Cardiff Council tells me when I’m going to die

March 17, 2010 1 Comment »

Created by Paul Seligman using a tombstone generator

As I left the opening showing of the Wales One World Film Festival at Chapter, I was handed four double-sided glossy A4 pages from the Sustainable Development Unit of Cardiff Council.

As well as some routine advice on how to reduce your Carbon Footprint, these included a ‘sustainability index test’ and a ‘sustainability score card’. You answer some multi-choice questions on the test, score your answers and transfer the results to the score card. Rather like those questionnaires in lifestyle magazines, the ones that no one takes too seriously.

Surprisingly, section A of the score card is headed ‘Calculating Life Expectancy’. On completing this, I am told that my ‘estimated life expectancy’ is 76.7 years.

Well, it’s handy to know. I can plan my retirement knowing how long the money has to last, and I know how long I’ve got left to do those things that I always wanted to.

But should the Council be in the business of telling me this? I rather think it should be a matter for health professionals. What if I were already 76? It might seriously upset an older person to be told they were likely to die within the year.

I’d have been given another 4 years if I’d answered that I was a vegetarian or ate meat no more than twice a week. Never mind what meat, or how much, or what the rest of my diet is. I may as well give up eating my ‘five a day’, as according to the Council, it won’t prolong my life by a single day.

I can find no credible evidence that vegetarians in the UK will live four years longer than meat eaters. Nearly all claims that vegetarians live significantly longer than meat eaters in any given society have ignored the other attributes of vegetarians, who tend to be non-smokers and very aware of health issues, for instance.

If I took public transport to work instead of driving, I’d apparently live another year. Only, in my experience of crossing the city on our bus network, if two hours of moderate stress every day will extend my life more than one hour of comfortable travel. Some of the other test questions are similarly suspect.

There are also many factors that aren’t considered, such as income, which we know has a major effect on life expectancy, and alcohol consumption.

Our council taxes should not be paying people to produce this pseudo-scientific nonsense. You might as well enter your details on web sites like Death Date (please note that this is not an endorsement of that site).

I think one reason for calculating your life expectancy is that is used in Section D: ‘Calculating your sustainability Index’. If you’ve managed to cope with the fairly complex system of transferring answers and scores, you finally get to a formula that I think the average citizen will struggle to evaluate.

Scanned by Paul Seligman

Calculation from Cardiff Council's Sustainability score card

Using my calculator, I find that my sustainability index is apparently slightly above the average in the US, almost twice that in Zimbabwe, but well below the average in the UK. It’s rather surprising that Zimbabwe has the lowest sustainability index in the world. Surely one of the poorest nations on earth cannot be living a life style less sustainable than the United States?

I really have no idea what this means. I’d like to know how much it cost to produce, and that would include all the salaries involved.

I have been critical of many previous Council surveys. They often offer choices biased towards the Council’s preferred answers.  But this one really should never have been produced.

If you do get one, please remember to put it in your green bag. It’s the best place for it.

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One Comment

  1. Saamah Abdallah March 18, 2010 at 11:07 am - Reply

    As the 'pseudo-scientist' who developed this index, I feel it's my duty to reply. Of course, four sheets of A4 are hardly going to be able to accurately calculate your footprint, life expectancy and sustainability index – that's true. And the data from this is not going to inform the Office of National Statistics estimates of life expectancy in Wales. For example, what you say about vegetarianism not actually being the cause of a life expectancy increasing by four years may be true, but the fact that it correlates with life expectancy is good enough for this survey, where we wanted to get a quick estimate with as few questions as possible.

    Rather, the point of the index is to encourage people to think about their well-being and their impact on the environment at the same time. You mentioned public transport. Well, say what you like about the buses in Cardiff, but the fact is that the UK (and I believe Wales in particular) has an acute problem with obesity which is closely linked to our sedentary lifestyles. You personally may not have a sedentary lifestyle – maybe you drive, but then work on a building site, and the survey doesn't capture this – but the evidence is clear: those who use cars more are more likely to be obese, are less likely to get their recommended amount of physical exercise and, actually, find their commute more stressful than those using public transport. Personally I find this a powerful message which is more likely to change behaviours than reference to pollution, climate change and other environmental impacts.

    Facing the environmental crisis we do, governments should be doing everything they can to move towards supporting good lives that don't cost the Earth. The questions in the index highlight steps that everyone can do to reduce their impact whilst actually improving their own lives. Your point about Zimbabwe is important – Zimbabwe is not sustainable. Having a low footprint is only half of the equation, supporting healthy happy lives is the other, and there that country is failing. On the other hand you evidently do have a healthy happy life, but – if everyone on the planet lived like you we would need almost four planets to support us. I suggest you look at http://www.happyplanetindex.org which explains this in more detail.

    Oh, and incidentally, Cardiff haven't paid a penny for the particular survey you did. If you must know how much Cardiff are paying to encourage citizens to move towards good lives that don't cost the Earth, it works out at less than 1p per resident.

    Saamah
    nef (the new economics foundation)

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