Giving Compass' Take:
- Laura Benshoff explores the ways in which rich countries can reduce their energy use without also compromising their quality of life.
- How can energy use be reduced on a systems level in wealthy countries? What barriers stand in the way of this?
- Read about energy efficiency disparities in U.S. households.
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How much energy does it take to have a good and healthy life? A new Stanford University study has found that the answer is far less than the average American is using.
Comparing energy use and quality of life across 140 countries, researchers found that the magic number is 75 gigajoules a year, or less. For context, one gigajoule of energy is equal to about 8 gallons of gasoline.
Americans use 284 gigajoules a year per capita, nearly four times that much energy, according to the new research.
"That suggests to me that we could nudge energy use downwards in a bunch of hyper-consuming countries and not just make a more equitable world, but perhaps make ourselves healthier and happier," said lead author and professor of earth system science Rob Jackson.
The link between more energy and better quality of life is established. Globally, around 759 million people lived without electricity and 2.6 billion without clean cooking fuel in 2019, according to the World Bank. That comes at an enormous human cost. Around 4 million people die each year from conditions caused by indoor air pollution from cooking fires, according to the World Health Organization. Access to electricity is critical for providing medical services and powering modern economies.
But this study measured when those benefits plateau. Scientists looked at nine benchmarks for a long, healthy life, based on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals: access to electricity, air quality, food supply, Gini coefficient (which measures wealth inequality), happiness, infant mortality, life expectancy, prosperity and sanitation. All but air quality peaked and began leveling off at or below 75 gigajoules a year.