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Emissions don't make Europe happy

Water vapour rises above cooling towers of coal-fired power station. Image: Getty
Europe's per-capita carbon footprint has risen sharply, Nef says
Europe's carbon emissions have risen markedly over the last 40 years, but the extra fuel use has brought little increase in happiness, a report says.

Written by the New Economics Foundation (Nef), it says that reducing social inequality and energy consumption are key drivers of improved wellbeing.

Iceland has the highest ratio of wellbeing to emissions, with the UK 21st out of 30 countries assessed.

A Nef report last year rated Vanuatu as the happiest nation on Earth.

The ratings are based on its Happy Planet Index (HPI). Countries score points for how happy citizens rate themselves to be and how long they live, and lose points for their per-capita carbon output.

These findings question what the economy is there for
Andrew Simms
"Countries like Iceland... demonstrate that living within our environmental means doesn't mean sacrificing human wellbeing," said Nic Marks, founder of Nef's Centre for Wellbeing.

"By learning from the differences between European countries and copying best practices, we believe it will be possible to both greatly reduce our carbon footprint and increase our wellbeing."

Consuming trend

The European countries with the lowest per-capita carbon footprint are either those which generate substantial amounts of energy from renewables, such as Iceland and Sweden, or former members of the Soviet bloc whose economies are still rebuilding, such as Latvia and Romania.

Across the continent, our per-capita carbon footprint has risen by 70% since 1961, Nef calculates, while life expectancy has increased by about 8% and self-reported happiness hardly at all.

European summit. Image: AFP/Getty
Europe provides examples of good and bad practice, Nef contends
Scandinavians, Icelanders and the Swiss are the happiest people in Europe, while the unhappiest seven are all former Soviet-bloc states.

Britain has the fourth highest per-capita carbon output on the continent, while scoring on the middle tiers for wellbeing and longevity.

A recent BBC survey showed that Britons were happier in the 1950s than we are today, despite a threefold increase in wealth.

"Countries that have most closely followed the Anglo-Saxon, strongly market-led economic model show up as the least efficient," commented Nef's policy director, Andrew Simms.

"These findings question what the economy is there for. What is the point if we burn vast quantities of fossil fuels to make, buy and consume ever more stuff without noticeably benefiting our wellbeing?"

Based on its analysis, Nef's prescription for happy European countries with low per-capita carbon footprints includes measures such as:

  • mandatory short-term targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions
  • reducing inequalities in income, education, health and social opportunity
  • using the emerging science of wellbeing as a driver of policy

Happiness doesn't cost the Earth
12 Jul 06 |  Science/Nature
Quick guide: Carbon footprints
03 Jun 07 |  Business
EU 'must walk its climate talk'
01 Jun 07 |  Science/Nature
UK greenhouse emissions show rise
29 Mar 07 |  Science/Nature
Britain's happiness in decline
02 May 06 |  Happiness Formula
Britain now 'eating the planet'
15 Apr 06 |  Science/Nature

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