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Secret Lives Title - The Energy Problem


TOPIC QUESTION: Should Americans reduce their energy use, considering how much more energy they use than people in other countries?


"In 1999, with less than 5 % of the world's population, the US generated 30 % of the world's GDP (Gross Domestic Product), consumed 25 % of the world's energy, and emitted 25 % of the world's carbon dioxide."

"The United Nations compiles annual statistics about human development and the environment in 174 countries. The statistics relate to energy use, life expectancy, nutrition and health, income and poverty, carbon dioxide emissions, and so on. Three of the indicators are combined to calculate a Human Development Index (HDI). The UN's HDI is considered by many to be a fair measure of basic human well-being."

"Alan Pasternak...found a correlation between electricity consumption and the HDI (see the figure). His analysis showed that HDI reached a high plateau when a nation's people consumed about 4000 kWh (kilowatthours) of electricity annually per capita..."

graph of per capita electricity use versus human development index

From Physics Today website, SPECIAL ISSUE: The Energy Challenge , adapted from
A. Pasternak, Global Energy Futures and Human Development: A Framework for Analysis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory rep. no. UCRL-ID-140773 (October 2000).
See full report at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Page
(approved for public release; further dissemination unlimited)

Considering the above data, it would seem that the US could reduce its energy consumption and still maintain a high HDI.

Some Pros and Cons
Since the US uses so much energy per person, it can easily reduce its consumption by taking a number of simple conservation steps. The US needs to use more energy per person because the country is so large, which requires many more miles of driving.
By cutting down on energy use, the US would become more efficient, lower prices, and stimulate the economy.
Cutting back on energy use would slow down the US's growth rate and hurt its economy.
If the world's oil supply either runs out or is cut off, the US would be forced to cut down its energy consumption quickly. The use of coal would dramatically increase air pollution and shale oil is not a proven technology at this time.
The US still has huge reserves of coal and shale oil if needed in the future. And new energy supplies will keep on being developed.
The US can use its tremendous technology to increase energy efficiency, and still maintain almost the same high standard of living.
The US's strength of innovation, based on research and development, require large amounts of energy.
By continuing to consume energy at its present rate, the US is dependent on foreign sources of energy and is running a huge balance of payments deficit.
The US can use all the energy it wants, as long as it is rich enough to pay for it.