The goal of Buddhist economics is to maximize well-being while minimizing consumption. Which country or region comes out on top using this well-being return on natural resources metric? One way to compare is using average life satisfaction and net-primary productivity consumption per capita statistics.
Taking the above data and representing population by the size of the circle give us this graph:
With the goal of maximizing life satisfaction (moving to the right) and minimizing NPP consumption (moving down) to get as close to the south-east corner as possible, which region is the best?
It is obviously not one of the 3 lowest regions in life satisfaction (Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Sub Saharan Africa) as they are less happy and use more NPP than the next least happy, North Africa. The low level of happiness for Central Asia and Eastern Europe can likely be explained by communism while Sub Saharan Africa's low life satisfaction is likely due to poor health and low life expectancy.
Aside: Sub-Saharan Africa's consumption of NPP is inflated by human induced fires. If those were taken out, the region would consume 1,400 kgC/capita of NPP, which is right around the world average, rather than 2,770. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 70% of all human induced fires but only 18% of land mass. Human induced fires account for 32% of NPP appropriation in sub-Saharan Africa compared with just 4% for the rest of the world.
Human induced fires aren't consumption in the sense of something usable by humans like additional food to eat or wood for building houses. But, they are consumption in the sense that nature is no longer able to utilize that NPP. It is also not clear what the impact of the human induced fires on NPP is. It is possible that the fires allow for greater NPP in the future as grasses can more easily grow in the cleared land. In this sense the fires aren't consumption as much as they are an investment in future NPP.
Excluding those three regions, the greater the level of NPP consumption the greater the life satisfaction. This means that the answer of which region is the best depends on whether low consumption or high well-being is valued greater. How much kgC of NPP is worth trading for an additional point of life satisfaction? If a region has a life satisfaction of 6, how much additional kgC of consumption would justify an increase in life satisfaction to 7? Conversely, if a region has a life satisfaction of 7 how large of a savings in consumption would be needed to justify a decrease in life satisfaction to 6?
Crunching the numbers, if each additional point of life satisfaction is valued at greater than 27,000 kgC, then Oceania is best. If it is valued between 27,000 and 4,200 North America is the model. Between 4,200-1125 Western Europe comes out on top, 1125-110 Eastern Asia and less than 110 kgC per point of additional life satisfaction then North Africa.
Aside: The trade off between greater life satisfaction and increased NPP consumption also gets at the quantity vs. quality of life debate. Is it better to have one person use 3,000 kgC of NPP and have a life satisfaction of 7, or two people using 1,500 kgC of NPP each with a life satisfaction of 6? Extended to the global population, is it better to have 6 billion people averaging 1,500 kgC of NPP consumption with a life satisfaction of 6 or 3 billion people averaging 3,000 kgC of NPP consumption with a life satisfaction of 7?
Personally, I would use a value around 1200, which would put Western Europe in the top spot. Western Europe scores 2.2 points higher on life satisfaction than Eastern Europe with almost identical levels of NPP consumption. It scores almost identically to Latin America in life satisfaction while using 920 kgC less of NPP per person. If the whole world were to shift to the Western European lifestyle, NPP consumption would go up 14% or 220 kgC per person, and life satisfaction would increase 15% or .93 points.
Sources & Calculations:
Life Satisfaction values come from World Database of Happiness average level of happiness from 1995-2005. For countries not listed in the World Database of Happiness, life satisfaction values from the Happy Planet Index were used. Scores were population weighted to go from country to region using definitions of regions here.
NPP data was from Global patterns of socioeconomic biomass flows in the year 2000. kgC of NPP/Capita = total biomass appropriation per region + net trade / population. Dry mass was converted to carbon by dividing by two (calculations here).
Life satisfaction values were not available for all countries. Overall, countries that accounted for 5% of the world's population did not have values available. Some regions had a larger percentage of population missing, such as Central Asia where countries that accounted for 13% of regional population were missing. The percentage of each region's population that had values available can be seen in the "LS Response Rate" column here. It is possible that the countries that are missing had life satisfaction values that were significantly different from the average which would skew the results.
NPP is one way of measuring natural resource use. It covers food, animal products, biofuels, wood for construction, cotton for clothing and other goods that were grown. It does not take into account other forms of consumption such as fossil fuels or metal use. The NPP values exclude fish and other goods taken from the sea.
It would be interesting to have more granularity and compare by country rather than region. It would also be interesting to break down a country's results by quantile of NPP consumption to see how it compares with life satisfaction within a country.