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Japan eyes robots to support aging population

Masayuki Kitano, Reuters
It looks like a washing machine on wheels, but the bulky contraption vacuuming the hallways of a Tokyo high-rise is a robot.

Japanese researchers hope that robots like this one will be the answer to a pressing question hanging over the country — how to cope with an aging population and a declining labor force.
(12 September 2007)

Family Planning, Population, and Global Warming

Erica Barnett, WorldChanging
Every year, the world’s population increases by 80 million people — with most of the growth in developing nations. As the number of children a woman bears and raises has an inverse relationshipto her — and her children’s — life expectancy and social mobility, improving the availability of family planning options is crucial to improving both public and economic health in these nations.

It has a direct relationship to improving global environmental conditions, as well: according to The Sierra Club’s online primer on the links between global population, family planning, and climate change, as the human population grew roughly four fold over the 20th century — from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion — the growing energy demand led carbon-dioxide emissions to increase twelve fold.

Heather D’Agnes believes it. She’s head of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) population, health, and environment program, and is promoting policies that would expand access to family planning. D’Agnes feels strongly that the more information women and families have not just about contraception, but about the negative impacts of large family size, the more likely they’ll be to opt for smaller families as a result …
(2 October 2007)
It’s a good sign that population is being brought into the discussion on climate and energy usage. -BA

Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen

Hans Rosling, TED
You’ve never seen data presented like this. With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called “developing world” using extraordinary animation software developed by his Gapminder Foundation. The Trendalyzer software (recently acquired by Google) turns complex global trends into lively animations, making decades of data pop. Asian countries, as colorful bubbles, float across the grid — toward better national health and wealth. Animated bell curves representing national income distribution squish and flatten. In Rosling’s hands, global trends — life expectancy, child mortality, poverty rates — become clear, intuitive and even playful


As a doctor and researcher, Hans Rosling identified a new paralytic disease induced by hunger in rural Africa. Now the global health professor is looking at the bigger picture, increasing our understanding of social and economic development with the remarkable trend-revealing software he created.

Why you should listen to him:

Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

(February 2006)
Recommended by David Roberts at Gristmill: “This blew a few of my circuits. You’ll learn a lot in these 20 minutes.

Great graphics. And cheers for Rosling’s point at the end about the existence of untapped pools of data. Getting access to this data in an understandable way is critical to being able to deal with global problems.

The first part of the lecture, though, is an impressive demonstration of … I’m not exactly sure what. Rosling shows data in a whizzy way, and throws in generalizations as data points dance across the screen. It could be true, it could be misleading. There’s no way of telling.

For some reason, I have the feeling that I’m being sold a bill of goods (I think Rosling is a proponent of globalization). I would like to see his assumptions made explicit — for example he apparently uses logarithmic scales for wealth and income — which minimizes our perception of inequality.

Flash is no subsitute for logical thought and analysis. At most, it can show results in a dramatic way.

Hans Rosling has some interesting comments on his blog:

Global Health back on track! (September 06, 2007)

On 5 September history was made by 7 Ministers of Health from low-income countries together with serious politicians from West Europe and representatives from aid organisations that had learnt their lessons . The group launched the International Health Partnership.

If aid from rich countries should effectively improve health of the poor, they said, the aid must be:
1. coordinated,
2. focused on improving health systems as a whole instead of one disease at a time,
3. and part of good national plans.

These statements are evidance based, much needed but “un-sexy”. So let me translate the 3 statements into blunt words…

Five thoughts at the same time (November 30, 2005)

… An evidence base world view requires five thoughts at the same time:
1. World is getting better and better,
2. but at the cost of climate change,
3. and billions still live miserable lives in poverty
4. and in the last decade life got worse for 100 of millions,
5. but as the world is stupidly managed, we have many opportunities to fix the world for the grandkids!

YouTube post of the lecture.
Hans Rosling’s blog
Gapminder (Rosling’s software company)
Scientific visualization (Wiki)
Edward Tufte’s – another pioneer in the visualization of data

Study: Happiness among American men and women reaches minimum at ages 49 and 45

Original: Measuring Happiness and Satisfaction
Les Picker, National Bureau of Economic Research

“Happiness among American men and women reaches its estimated minimum at approximately ages 49 and 45 respectively.”

…In Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle? (NBER Working Paper No.12935), Blanchflower and Oswald study happiness and life-satisfaction data for half a million Americans and Europeans. They draw two main conclusions from the data: first, that psychological well-being moves along a U-shaped curve as we age. Second, that there are important differences in the reported happiness levels of different age groups.

The authors suggest that reported well-being is U-shaped in age. Happiness among American men and women reaches its estimated minimum at approximately ages 49 and 45 respectively. Among European men and women, life satisfaction levels are at their minimum at ages 44 at 43 respectively. The authors emphasize that, because their research controls for many other influences upon happiness and life satisfaction — including income, education, and marriage — these results should be read as truly describing well-being.

By definition, the authors caution, their study has one important limitation. The international datasets that they use do not follow the same individuals over the years. They also note that what truly causes the U-shaped curve in human well-being, and the noticeable regularity of its mathematical shape in different parts of the industrialized world, is not currently known. Potential answers, some more plausible than others, include the following: first, that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell the unfeasible aspirations of their youth. Second, that cheerful people live systematically longer than those who are miserable, and that the U-shape somehow traces out, in part, a selection effect. Third, that a kind of comparison process is occurring – for example, I may have seen school-friends die and as a result eventually come to value my blessings during my remaining years. There are likely to be other explanations for the U-shaped effect, too.
(September/October 2007)
Mentioned in Paul Krugmann’s Oct 4 column:

I’m feeling a lot happier these days than I did a few years ago. My low point was 2002-2003, when it was really, really tough to be a Bush critic. Now, for all the frustrations of these waning days of the regime, the skies seem much clearer.

Or that’s why I thought I was feeling happier. Now I learn that it may just be my life cycle.

I always check out what’s new in National Bureau of Economic Research working papers, and a new one, “Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?”, reports that among American men, happiness reaches a minimum at the age of 49, then rises.

I’m 54 right now.

And all that time, I thought it was Bush getting me down