Friday, February 8, 2008

Oil and Life

Since February 5 was the first Tuesday of the month, R-Spec, the Rochester Speculative Fiction Fans, held its usual meeting. This time we were addressed by an energy expert, Ben Ebenhack. He gave an interesting and informative talk, but one point puzzled me.

Among other statistics, he showed us a curve relating energy consumption by country to the UN's "quality of life" indicators, and the curves show a strong correlation. What puzzled me was why everyone else seemed surprised by this. Quality of life depends (in part) on medical care, education, safe streets (or at least as safe as possible), sufficient food, clean water, etc. On an overcrowded planet, all of these require energy consumption. You don't run a good hospital without a lot of equipment and the means to manufacture drugs. You can't release kids from the fields to go to school unless you use energy-consuming machines. So why was everyone surprised at this correlation? What am I missing here?

Incidentally, the country that consumes the most energy of all is.... Iceland. But because a lot of it is geothermal, they're sitting pretty.


Mike Flynn said...

It's gotta fit the Narrative. Quality of life is Good. Oil is Bad. How can they possibly go together! I am reminded of an anecdote I read a while back.

Students in a history class were watching a documentary film on the Spanish Civil War. The Narrator intoned, "The rebels advanced on Madrid," and the class burst into cheers.

You see, they had learned from the Kultur that Rebels were Good. They had not learned that Franco was the rebel.

Arun said...

That is very interesting. Here's my two cents:

I think that as quality of life increases people tend to use more electricity for secondary consumption.

The other point that I'm not sure was addressed was this: in a lot of developing countries, people tend to use very little electricity (especially if they're lower class). After spending a lot of time in rural South India I noticed that people there mainly used these to for day to day purposes:

1. firewood (to heat water and cook food.)

2. Biogas methane extraction (quite a few farms neighboring my Grandpa's own farm take the dung from their cattle and store it in an underground tank. They extract the methane via a pipeline and use it in gas stoves.)

3. Kerosene ( This seems quite commonly used for lamps as opposed to lightbulbs. [Lightbulbs seem to be used mainly by the govt. for lighting public areas.]

I guess as quality of life goes up natural gas,electricity, coal, and oil become more efficient when compared to the crude innovations mentioned above.


bluesman miike Lindner said...

I don't see the surprise either. Seems obvious.