Aug 152016

Avid Geo-Mexico readers will know that we included a few paragraphs about the Happy Planet Index in our 2010 book, which we later quoted in this 2013 post, Mexico and the Happy Planet Index.

The latest (2016) Happy Planet Index (HPI), which uses slightly modified criteria, shows that Mexico has risen to 2nd place in the world rankings, behind Costa Rica, but ahead of Colombia, Vanuatu and Vietnam and well ahead of the U.S. (#108) and Canada (#85).

The Happy Planet Index is a compound index that combines four measures:

  • life expectancy
  • well being (life satisfaction)
  • ecological footprint
  • inequality

The HPI looked at data for 140 countries. For life expectancy, Mexico ranked #39, for well being #11, for ecological footprint #77 and for inequality #60.

Global pattern of ecological footprint. Source: HPI report, 2016.

Global pattern of ecological footprint. Source: HPI report, 2016.

The world map for ecological footprint shows the global pattern. The colors show three categories for ecological footprints, those below 1.7, those between 1.7 and 3.5 and those that exceed 3.5, where the numbers are global hectares (gha) per person.

These two sections from the Happy Planet Index country report for Mexico are a useful snapshot of where Mexico stands right now:

What’s working well in Mexico?

In recent years, massive steps have been taken to improve the health of the population of Mexico – notably achieving universal health coverage in 2012, making essential health services available to the entire population.

In 2014, a tax was imposed on sugary drinks with the express aim of tackling of obesity – this despite strong corporate opposition. The tax had already led to a 12% decrease in the consumption of such drinks by the end of the year.

Environmental sustainability is receiving growing political attention, and was included as one of five key pillars in Mexico’s National Development Plan for 2007–12. Mexico was the second country in the world to incorporate long-term climate targets into national legislation, and is taking important steps to conserve its forests and protect its rich biodiversity.

What could be improved?

Significant challenges remain for Mexico: economic inequality is a massive problem with a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earns more than thirteen times as much as the bottom 20% of the population.

Mexico’s poverty rates are particularly high among indigenous people. Amnesty International has  highlighted Mexico’s human rights violations, especially relating to irregular migrants. On top of these issues, the importance of the oil industry to Mexico’s economy complicates its environmental efforts.

Mexico recently reached cross-party agreement on the Pacto por Mexico, a pact of 95 initiatives aiming to tackle some of these issues – an important step for the country’s future.

The HPI attempts to quantify an alternative vision of progress where people strive for happy and healthy lives alongside ecological efficiency in how they use resources. Mexico may have a high happiness index, but (like the rest of the world) it still has an awful long way to go to ensure a sustainable future for our grandchildren.

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Mexico and the Happy Planet Index

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico and the Happy Planet Index
Jun 202013

Chapter 30 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico includes a look at the Happy Planet Index (HPI). The HPI is a compound index that combines three measures:

  • life expectancy
  • life satisfaction
  • ecological footprint

In essence, the HPI shows how successfully people are achieving the good life without having to consume a disproportionate share of the Earth’s resources. The unbridled global pursuit of economic growth over the past fifty years has left more than a billion people in dire poverty. Far from bringing economic stability, it has encouraged the rampant abuse of resources while increasing the very real risks of unpredictable global climate change.

The HPI attempts to quantify an alternative vision of progress where people strive for happy and healthy lives alongside ecological efficiency in how they use resources. A high HPI score is only possible if a country is close to meeting the targets for all three components.

Environmental Sustainability Index and Happy Planet Index for selected countries. (Geo-Mexico. Figure 30.4) All rights reserved.

Environmental Sustainability Index and Happy Planet Index for selected countries. (Geo-Mexico. Figure 30.4) All rights reserved.

HPI scores (see graph) paint a very different picture to that suggested by either the ecological footprint or the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI). While happy and healthy lives often go hand in hand, many countries with high values for those components (such as the USA and Canada) have disappointingly high ecological footprints, and end up with low HPI scores. The lowest HPI scores of all are found in sub-Saharan Africa where several countries do badly on all three components.

At the other end of the scale, nine of the top ten HPI scores are for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where relatively high life expectancy and high personal lifestyle satisfaction is combined with modest footprints. Mexico ranks 22nd of the 151 countries studied, behind Argentina and Guatemala but well ahead of the UK, Canada and the USA.

Life expectancy

The life expectancy figure for each country was taken from the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report and reflects the number of years an infant born in that country could expect to live if prevailing patterns of age-specific mortality rates at the time of birth in the country stay the same throughout the infant’s life.

Mexico’s life expectancy is 77.0 and ranks #36 among the 151 countries analyzed. This is below the USA, which has a life expectancy of 78.4, but higher than Malaysia, which has a life expectancy of 74.2.

Life satisfaction

The data for life satisfaction (experienced well-being) draws on responses to the ladder of life question in the Gallup World Poll, which was asked to samples of around 1000 individuals aged 15 or over in each of the countries included in the Happy Planet Index.

Mexico’s experienced well-being score is 6.8 out of a possible 10. This is lower than the average level of experienced well-being in the USA (7.16), but higher than that of Germany (6.72).

Ecological footprint

Ecological Footprint is a metric of human demand on nature, used widely by NGOs, the UN and several national governments. It measures the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns. For a majority of the countries (142 of the 151), Ecological Footprint data were obtained from the 2011 Edition of Global Footprint Network National Footprints Accounts. For the nine other countries, Ecological Footprint figures were estimated using predictive econometric models.

Mexico’s Ecological Footprint is 3.30 global hectares per capita. If everyone in the world had the same Ecological Footprint as the average citizen of Mexico, the world’s Ecological Footprint would be 20% larger and we would need to reduce our Ecological Footprints by around 80% in order to stay within sustainable environmental limits.


In summary, countries often considered to be ‘developed’ are some of the worst-performing in terms of sustainable well-being.

Unfortunately, given that the HPI scores for the world’s three largest countries (China, India, and the USA) all declined between 1990 and 2005, it does not seem that the situation is improving or will improve any time soon. Business as usual is literally costing us the Earth.

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Eco-tortillas: an environmentally friendly way to make Mexico’s staple food

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Eco-tortillas: an environmentally friendly way to make Mexico’s staple food
Feb 092012

Mexican scientists continue to find ways to improve the humble tortilla, one of the essential components of Mexican cuisine and a major source of calcium for many Mexicans. We described two years ago how researchers at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico (UAM) had reduced pollution from the making of corn tortillas. This month, a press release from Cinvestav (Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional) reveals that researchers have developed a way to reduce the amount of lime required in the making of tortillas, while enhancing their dietary value. This will further reduce the pollution and ecological footprint associated with tortilla making:

Researchers have developed “environmentally friendly tortillas” that are more nutritious, help prevent osteoporosis, slow the aging process and help fight obesity. A team led by Juan de Dios Figueroa Cárdenas, of Cinvestav’s unit in Queretaro, developed an environmentally-friendly method to turn gourmet corn into tortillas that have a high nutritional content and double the shelf life, without increasing the price of the final product.

The current process used to make tortillas is “highly polluting” and “not very efficient,” resulting in tortillas that “in many cases do not contain the fiber or calcium” people need. Given the importance of tortillas in the Mexican diet since pre-Columbian times, researchers worked on developing a process that “does not produce pollutants” and replaces lime, a corrosive substance, with salts and other ingredients in the cooking process. The use of other salts retains the outer layers of corn kernels during cooking and preserves a large amount of nutrients that end up being lost in the existing process and generating an enormous amount of pollution and wasted water.

The tortillas are also useful in fighting obesity (a huge problem in Mexico) because they contain double the fiber of a traditional tortilla, Figueroa Cárdenas said, adding that the tortillas’ high calcium content will help prevent osteoporosis.

[This post is based on the text of the press release]

Tortilla-making. Photo: krebsmaus07 (Flickr)

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Mexico’s ecological footprint compared to that of other countries

 Other  Comments Off on Mexico’s ecological footprint compared to that of other countries
Feb 162010

The ecological footprint of a country  is defined as the area of land (and water) required by a population, given prevailing technology, to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb any wastes created.

Ecological footprints are measured in ‘global hectares’ (gha). A global hectare encompasses the average annual productivity of all biologically productive land and ocean areas in the world. In 2005 the world’s population required the resources of 2.7 gha /person.  Unfortunately, the world’s biocapacity—the amount of resources its ecosystems can supply each year—was only equivalent to 2.1 gha per person and is declining each year as population increases (see graph).

The deficit between biocapacity and our ecological footprint causes damaging environmental changes to forests, fisheries, rivers, coral reefs, soil, water and air, and plays a major role in global climate change. The figures mean that our current usage of the world’s resources is inherently unsustainable.

Click here for a printable bookmark of this graph (pdf file)

The graph shows the ecological footprint of several countries. China’s footprint matches global biocapacity while the footprints of India, Indonesia and Bangladesh are fully sustainable. On the other hand, the USA’s footprint of 9.4 gha is surpassed only by the United Arab Emirates. Australia and Canada both have footprints over 7 gha. In simple terms, their populations require more than three times their fair share of the world’s biocapacity.

Chapter 30 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, from which this extract is taken, looks in much more detail at the implications of ecological footprints and at alternative ways of assessing ‘sustainability’.