21 July 2008

Another gross index

While on yet another business trip a short while ago, the international edition of Newsweek caught my attention. The cover story was about the 2008 Environment Performance Index (EPI), ranking nations according to environment-friendliness of their policy makers. Kinda like a Gross Domestic Product index for green-ness.

For a graphic overview of what EPI is designed to measure, have a look at the dedicated site from Yale university. The project is run by Yale and Columbia universities, by the way, and Columbia also has a site devoted to it.

The top ranked country is Switzerland. Then follows three of the Nordic countries, before Costa Rica. A lot of countries team up closely behind these, all achieving a EPI score above 80 on a scale from 0 to 100.

Newsweek's take on the EPI was interesting. There was first an editorial, then they picked 10 countries from various parts of the list, and presented them more thoroughly. There were quotes from interviews with the scientists behind the study, and sensible, level language describing how the different factors had contributed to this or that score in the overall index.

The index itself is quite interesting too. There are so many factors involved, and so many ways to weigh the factors into the total. Rather than compiling a set of hard facts, the EPI provides a perspective for discussion. Not among scientists, though I'm sure they will debate the methodology fiercely; just like they did two years ago when Yale/Columbia released a pilot EPI. For example, some Norwegian scientists protested loudly about the way to measure the impact of fisheries on the marine food chain. The main target group, though, is policy makers. The politicians and economists who really need such quantifications to make sense of anything environmental. Hopefully, this index will contribute to a better understanding among them.

On the other hand, it seems odd to rank the most-consuming economies in the world at a top of a list measuring environmental friendliness. It feels like there must be something important missing from EPI, allowing this to happen.

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