A couple of days ago I came across an article in the Financial Times that said that China surpassed the U.S. in energy consumption for the first time in 2009. However, while on the surface that news is cause to celebrate since we're not the national energy hogs we're always made out to be, the truth is that on a per capita basis, we consumer way more energy than the average Chinese.
Way of Life
That fact is because of our standard of living relative to the Chinese. Although there is a growing middle and upper class in China, America has had a solid and large middle class since the 1950s. That means a car for practically every suburban adult (including driving age children), homes with air conditioning turned to a very comfortable 72 degrees and more house that we can fill with our 2.2 average children.
We're not going to grow renewable energy fast enough for Americans to get off the fossil fuel diet. What we can do in the meantime is adjust some of the preconceived notions about what constitutes an American quality of life.
For one thing, we can continue the trend seen the last couple of years of smaller homes. I grew up in a three bedroom, one and a half bath house that would fit with room to spare in my current home. I'm a house hog; I admit it. However, the plans of my wife and I are to seriously downsize in a few years, and shrink our use of energy in the process.
Americans also are frequently in a hurry. I'm the last person to want to stand in a long line at McDonald's (fast food is another topic altogether), but our lust for speed and getting there -- wherever there is -- in a hurry wastes energy. A look at the fine print on a gas mileage report for the average new car shows that the anticipated MPG is based on driving 55 MPH. We'd still get to wherever we want to go, and save fuel to boot, if we drove more slowly. But we don't. That's not our lifestyle.
Pushing our elected officials hard for the same benefits to flow to non-fossil fuel alternatives is great. But what really is great is if take a look at our own behavior and see what we can do to make living on our increasingly hot planet a little more pleasant and sustainable for all of us.