“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Energy use and standard of living

I mentioned in my post on the Olduvai theory that, to a large extent, a high standard of living is correlated with a high level of per capita energy use. Using the spreadsheet for Human Development Index from the United Nations here and the spreadsheet for International Primary Energy Consumption from the Energy Information Agency here, I've put together a graphic to show this.

Here's the display (click to enlarge), with a logarithmic scale of per capita annual energy use in btu on the horizontal axis and the U.N. Human Development Index on the vertical axis. This index attempts to measure human development by life expectancy at birth, knowledge and education measured by adult literacy rate and gross enrollment rates, and economic standard of living as represented by natural logarithm of gross domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity. In the graph, each red square indicates the data from a specific country.

The so-called "coefficient of determination," R^2, of the the scatter plot is about 0.82. This can be interpreted as meaning that per capita energy use explains about 82% of the variation in the Human Development Index (though statisticians will cringe).

This is truly very bad news though. The vast majority of the world's population is concentrated in countries with relatively low measures of human development and low energy consumption. These people justifiably would like to increase their standard of living and their ability to do so will either be constrained by lack of primary energy resources or will cause an enormous increase in "self-poisoning" of the human race.

I'll have more to say about this graph in future posts.

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