Be more green, and you'll feel less blue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 July, 2009, 12:00am

According to the British New Economics Foundation survey, Hong Kong scored 41.6 on its Happy Planet Index, way behind mainland China. That certainly raised some eyebrows, while many simply dismissed it as a flawed survey. We scored really high on life expectancy (81.9 years) and life satisfaction (7.2 out of 10) but our green score - 'ecological footprint' - was so bad that we ranked 84th worldwide.

Academics are right to point out that our poor green score is down to our high proportion of urban space, and that if the survey had compared us with mainland cities like Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, we would have turned out to be a lot 'happier', at least in terms of greenness.

The survey raised an interesting question: are we truly happy? If we gauge that by listening to our politicians and opinion leaders, we are not. If we gauge it by our July 1 march numbers, we do not appear to be as happy as the index found, and it has nothing to do with our 'ecological footprint'.

But, if we look at the survey numbers, there is much we can be happy about. For one thing, we can expect to live a long life. This can be attributed to our access to medical care, and proper diet and nutrition. For all the flaws in our public health system, we are still far more fortunate than many societies. We can all feel happy that we do not have to live with bombs going off in our neighbourhoods or worry about famine.

And, for sure, we can be happy about the fact that we are generally satisfied with our lives. The current global financial crisis has made us tighten our purse strings, and the Hang Seng index has, at times, made us nervous, but we can still find satisfaction in life, which can be found in material riches, but is mostly really about our family and friends, and how we feel about ourselves.

'Feel good' factors are often taken for granted, but the fact that we have a social safety net - albeit not a perfect one - receive free education, and live in a society where opportunities are found and not apportioned, are all things we should feel good about. Even our current heated debates about a minimum wage, universal suffrage, and the like, are luxuries for many around the world. For all our discontent, it is important for us to be able to see things in perspective, and to take stock of what we have - and don't have.

But there is one thing we should definitely not feel good about: the way we treat our environment. Although there is nothing we can do to decrease our urban space, we lag way behind in protecting the environment.

For all the conveniences we enjoy in our daily lives, we do not do enough to hold ourselves accountable to the harm we do to our own, and the global, environment. We complain of the pollution imported from the mainland, but what are we doing to save our environment?

Our recent plastic bag levy finally arrived, resulting from a debate that lasted way too long, and some are still complaining about it, claiming their 'manhood' is at risk if they are caught carrying a reusable shopping bag. For all the rubbish we produce as we consume, we have yet to seek solutions beyond extending landfills, while rubbish treatment has long been stalled by the 'not in my backyard' debate.

We complain about the heat, but for all the grand high-rises that make our city- scape, we are not putting up eco-friendly buildings or renovating our skyscrapers in eco-friendly ways.

Indeed, we should not be happy about the way we pursue progress and prosperity, regardless of the harm it presents to ourselves and the world.

And while we must push our government to correct that with the right policies, we must also do what we can, beginning with using our own shopping bags - and being happy about it.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA