Guest essay by Roger E. Sowell, Esq.5
Recently on WUWT, a post1 by Willis Eschenbach was made advocating the almost doubling of energy consumption worldwide, by increasing energy use per capita in the poorest countries. This post addresses the issue of increased energy consumption and poses a few questions. I say at the outset that I agree that improving the quality of life is an important goal, and energy consumption per capita is probably a good indicator of quality of life.
First, what do the following countries all have in common? Nigeria, Indonesia, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Mexico, Russia, Canada, and United Kingdom?
Each country is a major oil producer and exporter, but with Indonesia and UK experiencing decreased exports recently. The first seven countries all are, or were, a member of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.2 Yet, all but the last two, Canada and United Kingdom, have below-average GDP per capita, gross domestic product, according to the World Bank statistics.3
Second, while it is true that a correlation can be made between energy consumption per capita and quality of life, there must be something else at work that prevents the oil-rich countries Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, and the others from enjoying that high quality of life. There are fundamental issues that prevent energy-poor countries from copying the success of another energy-poor country, Japan. Japan has essentially no natural energy resources, but found the means to import energy as oil, coal, and liquefied natural gas, LNG, to power its industry, commerce, and residences.4
Until some fundamental issues are resolved, simply increasing energy consumption in the poorer parts of the world will not improve the quality of life.
Among these fundamental issues are, in no particular order, economic system, a fair justice system, and the political or governing system. I don’t imply that I am an expert on any of these countries, or their economic systems, justice systems, or political systems. I have done a fair amount of study, and also have traveled to and worked extensively in five of the countries mentioned above: Indonesia, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and UK.
Perhaps the most important issue is the political system, for the justice system and economic system may depend on who is in power and the type of power exerted. It may be that a representative constitutional democracy is a favored political system. It may be that the degree of official corruption is a major factor. It may also be that civil discord is a major factor. Having a modest degree of government regulation to ensure fair treatment, but not an onerous burden, is surely important.
A fair justice system ensures that those with a legal grievance will be heard, and treated fairly according to laws that do not change on someone’s whim. Having a contract honored, or being allowed to bring a lawsuit for breach of a contract, are important issues. Having a means to collect on a judgment is also important, as it does little good to win a lawsuit, be awarded money as damages, and be unable to collect the money.
A brief anecdote to illustrate the importance of a justice system: during my time in law school, US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke to an assembly of professors, staff, students, and guests. Justice Kennedy spoke on many things that night, but what I most remember is him telling us that he had met recently with members of Iraq’s judiciary. It was soon after the war to remove Hussein ended and Iraq was building up its new government and judicial system. According to Justice Kennedy, the Iraq delegation thanked him tearfully for bringing to the world the US Constitution and its many provisions for legal rights, especially the first ten Amendments known as the Bill of Rights. They intended to copy as much of those rights as they could into their new governing documents.
The economic system may be important, perhaps not as important as other issues. Economic systems in the oil exporting countries range from absolute monarchies to dictators to elected representative.
It is interesting to note that OPEC has existed for more than 50 years, having been founded in 1960, so ample time has passed to allow oil-rich countries to improve their standard of living. A few have, such as Saudi Arabia, but most have not. Clearly, other factors must be addressed besides access to basic energy, if the goal is to improve quality of life.
It is further interesting to note that even within a country with high energy consumption per capita, such as the United States, enormous differences exist between citizens and their energy consumption. It may be that energy per capita in the US is distributed according to a bell curve, with a few percent of the population consuming vast amounts of energy in their mansions, jet airplanes, and fast motorcars. Likewise, a few percent of the population are poor and have very low energy consumption. The majority of the population likely fall in the middle, with about average energy consumption. Clearly, again, other factors must be at work that prevent the poorest from achieving a better quality of life along with higher energy consumption even in an energy-rich nation like the US.
1 WUWT, article of August 21, 2013 “Double The Burn Rate, Scotty”
2 OPEC membership at www.OPEC.org
3 World Bank GDP per capita, 2012 data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD
4 EIA data for Japan www.eia.gov
5 The author is an attorney in California, practicing in engineering, science and technology law. He is a frequent speaker on climate change, energy, and engineering issues. He worked worldwide as a chemical engineer in the energy industry with oil refining, petrochemicals, basic chemicals, and power plants. He blogs at http://sowellslawblog.blogspot.com