Feb 23, 2008

U.S. squeezes more GDP out of each drop of energy than the U.K., Japan, or European average.

Is America the environmental leader or the laggard?

Of course it's the leader. The problem is, it's also richer. That means that per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide are going to be higher in the U.S., with its spacious homes, big air conditioners, and long commutes.

But that doesn't mean the U.S. is necessarily an energy spendthrift, argues Hayward, a long-time foil of Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The U.S. squeezes more GDP out of each drop of energy than the U.K., France, Germany, Japan, or the European average.

And here lies the main paradox of the misperception on this issue: it is precisely because the United States is highly energy efficient that we are able to afford and consume more energy than European nations on a per-capita basis. One obvious implication of this analysis is that the United States cannot currently achieve European-level greenhouse gas emissions unless it reduces American output and lowers the nation's standard of living.

For Hayward, the "untold and underappreciated" story is America's constant improvement in energy-efficiency. He offers up a comparison with 1910, when greenhouse gas emissions were at the level many cap-and-trade advocates long to return to. Back then, per-capita income (in 2007 dollars) was $5,964" a bit short of paying for a Prius.

Since then, he says, the economy has grown twenty-fold, emissions six-fold, and per-capita emissions barely doubled. The efficiency drive isn't over, either: "It is likely that the United States is the only industrialized nation whose greenhouse gas emissions fell in 2006 (2006 emissions data for other nations are not yet available)."

Read more By Keith Johnson America: The Efficient, Green Giant?