Can The U.S. Cut Its Energy Consumption?

A Canadian economist says the U.S. is heading for a major collision between rising energy prices and its lifestyle of excess.

2 minute read

November 29, 2007, 10:00 AM PST

By Christian Madera @

"Americans will have to face a stark reality as they strive toward a greener lifestyle: no matter how much more efficient their vehicles, homes and products are, they're using them too much, a new report suggests.

U.S. energy use per unit of gross domestic product has fallen more than 50 percent since 1975, indicating a more efficient society, according to a report by CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin. However, total energy use has risen by more than 40 percent, Rubin said, because of an "efficiency paradox": greater efficiency makes energy cheaper, enabling greater use.

Such a paradox has broad implications for the future of energy security in the U.S., which has been focused on expanding the renewable-energy sector through tax credits and other initiatives to curb carbon dioxide emissions and reduce reliance on foreign oil. However, such measures have had "little impact" on either, Rubin says in his report.

Factors causing the surge in energy demand include a population that has grown by more than 40 percent since 1975, the "suburbanization" of America and a wealthy society than can simply afford to use more energy. However, Rubin is focused on the lifestyle of excess that defines a certain segment of America: "gas-guzzling" SUVs, longer drives, bigger homes, more cars per household and a culture that supports leaving the lights, computers and air conditioners on when no one's home."

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