Cuba the only sustainable developed country in the world

Creative Commons License photo: Topyti

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet report (full report as PDF) is an interesting read. Page 19 of the report contains an interesting observation. The graph plots Human Development Index against Ecological Footprint.

The Human Development Index is the UN’s measure for standard of living and development. “Human Development Index (HDI) is an index combining normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide.” The threshold for acceptable human development is defined as a HDI of 0.8.

The Ecological Footprint measures the use of natural resources and effects on the ecosystem.

It compares human consumption of natural resources with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate them. It is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible) the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste, given prevailing technology and current understanding.

An ecological footprint of 1 means that if everybody in the world made use of resources in the same way as the citizens in this country, the Earth could just sustain it. An ecological footprint of 2 means two planet Earths would be needed to sustain this lifestyle if everybody in the world lived like this. Of course, if the ecological footprint is more than one planet Earth, this lifestyle is not sustainable.

The Car in front is a Desoto
Creative Commons License photo: Drown

As you’d expect, the two are correlated. The higher the standard of living, the greater the ecological footprint.

It’s interesting to note that the only country which is sustainably developed is Cuba. If everybody on Earth was to adopt the Cuban lifestyle, everybody would have an acceptable standard of living and we would be operating at 80% of our planet’s ecological capacity.

What this suggests is that if everybody in the world adopted the lifestyle of US citizens, we would need more than 5 planet Earths to sustain it. The USA is obviously appropriating well more than it’s fair share of natural resources.

Of course, I’m not seriously suggesting we all adopt Cuban laws and lifestyles but I think it’s a good way of visualising how sustainable the lifestyles of different countries are. Perhaps there are a few ideas we could adopt from Cuba though.

4 thoughts on “Cuba the only sustainable developed country in the world

  1. Cuba has a lot of old things like 1960s cars because of the American embargo which they need to reuse. I’d put that as the biggest reason.

  2. Obviously, you need to remember that in Cuba foreigners have access to US levels of consumption because under a communist system of production with no property rights or free exchange, they have 1920’s productivity, then, of course they can ‘sustain early 20th century levels of waste and pollution, but not development, since according to all statistics (Penn World Tables, HDR 2007) they are living at 70% of what the Cuban living standard were in 1956. And we have no statistics, government or otherwise, about Cuban living standards since the revolution, because they use Block Accounting from the communist era at fixed government prices, rather than costs. Also recall, there are 2 million refugees that without communism, they would be in Cuba. Also the cost of this so called sustainability (of 1920’s living standards) came at the cost of 40.000 Cubans executed and families displaced. Right now there are 247 prisoners of conscience because they disagree with their government and were courageous enough to speak up.
    This Malthusian argument, is long exhausted, recall Malthus said more people are born that we can sustain, technology changed, it did not happened. If you love technology, recall history of technology has only one lesson: progress is not linear but with discreet jumps.

    • It actually has to do with government mandates to conserve energy and resources; The 1950's car actually pollute more than modern ones. Also, when efficiency improves generally it means that you get more output for the same amount of input, thus leading to a greater possibility for consumption at the same environmental cost as before.

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