Less Energy Still Powers a Good Life

Less Energy Still Powers a Good Life

Quantifying happiness can be a tricky thing, but a new study that looks at energy use and quality of life data finds that it’s possible to have a happy, healthy life on way less energy than the average American uses. The research found that a person can live a well on 75 gigajoules (GJ) a year (the equivalent of about 8 gallons of gas), while Americans use an average of 284 GJ a year per capita. Researchers used the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as their standards for a "good life,” including electricity access and food supply.

"It's not super hard to conclude that Americans are generally not as efficient with their energy use as they could be," Sarah Ladislaw, managing director at RMI, a nonpartisan organization pushing for a rapid clean energy transition, told NPR.

Why This Matters

Using less energy, as the study proves, does not mean a lesser quality of life. In fact, solutions that reduce carbon emissions in cities have also been shown to make people happier. Researchers at the University of British Columbia are exploring how taking personal climate actions (like biking instead of driving and reducing meat consumption) can also make people feel better, too. As Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, one of the workshop’s co-founders, put it to Atmos, "People are going to have to make substantial behavioral changes to tackle climate change, which also creates an opportunity for people to change in ways that are good for their happiness.”

CBS: Huge carbon emissions cuts needed, UN climate report finds, April 4, 2022.

Transportation Is The First Step

Transportation is the top sector for US climate-damaging emissions, so getting people out of cars and trucks is key. But making the switch from driving to biking, walking, or public transportation a reality requires infrastructure. Although a paltry .6% of Americans commute by bike, it’s possible US cities can increase that number with investment and effort. In Davis, California, a vanguard for bike infrastructure, about 20% of residents use a bike to commute.

Reuters: 2021 saw jump in greenhouse-gas emissions, says report, January 10, 2022.