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Are we happier in the West?

Knute Berger, Crosscut
A new poll suggests Western states report a better sense of well-being, but neither prosperity not recession seem to be making most Americans happier.

A new Gallup study suggests that people in the Western United States have a much greater sense of well-being than other Americans. States that topped the feel-good list included Utah, Hawaii, and Wyoming, and strong results were also reported for Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and California, among others. Well-being declines as you go east, with the lowest ratings in Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas and Missouri. The well-being survey takes into account more than happiness, considering optimism, security, and health.

The research does suggest there is some correlation with affluence, but it’s not exact.

… Gallup also has found that America’s mental health scores are going down with the stock market, almost literally.

… But even in good times, the nation’s “happiness” overall has taken a drubbing since the 1950s. Growth and material prosperity have actually lowered our happiness scores. In his 2007 book, Deep Economy, Bill McKibben reports that despite a large and affluent middle class, “all that material progress — and all the billions of barrels of oil and millions of acres of trees that it took to create it — seems not to have moved the satisfaction meter an inch.” For example, he writes, “In 1946, the United States was the happiest country among four advanced economies; thirty years later it was eight among eleven advanced countries. A decade after that it ranked tenth among 23 nations, many of them from the third world….”
(14 March 2009)

U! S! A! We’re Number …. 15?

Dalton Conley, The Nation via AlterNet
… there appears to be a relationship in the United States between inequality — which is largely driven by an explosive rise in incomes at the top — and overall levels of human development.

In the ticker tape of economic bad news, there is perhaps one dire statistic that has not gotten as much attention as it deserves: the American Human Development Index (HDI), released for the first time last year. The American HDI is especially troubling because it puts all this economic gloom and doom in stark human terms. And the results are somewhat surprising: in good times as well as bad, in terms of aggregate health, education, purchasing power, security and general well-being, we have been in decline.

… The first bit of bad news is that America was slipping well before our most recent downturn. Whereas during the 1980s we were consistently No. 2 in the world (Switzerland occupied the top slot in 1980, while Canada did from 1985 to 1990), by the mid-1990s we had slipped to six. And by 2006 (the most recent year available), we had even fallen out of the Top 10 (to slot 15). Income clearly doesn’t capture every dimension, since the United States still holds the No. 2 position in terms of income per capita. Rather, other aspects of American society make it less “developed” than it should be, given the resources available here.

… there is one larger force underlying these trends that has been gaining steam over the past three decades, and that’s income inequality.

Income inequality has been rising since the late ’60s and is greater in the United States than in any other developed (i.e., rich) country. Income inequality can matter for general health, knowledge and our shared standard of living, for several reasons. First, the more that Americans have vastly different economic means at their disposal, the harder it is to generate political support for investments that would raise all boats. For instance, inequality often leads well-to-do people to abandon the public school system — or to move to particularly well-funded districts, where house prices are highest. Some scholars even posit that high inequality harms our health, as a result of the stress from relative deprivation and increased efforts to keep up with the Joneses (or, as the case may be, the Gateses). While this claim remains highly controversial among health economists, the observation that more-unequal countries generally display worse health than more-equal ones is not in dispute.
(16 March 2009)

Experts agree giant, razor-clawed bioengineered crabs pose no threat
The Onion
(March 2009)
Satire on techno-optimism has echos of helium, fusion power, carbon sequestration and corn ethanol. -BA

U.N. Raises “Low” Population Projection for 2050

Ben Block, WorldWatch via WorldChanging
The United Nations has raised its optimistic “low” estimate of world population growth due to an increase in childbirths in some industrialized nations.

In a biennial report released last week, the U.N. Population Division increased slightly a projection it uses to forecast the size of the human population. The “low-variant” scenario of population growth now foresees 117 million more people on the planet in 2050 than it did two years ago.

While the “median-variant” scenario, often seen as “most likely,” remains almost the same as before – predicting a world with 9.2 billion people by mid-century, up from nearly 6.8 billion today – the earlier low projection did not anticipate jumps in fertility in Europe and the United States [PDF].
(17 March 2009)