Decoupling Energy Consumption from Living Standards
You know, what--what makes our economy grow is energy. And, and Americans are used to going to the gas tank, and when they put that hose in their, uh, tank, and when I do it, I wanna get gas out of it. And when I turn the light switch on, I want the lights to go on, and I don't want somebody to tell me I gotta change my way of living to satisfy them. Because this is America, and this is something we've worked our way into, and the American people are entitled to it, and if we're going improve our standard of living, you have to consume more energy.
Grassley is just one of many idiots who see the American "national interest" as requiring government action to secure "safe, reliable, and abundant" energy supplies for the economy.
Didn't conservatives use to condemn "feelings of entitlement" to get stuff without, you know, paying for it?
At the other end of the spectrum, people like George Monbiot work on the assumptions that 1) reduced energy consumption will mean reduced living standards; and 2) reduced energy consumption must be imposed by the state. Both sides ignore the possibility that there are more and less energy-intensive ways of producing the same consumption goods, and that the market price of energy might affect which is chosen.
At Catallarchy, Randall McElroy posts an excellent quote from Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist that calls these mirror-image assumptions into question:
… Over the same period Denmark actually went even further and “delinked” the connection between a higher GDP and higher energy consumption: in total Denmark used less energy in 1989 than in 1970 despite the DGP [sic] growing by 48 percent during that time.
Of course, I've expressed more than a little skepticism about how valid a measure GDP is of living standards. But I seriously doubt that the real standard of living has been hurt by Denmark's reduced energy consumption.
In any case, as I've argued before, the one thing needful to encourage energy conservation is for all the costs of energy production to be internalized by the consumer. Artificially cheap inputs are consumed in excessive amounts, because the distorted price signal gives the consumer inaccurate data about the real cost of producing what he consumes. High energy prices that fully reflect all the costs of providing energy will lead to less energy-intensive forms of production.
Right now, in the American economy, subsidized consumption of energy and transportation factors means that it's artificially cheap to buy stuff produced by a big factory at the other end of the country (or in China), rather than by a small factory in the county where you live. And subsidies to sprawl mean that for each of us, there are two separate cities--a daytime city where we work and shop, and a nighttime city where we sleep--each with its own electrical power system, and with expensive freeways running between them. Simply eliminating such massive, subsidized waste would likely reduce energy consumption to a fraction of what it currently is. And that's not even counting all sorts of other stuff, like passive solar building design, or on-site processing of farm waste into biomass fuel at the point of consumption.