In The Case for a Global Carbon Tax, Newsweek contributing editor Fareed Zakaria gets some basic facts wrong when it comes to energy. And, by doing so, he drives some wrong conclusions.
Zakaria writes that
“we consume three times as much energy as we did 30 years ago.”
In fact, according to the US government’s Energy Information Agency, this is not true.
- In 1976, total US energy use was 76 quadrillion Btus.
- In 2006: 99.7 quadrillion Btus.
That percentage increase was 31% rather than the 200% (“three times”) Zakaria writes in the article.
In that time period, it was the US economy that tripled (not energy use) and the US population grew by 36.9%. Thus, with a growing economy, there was actually a per capita decrease in energy use.
Zakaria quotes in the opening paragraph from a 2001 speech by Vice President Cheney
“conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy”
Zakaria then comments that this is “accurate and should be at the heart of any new, ambitious policy to tackle global warming and energy use.” To reach this conclusion, Mr Zakaria uses incorrect information:
“In the end, everyone realizes that innovation is the only real solution to the global-warming problem. And that’s where Cheney is right. Conservation and energy efficiency are smart policies, but not enough.”
Well, many energy experts would disagree with this statement, such as Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), who coined the phrase “negawatts” to describe the reality that we can save a tremendous amount of energy for less than it costs to create new energy generation capability. Study after study bear this out. Conservation and Efficiency have worked wonders already. Yet, tremendous potential remains for even more savings at costs far below what it takes to create new power generation capacity.
Zakaria states that “rising living standards mean rising energy use”. This ‘truism’ is not necessarily true. California, for example, uses roughly the same level of electricity per capita that it did 30 years ago while the rest of the nation has seen 60% increased electrical use per capita. How did California achieve this? Did Californians somehow do without the “rising living standards” that Zakaria discusses? No, absolutely not. What has occurred is a systematic investment — from power generation to the home — in better building codes and better technologies to achieve more efficient use of energy.
I agree with Mr Zakaria on the need for new approaches toward energy in the United States and globally. I agree that a carbon tax (even if I prefer the term Global Warming Impact Fee) could have tremendous benefits.
Policy discussions should rest on reality and facts. But, sadly, this article doesn’t rest on shaky ground but on falsehoods. Getting the facts wrong in major publications does not help the nation move toward a better future.