Sunday, April 26, 2009

Correlation: Energy and Quality of Life

Recently I was reading an interesting chapter from the book Energy at the Crossroads written by Vaclav Smil. The chapter is named Energy Linkages. In here I found an interesting study about Energy and quality of life.

Smil mentions that “all the commonly used measures of energy use are just handy indicators of the performance and the dynamics of processes whose aim should not be merely to secure basic existential needs or to satisfy assorted consumerist urges but also to enrich intellectual lives and to make us more successful as a social and caring species” (Smil, 2008). With this Smil suggests that the we, the society, should find ways to be less disruptive to the maintenance of irreplaceable environmental services. In addition, Smil mentions that high quality of life, physical and mental, is the goal; rational energy ise is the means of its achievement.

Furthermore, I got interested in how the author links and correlates critical measures of human well-being in 57 of the most populous countries. These correlations are based on nutrition, health care, and education. Each one of these countries analyzed had more than 15 million inhabitants, account for nearly 90% of the world’s population.

First, Smil studied the infant mortality and life expectancy. He found that during the late 1990s the lowest infant mortalities were in the most affluent parts of the world. For example, Japan showed only 4/1, 000 live births; Western Europe, Northamerica and Oceania 5 to 7 deaths for every 1000 persons; and the highest infant mortality was found in African countries with 100/1000 inhabitants. These findings were correlated with the amount of energy consumed by each region or country. The acceptable infant mortality corresponded to annual per capita energy use of 30 to 40 GJ. But in those countries were consumed 60 to 110 GJ were with among lowest countries with less infant mortality. The correlation was -.67.

In second place Smil related the Energy consumption and the Female life expectancy at birth. He found that during the 1990s the average female life expectancy in Africa was 45 years where most of the poor countries are located. In contrasts, in wealthy nations like Japan, Canada or European nations, the average female life expectancy at birth was 80 years. Here, countries with energy consumption of 45- 50 GJ p/p had female life expectancy of 70 years old. And, in those countries with average energy consumption of G0 – 110 GJ p/p were around 80 years old. The correlation was .71

In third place, I got interested with the correlation founded between energy consumption and average food availability. Here Smil states that “effective food rationing can provide adequate nutrition in a poor nation even as the variety of foodstuffs remains quite limited while high per capita food supplies in rich countries are clearly far beyond any conceivable nutritional needs and dietary surveys shows that as much 40% of all food available at retail level is wasted” (Smil, 2000 cited in Smil, 2003). He found that minimum adequate supply of food and good variety of 12MJ/day was on those countries with per capita energy consumption between 40 to 50 GJ.

These correlations make people think of the increasing disparity among nations and how energy is correlated directly to their quality of life. I believe that public policies of any country should be oriented to improve the quality of life of its citizens covering the basic needs. It also makes people think how fortunate they might be in comparison to others and how one person could start taking actions to save energy and help others as well.

Literature reviewed
Smil, Vaclav, Energy at the crossroads, The MIT Press, London, England, 2003.

Energy and the German Perspective


John Saville said...

I do think that the correlations shown is quite interesting however not surprising at all. If you think about it the societies that can afford energy can also afford food and heath care. I do think that we should consider quality of life in different terms though. Is all that it takes to have a "quality" life some sort of assurance that you or your wife won't die in child birth. Shouldn't quality of life be measured in level of happiness or contentment with your situation. Who is to say that a poor person from Africa would be more happy if they moved to Kansas and had a lights, more food than they could eat and drove an SUV.

On the other hand I do think it is great that you bring up the food wastage. I think it would be great if we all tried to buy local food or even try to grow our own. Barbara Kingsolver recently came out with a great book telling her family's story of how they subsisted on only their home grown food and local farmers markets for a year. It is a great example of how we should try to lessen wastage in our food supply from source to the dinner table

Hugo Redondo said...

I agree with the previous comment about food and energy. In America, the amount of processing done to most food is excessive. This results in unhealthy food that wastes energy. Acquiring local food is simple in most places through farmer's markets and co-ops. Growing your own food is also a very interesting proposal that can be expanded even to large cities with the advent of green roofs and more sustainable architecture and infrastructure.

Steven Meyers said...

Clearly, energy is linked to critical aspects of society such as food, water, and education. However, we make choices about how we spend our time that have different energy impacts, but also have varying effects on our happiness or quality of life. We may think that we'll be happier or have a better quality of life if we buy a big plasma TV and watch sports all day. That choice increases our obesity and our energy usage. Going outside with friends uses less energy and builds relationships which has been shown to make us happier in the end. Although I have not seen specific data on this, I would imagine the correlation between energy and happiness is similar to that of money and happiness. Studies have shown that happiness does not increase as personal wealth increases after one has enough money to meet basic needs (which in the US has been around $50k/family).

perla.jennifer said...

I think wealth and quality of life have a stronger correlation. Hence, the correlation between energy and quality of life seems to be pretty obvious since money is needed to purchase energy. I don’t thinking there’s a specific mathematical formula where you can plug and chug a couple of numbers and out comes the result of the “quality of life” instead each the quality of life varies by individuals.

I’m 1st generation American. My parents both migrated to the US from El Salvador looking for a better “quality of life” and yes it’s true they have been able to make more money here in the US then they ever would have in El Salvador, but at the expense of becoming workaholics. I’ve been to El Salvador plenty of times and I’ve seen the difference in the quality of living of both countries, and it just seems that even though people are poorer in El Salvador they are more peaceful and happier than Americans.

I think the quality of life for everyone around the world can be improved if everyone were to consider moderating their lifestyle. What I mean by moderating is that everyone should consume the amount of energy/food/ whatever is needed to life a good life and stop over indulging. The only thing left is to define the term “good life” anyone what to take a shot at it?