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Does a green future mean less energy usage?

Mar 18

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The Department of Energy claims that cutting down on energy usage is important in the fight against climate change. So why don’t we simply use less energy to improve the environment? It turns out that implementing this plan might not be straightforward. Research indicates that in the coming decades, the combination of rising temperatures and growing urban populations will significantly change how energy is used, with the demand for electricity to cool urban buildings expected to rise by at least 20% in specific regions.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan expands on this dilemma and explains that while there have been some advancements in energy efficiency, such as cleaner appliances, these improvements are relatively minor.

Excerpted from Peter’s March 18 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Some European economists came up with a super-duper-hyper-revolutionary solution to the green problem… just use less energy! Crazy, right? Before we write off this idea completely, let’s break it down.

One of the big problems facing the green transition is that we must double our energy output in order to make it feasible. What if we didn’t need to ramp up output and could just cut energy usage? With all the efficiency gains we’ve made over the years, it seems like a possibility.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. With the correlation between economic activity and energy usage remaining strong, the “use less” solution loses its legs. And then you start to break down populations and climates, and things get even harder. Sure, there are places where using less might work, but good luck getting everyone to move to Iowa…

Everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from San Francisco Bay, where I’m pulling my heels waiting for my flight. I’ve been here for the last several days. And as you might guess, I get a few more environmentally-themed questions in California than they do in other places. The one that I got that I found most interesting, however, came from a series of economists in Europe, who were talking about how the solution to the climate crisis ultimately may well be that we just need to use less. The idea is if we’re using X number of amount of energy, and that’s too much, and solar and wind and the rest are just not ready for primetime, then perhaps they didn’t stick their reputations on this. And then perhaps the only way to go is to go down. Maybe here’s thing, there’s a direct correlation between economic activity and energy use. So while you can make efficiency gains, they tend to be incremental. We have made a lot of those over the last 30 years things like ovens and dishwashers, and refrigerators use about about half the energy that they did back in the 90s. But that’s a relatively small fry. The real issue has to do with location. If you’re living in a place where climate control is required for daily life, I mean, you’re it’s really hard to to use less. So let me kind of give you an example here that put some numbers behind this. If you go back to World War Two, the populations of Iowa, Minnesota and Florida were all between two and 3 million. But if you fast forward to today, Florida has over 21 million. Minnesota has about six and I was still below three. The differences climate, say what you will about the Midwest, it tends to have summers to oppressively hot and winters that are not too oppressively cold. And so if you’re in the middle of it like an Iowa climate control is nice to have. But it’s not required for modern life in the same way that it might be say in hot, humid Florida, or frigid, frigid, frigid Minnesota. But once the Minnesota is could have heat and once the Floridians could have air conditioning, the math changed. Well, that means that living in these places generates a lot of energy demand in order to get the concentrations of populations and the economic activity we have now. So to those economists, I could say this, you know, yes, we could all use less. But that would mean that we all have to move to Iowa.

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