How much energy does it take to achieve human well-being?

What do we need to live within the Earth’s limits? An ambitious, multi-disciplinary, multi-national research project launched this month at Leeds, aims to answer this question.

The five-year Living Well Within Limits (LiLi) project will investigate what natural resources – specifically energy – are needed to achieve human well-being.  It also seeks to determine how calculation of the resources needed is affected by technical systems, such as land use and supply chains, and also social systems, such as culture and markets, while asking how the planet’s limited resources can be best used to achieve well-being.

The project will draw on environmental, engineering, economic and social sciences expertise and will involve researchers not only from across the University of Leeds campus and also from numerous institutions at home and abroad.

In the UK, these include the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester, as well as the School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics and Oxfam research team. International involvement comes from Mercator Research Institute in Berlin; University of Lausanne; University of Oslo and Brown University in the United States.

LiLi is led by Dr Julia Steinberger from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, who has been awarded a £1m Leverhulme Research Leadership Award for the project.

Dr Steinberger said: “The LiLi project represents a unique opportunity to connect the main challenges of our time: prioritising human development and well-being and reducing environmental impacts to levels which do not endanger our survival on this planet.

“Human well-being has usually been the concern of social science, but we now see the need to bring in ideas and measures from natural and physical sciences, as well as radically different economic concepts to bridge the gap between the society and environment.”