The “Happy Planet Index,” a project of the New Economics Foundation (an influential think tank with a 50-strong staff and a multi-million dollar budget) aims to assess the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants by “measuring what really matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them.” [You can’t see it, but I have one eyebrow raised in extreme skepticism right now.] The measurements for what matter, apparently, include markers of how fulfilled people feel and how much of an ecological footprint they leave on the planet. …Doesn’t this just put us wealthy, out-of-touch Westerners with our mundane, materialist ideas of human happiness to shame?

Yes, it all sounds so lovely, doesn’t it?

I’m always amazed by the hubris of environmentalists who think that they possess the knowledge to engineer the “green” society of their wildest pipe dreams, in which humans manage to both leave the earth completely untouched but can still enjoy a happy and pleasant standard of living. Not only do they think we can and should bring this eco-trendy utopia about through fiat, but they also think it’s perfectly okay to impose their green religion on developing countries that would hugely benefit from economic growth and affordable energy.

The selfish disregard for the very real material hardships of others is unfathomable, and I will denounce unadulterated eco-junk like this until my dying day. Matthew Sinclair sums it up perfectly in the WSJ (I highly recommend reading the entire op-ed): Cuba comes in at twelfth place on the index, but how, exactly, are we to believe Cuba is a “happy” country when people flee from its shores in droves and most definitely not the other way around?

In what league does Iraq beat Britain, Haiti beat the United States, and Afghanistan beat Denmark? Political corruption? Violent crime? Temperature? No, welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the Happy Planet Index. It is a little window into the way many environmentalists think. …

Countries with high living standards tend to use more natural resources. That’s why instead of being praised as having a dynamic economy and being the least corrupt country in Africa, Botswana comes at the bottom of the Happy Planet Index. It scores a pitiful 22.6, way below the Democratic Republic of the Congo (30.5) and Zimbabwe (35.3). Botswana’s people might enjoy a much higher standard of living, but that means a larger ecological footprint. …

Happiness economics has similar problems. It works by asking people how satisfied they are with their lives. To assess “experienced well-being,” the Happy Planet Index uses a question called the “Ladder of Life” from the Gallup World Poll. It asks respondents to imagine a ladder, where zero is the worst possible life and 10 is the best possible life, and report the step of the ladder on which they feel they currently stand.

The problem with a question like that is that your horizons might be a little more limited if you’ve grown up in a war-torn village in Afghanistan instead of prosperous, stable and connected Denmark. The average inhabitant of Copenhagen can probably imagine a more impressive life than the average inhabitant of Kabul, and that means a much higher bar for the real lives to meet.