US industry can't ignore an energy-conscious world

Chief economist of Deutsche Bank Group sees reasons why US car exports lag Germany and Japan.

Published: 11-Jan-2002

FRANKFURT, GERMANY - It's no secret that the United States is the world's biggest consumer of energy. The US alone produces one-quarter of total global CO2 emissions. This is only slightly less than the combined total from Western Europe, Japan, Latin America, and Africa. The average Americans are responsible for creating more than twice as much CO2 as their West European counterparts. Internationally, the US is also a leader in per capita consumption of electricity and water. One reason for America's high consumption of resources is its comparatively low energy prices. The price of gasoline in some West European countries (the United Kingdom, for instance) is more than three times as high as in the United States, because of taxes.

Another reason is that many American consumers still don't have an environmental mindset (partly, of course, because energy and resources are so cheap). Nonstop air conditioning and gigantic refrigerators are just two cases in point.

At heart, politics is primarily responsible for the US's pronounced appetite for energy. In the past, American politicians have provided few incentives to conserve energy or to use natural resources more efficiently. Cheap energy has traditionally been an objective of US policy, and the environment has taken a back seat. On the international stage, the US withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol demonstrates environmental policy's marginal role in America.

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