Quality of life and energy use
The physical scale of material and energy throughput of human activity continues to threaten the critical natural boundaries of the ecosystem. Energy efficiency and decarbonization efforts are not alone sufficient to counterbalance the impacts of fast-growing demand due to population and economic growth. Further, efficiency improvements often come with rebound effects that offset achievements. In order to carry the human activities within safe boundaries, a limit to total throughput could be targeted. We need to increase human well-being without increasing energy consumption to the ecologically dangerous levels. This could partly be possible by technological efficiency improvements and conservation. On the other hand, it could also be achieved by re-distributing the total available energy resources in the society. In our study, we attempt to develop an approach for measuring a benchmark which may be used to identify excessive uses of energy that do not lead to significant increases in well-being. We call this the “fair energy use level”, for the reason that it also refers to energy justice. We investigate decoupling between energy consumption and some quality of life indicators at the country level via cross-sectional analysis. Different from previous studies, we use residential energy consumption instead of primary energy consumption as it tends to mask the true responsibility of a country. In order for a fair comparison of countries’ energy well-being performances, we corrected energy consumption data for climatic differences and excluded energy-rich countries and biomass dependent countries to control for resource endowment and energy quality. Using the “knee” (maximum curvature) of the function we were able to compute the point after which well-being improvements are negligible. We find approximate levels of per capita energy consumption which could be considered as a boundary for “fair use”. These levels are less stringent than UN benchmarks.