A footnote to my discussion here the other day about Romney and climate change: I note in yesterday’s account of Romney’s troubles in the Puffington Host another part of his answer that deserves comment:
I also want to see us become more energy efficient. I’m told that we use almost twice as much energy per person as does a European, and more like three times as much as does a Japanese citizen. We could do a lot better. I’d like to see our vehicles, and our homes, and our systems of insulation and so forth become far more efficient. I believe that we have a role in trying to encourage that to happen.
Sigh. This once again reflects Romney’s frequent slavishness to the conventional wisdom. I’ve commented a lot on this trope, most recently over on my American.com weekly energy blog in response to Newsweek magazine’s claim that “”The United States is known throughout the world as a pathetic energy hog,” a claim made without a single fact or statistic to back it up or provide context.
Such as, for example, that as the economy that produces the most goods and services the United States will use the most energy. We use the more energy per capita because we produce the most economic output per capita and our incomes are about one-fourth higher than European incomes. You’d think someone who ran Bain Capital would grasp this. If our per capita output were, say, the same as Haiti, our energy consumption would be modest indeed.
The right way to approach this is to compare economic output per unit of energy use. The World Bank’s 2010 Little Green Data Book provides a measure of economic output per unit of energy in the common metric of dollars of GDP per kilogram of oil equivalent, and the table below shows that the United States is right about at the global average, and about one-third lower than the Eurozone average, not half or one-third as much as Romney’s simplistic answer would lead you to think.
GDP per Unit of energy (2005$[PPP]/kg of oil equivalent)
Note, by the way, the figures for Canada and Finland–both worse than the United States, almost certainly because their colder winter climates require a lot of energy. (Norway’s figure is a statistical anomaly; Norway’s per capita income is much higher than its neighbors because of its huge oil and gas revenues, which is ironic when you think about it in the context of this “energy efficiency” mania.) Moreover, the U.S. has been improving its energy efficiency at a faster rate than the world as a whole lately, as I noted in my earlier post:
Energy consumption per dollar of economic output (the definition of “energy intensity”) has declined at an average annual rate of about 1.7 percent during for the last 60 years. The United States has actually done better than the world average. Since 1980, world energy intensity has declined 36 percent; in the United States it has declined by 43.6 percent.
But that is just the beginning of the story. As I commented in a long analysis of this and related subjects in a paper back in 2008:
[E]ven if U.S. GDP were one-quarter lower, U.S. per-capita [energy use] would still be substantially higher than the G8 average because of larger homes and longer transportation distances in the United States. The average dwelling unit in the United States is about 2,400 square feet today (up from 1,500 square feet in 1970), while the average dwelling unit in western Europe is about half that (800 square feet in Italy, 1,300 square feet in France, and 1,200 square feet in Germany, for example). Because of Europe’s milder summer climate, most homes are not air-conditioned. Over 60 percent of American housing units are air-conditioned, and in recently constructed housing, the number approaches 90 percent. Less than 10 percent of housing units and only 27 percent of commercial buildings in Europe have air conditioning, compared with 80 percent of commercial buildings in the United States.
And think about transportation for a minute. The U.S. for example, ships by rail twice the amount of freight twice the distance of Europe. (So much for the cliché that Europe has better rail service than the U.S. For passengers, yes; for goods, we kick their rear ends. And our rail sector has shown huge improvements in energy efficiency over the last 50 years.)
The point is: when you compare climate and geographical and income differences, Europe’s supposed energy superiority over the U.S. largely disappears. Question for the class: anyone want to live like a European in a smaller house or apartment, and without air conditioning? Anyone? Buehler?
C’mon Mitt–you need to step up your game.