Most of the western world are obsessed with GDP (the Gross Domestic Product index, based on economic index). So if we have more hospitals, prisons, wars, ecological clean-up etc, it’s deemed as ‘good’ as it earns money and creates jobs. Of course, that means keeping people sick or in crime or in war or spilling oil in the oceans.
Many economists want new forms of judging a country’s wealth, to include health, environmental and animal welfare, sustainability, happiness etc. You’ve likely heard of the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan with its ‘happiness index’. The (non-democratic) King has banned many things (including cigarettes, billboards, McDonald’s and coca-cola, on the grounds that none of them make his subjects happy!)
The best alternative is the Happy Planet Index, which plummets the UK down to 14th on the list, and the USA an abysmal 122nd). Top country here is Costa Rica (home to toucans and sloth bears!) This beautiful country got rid of its military years ago, and used the money to invest in protecting rainforests and creating green educational spaces for children. It outperforms the US on life expectancy, wellbeing and environmental sustainability, despite ‘earning’ less than half of the USA’s income. Yet people are healthier and happier. The country’s ecological footprint is also one third of the USA.
In the Andes mountains live some of the longest-lived cultures on earth. In his book Healthy at 100, John Robbins (who walked away from his family’s Baskin-Robbins ice-cream fortune to study the health of populations), the four populations live in Japan, Russia, Pakistan and the Andes. Although diet plays a part, the main reasons why they all live so long seem to be no loneliness, fresh air, work and faith. There are reports of several people in Chile living to 120 or 135! It’s no mystery when we learn that the Vilcabamba people live far high up without access to chemicals, cars or TVs.
Also south of the Mexican border is the former crime-ridden city of Bogota in Colombia. Enrique Peñalosa is the former Mayor who also attempted to become of the world’s first Green Party presidents (he lost, and says his profession is a politician – but not a very good one, as he keeps losing elections!) A few years back during his first stint, he made headlines worldwide, when he ripped up the budget to build more roads and instead built cycleways and bus services, and gave extra money to build green spaces for children. He obviously wasn’t popular, but turned a gridlocked crime-ridden city into one that was almost car-free.
While studying English, he noted that one of the first words he learned was ‘shopping’. He thought that meant ‘to go and buy things’. But he wrote that he later learned that in fact, it was simply people ambling around malls, because as natural social beings, they just wanted to meet people.
In cities that are a bit sick, shopping malls replace public space as a place for meeting people. Public space is for living, doing business, kissing and playing. Its value can’t be measured with economics or mathematics. It must be felt with the soul. Enrique
Music Break: telepatía
If you’ve never discovered Scary Pockets, now’s the time! This has a regular back-up band and brings in talented singers and musicians from around the world, to do ‘funk covers’ of popular songs. Check this out, the bassist Nicole Row is creating a real stir in the music world, having already toured with the likes of Miley Cyrus.