In search of happiness

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

In search of happiness

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A colleague told me on Friday that he was off to Bhutan for a holiday.  As he is a Manchester United fan, I thought that he was simply escaping the ridicule of City fans, but of course he was in search of wonderful wildlife.  Whenever I think of Bhutan I think of snow leopards - a species which I searched for in vain for many months in the 1990s in Mongolia, a near neighbour.  But I also think of their famous National Happiness Index. 

This was first proposed in 1972 by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the country's former King.   King Wangchuk said that instead of relying on Gross Domestic Product as the best indicator of Bhutan's progress, it should instead consider its "Gross National Happiness."   That was to be measured by its peoples' sense of being well-governed, their relationship with the environment, satisfaction with the pace of economic development, a sense of cultural and national belonging.

I know it has its critics, but it has always made sense to me. 

Talk of Bhutan made me wonder how the Office of National Statistics was getting on with its own attempt at developing a national well being index.  You may recall that David Cameron first spoke about this in opposition saying that "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being".  Then, last year, he asked the National Statistician, Jill Matheson, to develop a national measure of well-being and progress.  Following a five month consultation, a progress report was published in the summer.  Those who replied to consultation felt that health, friends and family, job satisfaction/economic security matter most but also the present and future conditions of the environment. 

As a hypochondriac, who loves his job and likes nothing better than going in search of beautiful places with my family, I think that I probably agree with the findings.  I'd probably add that I was also pretty happy that Chelsea let in five goals this weekend.  However, years of experience has taught me that, in sport, happiness can be fleeting. 

We can expect the first assessment next spring, just before the Rio+ 20 Summit in Brazil - twenty years on from the seminal Earth Summit.  If ever there was a meeting which was focused on enhancing our well-being, this has to be it.  And so it is sad that Mr Cameron, once such an advocate of sustainable development and well-being, has reportedly decided not to attend due to a clash with the Queen's Jubliee.   I hope that he reads Charles Clover's open letter in yesterday's Sunday Times which urges him to rethink his decision and attend.

What makes you happy? Do you think we should have a national index of well-being? And do you think that the Prime Minister should attend the Rio+20 Summit next year?

It would be great to hear your views.

  • Peter - although I did hear the media commentary I have not yet had a chance to look at the Compass initiative properly.  I will do so and offer a comment.  All I would refer to you is our Letter to the Future campaign which did not make a judgement on the fiscal stimulus post Lehman brothers.  However it did argue that spending billions meant building up debt which the next generation would inherit so it would make sense for the spend to be on those things which our children would thank us for.

    Sooty - it is really good to hear from you. I hope you are well.

  • Sounds as if petercrispin has a agenda akin to racism against older people,perhaps he intends to kick his clogs on retirement day so that he is not a drain on the younger people.

    He makes a massive mistake in comparing GDP today with post war 1 and 2 as the difference in work ethic between the population after both wars was so different to todays featherbedded society that it was the only reason that this country turned the massive debt around,now if todays workers could only put half the effort in we would have a chance but surprise surprise they would rather claim benefit and camp outside cathedral.

  • Hi Martin,

                       The Prime Minister should definitely attend Rio+20. but I'm afraid Cameron is, on matters green, convincing superficially but in reality rather shallow; rather like the windmill on the roof he stands a carbuncle to the truth.

                       In the Observer Will Hutton has reported on the Compass initiative of 100 economists to re-start the nose-diving economy; quite a lot of it targeted at "green growth"; there has been a great deal of perhaps necessary eye wash from RSPB on the "Big Society" and "We're all in it together" to an elected government.

                       However the duty of the RSPB is to the environment; not the government.

                       Today our debt levels are low in relation to GDP compared to post WW1 and WW2, in the latter case the luftwaffe had flattened whole sections of industry and our cities. Yet Attlee and Macmillan both were Keynsians. it is true that we do today have a large, perhaps too well in some cases, looked after population of retired folk; but these are not insurmountable problems, even if they have lived far longer than their pension contributions!

                         Therefore where does the RSPB stand on a fiscal stimulus package. I would also hope that any real analysis of the our current debt load would have a good look at the role of Buy to let driving high private debt and rents and post 2001, the unaffordability of the housing sector and the high levels of private mortgage debt (see Griffiths IPPR); this is linked to the unaffordability of building land and its control in land banks.

                         The Land is Ours is calling for the land banks to be referred to the OFT for "pricing out" self builders and calling for fines to be levied in land and released through financial sale to housing co-ops building a fund for housing co-op development. I would argue that rent controls are needed as landlords profiteer on low interest rates, a massive building programme of council houses is required to stabilise the economy from "Boom and Bust" while a return of starter homes to 3x median salary is a requirement of "rebalancing the economy" over a generation. For sustainable development not only should housing be fair but we require a planned large scale drive to train up engineers for a 30 year programme of wave, wind and tidal power development while improving insulation and efficiency in our poor existing housing stock.

                         There is also a need for land release to young farmers perhaps targetting our ageing farm owners to farm "share"and on the edge of cities land release at agricultural rates direct to the young for housing and small scale agriculture/permaculture/self sufficiency to local young people with family or work qualification.

                          We are after all, "all in this together"and need to release the burden being placed on the next generation; as we head to an all too predictable double dip, where does RSPB stand on the Compass initiative?


                                                             Peter Hack