhat conservative, but also inclusive of the diverse range of environmental topics. One school of thought appears mostly focused on greenhouse gas emissions, or more encompassing “ecological footprint.” HumanSecurityIndex.org certainly recognizes the importance of that issue, as can be seen by the makeup of this component on Environmental Protection. However, a small carbon footprint resulting from a low level of HDI and energy use – but with a high level of chemical or biological contamination of water supply, a weak waste reusage infrastructure, etc. - is this an indicator of better environmental performance? Or might it be a possible suggestion of an environmentally disastrous future if that economy, say, suddenly strikes oil and begins big-time production – with concurrent massive inflows of oil revenues?

    After looking at many environmental indicators, HumanSecurityIndex.org selected the following to be components of its component on Environmental Protection:

    HumanSecurityIndex.org is intrigued by much of the discussion of Marks et al. on the Happy Planet Index. Indeed, HumanSecurityIndex.org’s Social Fabric Index also suggests that several Central American and island societies, plus Bhutan (home of the concept of Gross National Happiness) also several African societies [which don't do so well in the Happy Planet Index] among others are achieving (relatively unnoticed without such revisits) relatively good results in the development of true community. Several such societies are comparably better than many countries that have emphasized GDP growth. Similarly, in the UNDP Thailand Human Development Report for 2007, northeastern Thailand – despite its relative material poverty compared to most of the rest of the country – is a winner in achieving arguably a more profound sense of community.

    However, HumanSecurityIndex.org is reluctant to use the Happy Planet Index as now constituted as part of the Social Fabric or Human Security Index.

    • Can the Ecological Footprint, as used in the Happy Planet Index, be re-crafted for more broad-based acceptance?
    • Could a life satisfaction indicator be developed to (1) first educate respondents more about the global and local situations before asking their (previously naive, but afterward better informed) views? Could it (2) be crafted to minimize cultural interpretational diversity problems as implied on the Happy Planet Index Website? If someone is chagrined and saddened by the energy-wasteful lifestyle of her country – and that she is pressured to own a car for each adult in her family because of lamentable lack of sustainable transport infrastructure almost everywhere in her country; but if she is also proud and excited by some of her country’s progress in other aspects of environmental stewardship as well as by her own super-insulated solar-heated home – how should she respond to the Happy Planet Index survey? Actually, there appears to be no correct answer to that survey as currently crafted, when one has a sufficiently detailed view of the state of the planet.