Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Which Country Is Best to Live In? (Hint: It Isn't Norway)

Popular
Which Country Is Best to Live In? (Hint: It Isn't Norway)
Pexels

By Warren Sanderson, Sergei Scherbov and Simone Ghislandi

Every year, the United Nations releases the Human Development Index (HDI).

The HDI is like a country's report card. In a single number, it tells policymakers and citizens how well a country is doing. This year, Norway was at the top of the class, while Niger finished last.


The index first appeared in 1990. Before then, a country's level of development was measured solely by its economic growth. By taking non-economic dimensions of human well-being into account, the HDI revolutionized the idea of what was meant by countries becoming "more developed."

The HDI has been wildly successful in changing the way people think about the development process. However, it still suffers from real flaws. There have been numerous attempts to do its job better, including one that we published on Nov. 6.

Eliminating the flaws in the HDI make a substantial difference. For example, Denmark was ranked fifth in the world according to this year's UN rankings, but our new index knocks it down to only 27th, switching places with Spain.

Problems With the HDI

Human development can be devilishly hard to measure. The HDI considers changes in three domains: economics, education and health. (One alternative to the HDI, the Social Progress Index, combines data on 54 domains.)

In our view, the HDI has three main problems. First, it implicitly assumes trade-offs between its components. For example, the HDI measures health using life expectancy at birth and measures economic conditions using GDP per capita. So the same HDI score can be achieved with different combinations of the two.

As a result, the HDI implies a value of an additional year of life in terms of economic output. This value differs according to a country's level of GDP per capita. Dig into the HDI and you will find whether it assumes an additional year of life is worth more in the U.S. or Canada, more in Germany or France, and more in Norway or Niger.

The HDI also struggles with the accuracy and meaningfulness of the underlying data. Average income could be high in a country, but what if most of it goes to a small elite? The HDI does not distinguish between countries with the same GDP per capita, but different levels of income inequality or between countries based on the quality of education. By focusing on averages, the HDI can obscure important differences in human development. Incorporating inaccurate or incomplete data in an index reduces its usefulness.

Finally, data on different domains may be highly correlated. For example, the GDP per capita and the average level of education in countries are strongly related. Including two highly correlated indicators may provide little additional information compared to just using one.

Our Indicator

We propose a new index: the Human Life Indicator or HLI.

The HLI looks at life expectancy at birth, but also takes the inequality in longevity into account. If two countries had the same life expectancy, the country with the higher rate of infant and child deaths would have a lower HLI.

This solves the problem of having contentious trade-offs among its components, because it has only a single component. It solves the problem of inaccurate data, because life expectancy is the most reliable component of the UN's index. Because GDP per capita, the level of education and life expectancy are closely related to one another, little information is lost by using a human development indicator based only on life expectancy.

Our index draws a different picture than the one made by the HDI. Based on data from 2010 to 2015, Norway is not on top of the list in terms of human development. That honor goes to Hong Kong, while Norway drops to ninth place. Norway ranks highly on the HDI in part because of the revenues that it receives from North Sea oil and gas, but even with that revenue, Norway's inequality-adjusted life expectancy is not the highest in the world.

What's more, on our measure, Niger no longer is last. That dubious distinction goes to the Central African Republic.

The UN puts Canada and the U.S. as tied at 10th place, but Canada is ranked 17th in the world using our system, while the U.S. does poorly, ranking as 32nd. This relatively higher ranking of Canada reflects the higher longevity of its inhabitants and the lower inequality in their ages of death compared to people in the U.S.

In our view, the genius of the HDI is too important to give up, just because of problems with its implementation. In our new index, we have provided a simple approach that is free from the problems of the HDI. There is no need to have just one measure of human development, but it is useful to have at least one without contentious flaws.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A resident works in the vegetable garden of the Favela Nova Esperanca – a "green favela" which reuses everything and is subject to the ethics of permaculture – in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 14, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP via Getty Images

Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

Read More Show Less
Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less