U.S. industries from steel-making to plastics synthesis are among the world's most energy-efficient; American agriculture is highly productive, as are America's railroads. But for decades, Americans themselves have been living beyond their means, wasting energy in their houses and cars and amassing energy-intensive throwaway products on credit.
This is the question I'm asking: Do Americans live twice as long because they consume twice as much energy as Europeans? Are you people twice as smart as the average Frenchman? Do you enjoy life twice as much as the average Danish guy? What have we gotten for consuming twice as much energy as Europe? What have we gotten in return?
Exceptional circumstances can accelerate the gradual process of energy transitions: France's decision to develop nuclear energy on a grand scale is perhaps the best example of how that can be done by government fiat. In contrast, America's accelerated shift from coal has been driven by an inevitable embrace of cheaper natural gas.
Our increasingly electrified, electronic, and data-driven society places steadily rising demand on reliable baseload power - that is, on electricity available 24/7/365. Servers never sleep, nor does air conditioning during hot nights, and in Asia's megacities, subways and electric trains take only brief naps between midnight and 5 A.M.
Harvesting the biosphere is still the most fundamental human activity. Without that, everybody's dead, really. We could do quite well without microchips, or the business site of 'Atlantic Monthly,' the gated communities, Guccis, and high-growth GDP. But we cannot do without harvesting the crops and cutting down the wood.
I live in a province where we have the cheapest electricity in North America - indeed, in the Western world - but all of it is perfectly renewable because we have beautiful Manitoba Hydro. Every few tens of kilometers, we can put a river dam. Bingo. One gigawatt here. One gigawatt here.