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Which Country Is Best to Live In? (Hint: It Isn't Norway)
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.
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
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.