#21. Brazil: new narratives of progress

stories • Published October, 2021

Brazil’s rank on the Happy Planet Index in 2019: #21. Explore the data.

By: João Daniel de Carvalho, Sideise Bernardes Eloi, and João Bernardo Valentin Casali

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has long been considered an outdated and inappropriate metric to quantify societal wellbeing. With this said, many alternative indexes have been used since to try to achieve a holistic prism of the truest sense of wellbeing experienced by a given society. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) comes to fill this informational void, providing a set of parameters that can get us closer to these intentions. 

The HPI is composed of three factors, which are life expectancy, a subjective wellbeing assessment (called ladder-of-life) and ecological footprint. Life expectancy and ecological footprints are composed of empirical data subjected to scientific methodologies. The Ladder of Life components are based on a scoring system evaluated by citizens in a wide-ranging sample. 

Brazil is currently ranked in the top 30 countries with the highest scores on the Happy Planet Index (HPI), out of the 152 unanimously recognised countries in the world. But what does this actually mean? Our country’s HPI score has oscillated over the years, but it has definitely begun a declining trend since 2016. Considering the three pillars mentioned above, one would definitely have to deep dive into micro-metrics and extensive correlations to produce a satisfactory answer for why this is the case. 

This is not our aim here, for the sake of well-backed assessments and data-driven science. Here we want to reflect the narratives that our country wants to produce for the future, based on indexes and supporting metrics like the HPI. 

Brazil needs to support public policies that produce an economy that works for life, nature, and the people. In this sense, we should ask ourselves with intellectual honesty:

Brazil may be included in a stable average compared to the rest of the world, but does this represent a fair picture of what the majority of the population faces?

Our Ladder of Life metric is above the global average, but does the peripheral population feel safe, protected, and perceived?

Our ecological footprint is also average, but are we really implementing eco-centric policies? 

The HPI produces a wonderful horizon of where we must go, but in order for us to really create narratives of societal wellbeing, we must take a magnifying glass to look at communities, bioregions, and specific sectors of our society. The new narratives for Brazil need to assess the richness and diversity of our continental country. 

Moving forward

Brazil needs to keep pushing for the wellbeing policies that benefit the whole spectrum of our population. For example, considering life expectancy, we need to combat violence against black people, expand the reach and quality of our public universal health care system (“Sistema Único de Saúde – SUS”, in Portuguese), and foster a new era of support and quality of services for vulnerable communities. We need to swiftly implement, with rigour and efficiency, the expansion of basic sanitation for under-served sectors of the population, which as a consequence, also enhances the quality of our environment and addresses environmental racism. 

As per our ecological footprint, we need to usher in a new era of regenerative development, investing in nature protection and rewarding forest and native vegetation preservation and regenerative agriculture. The country needs to shift to a new era of an autonomous, decentralised renewable energy mix. No more dams in wild rivers, no more nuclear power, no more of the bogus centralised and extremely impactful energy development mentality of the 20th century. 

And then there’s the wellbeing assessment! Oh boy. Here is where things get tricky. There are no ready-made solutions, but we definitely know the challenges and the road for improvement. To improve the rates of subjective wellbeing in Brazil, perhaps we should understand if our population feels perceived and supported. Well, in a general sense they don’t! 

Brazil is a rich and diverse country with a beautiful, creative, resilient, and diverse population. Maybe this creates a perception of a happy and thriving society. But the hardships of the marginalised communities need to be discussed openly. 

Namely, we need to end drug-related gang and police violence, particularly in the favelas, and bring a regenerative approach to our relation with drugs. This applies especially to cannabis, which is now widely recognised in the world as a valuable agricultural crop, with many different applications. Let’s generate cannabis tax revenue to invest heavily in the wellbeing and reconstruction of historically under-served populations and into superb quality education for the Brazilian youth. Maybe this can be a start to address social inequality.

These are a handful of the issues we must talk about in Brazil to improve our society’s ‘sustainable wellbeing’; they don’t even scratch the surface. Nevertheless, the HPI can provide us with insights on how to better weave this wellbeing narrative into a cohesive whole, which considers all citizens of this large and wonderful tropical nation.

How should we move forward?

Shifting the narrative of progress for society from endless economic growth, as measured by GDP, to more ecologically-oriented and human-centered views of progress. These are stories that countries should try to tell and build their history upon. 

About the Authors

João Daniel de Carvalho
Legal counsel and consultant with experience in civil, corporate and environmental law, working with carbon markets, startups and innovation. Passionate about forestry law, related public policies and nature conservation efforts. Interested in the intersection between climate-change, nature-based solutions and emerging technologies.
Sideise Bernardes Eloi
Clinical Psychologist at University Santa Ursula – USU, Master in Sustainable Development Practice at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRRJ.
Specialist in Professional Development, and Racial Inequality in the Labor Market in Light of the SDGs.
Member of Forum Ubuntu, CRP-RJ, British Psychological Society, LIL, and Wellbeing Economy Alliance. 
João Bernardo Valentin Casali
Chief Regeneration Officer and Co-Founder of B Corp Iönica. System Change and Impact consultant for Business, Policies and Municipalities. Board Member of Sistema B Brasil, Sinal do Vale, Viva Água, and Weall Spokesperson. Masters of Art in Regenerative Economics at Schumacher College, Postgraduate in Environmental Management at COPPE, Graduate in Law at PUC-Rio, Specialist in Sustainable Business at FGV-Rio and Designer in Sustainability at GAIA Education.

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