Nonprofit journalism dedicated to creating a Human Age we actually want to live in.


How much energy would it take to end poverty?

Researchers calculate the energy required to provide basic material needs and have a decent living standard.
November 21, 2019

Let the best of Anthropocene come to you.

Over three billion people lack adequate access to clean cooking or electricity, while over a billion lack clean water and sanitation, Narasimha Rao of Yale University and his colleagues write in a new study published in Nature Energy. “Energy is an unavoidable input into the built environment that supports human life.” So it’s important to know whether a global warming target of up to 2°C would be compatible with support for a decent life for all.

To answer that, the researchers tackle the key question: how much energy do societies need to provide for people’s basic needs and lift them from poverty?

The researchers chose three representative countries for their analysis: Brazil, India, and South Africa. For each, they looked at the material requirements for basic needs. Then they calculated the energy resources it takes to meet those needs while taking into account the vastly different economic, cultural and climatic conditions in those countries.

For instance, the researchers look at the energy needed to cool homes to a comfortable temperature and humidity. They calculate the energy needs for building a minimally sized home—they assume 10 m2 per capita—and cooling just the bedrooms at night to a comfortable 26°C rather than to the 18°C level used in most studies.

The highest energy use factors for decent living were mobility (51–60%), producing and preparing food (21–27%) and housing (5–12%). Other basic social wellbeing needs such as health care, clothing, water, sanitation, and education, did not use too much energy, the team found.

The energy requirements of course varied with country. In Brazil, for instance, the energy intensity from transport is high because most of the populace relies on cars. In India, meanwhile, “over two-thirds of the population that use motorized transport still rely on public bus and rail,” the researchers write.

Recommended Reading:
Scientists add a new twist to the many afterlives of coffee grounds: Toxic cleanup

Overall, however, they found that the energy required for everyone in these countries to have a decent living standard is well below their current, unequally-distributed national energy use. Which means that even with increased energy demand they could still meet climate commitments. Plus, the energy use of physical infrastructure, transit, and buildings could be reduced by providing extensive affordable public transit and use local materials in building construction.

Source: Narasimha D. Rao, Jihoon Min and Alessio Mastrucci. Energy requirements for decent living in India, Brazil and South Africa. Nature Energy, 2019.

Photo: Patrick Bentley/SolarAid



Our work is available free of charge and advertising. We rely on readers like you to keep going. Donate Today

What to Read Next

Anthropocene Magazine Logo

Get the latest sustainability science delivered to your inbox every week


You have successfully signed up

Share This

Share This Article