The Corner

The one and only.



I keep hearing that the U.S. has only 3 percent of the world’s population but uses up 25% of the world’s energy. When I first heard that charge 20 years ago, the figures used were 6% and 40%, but not matter, it is the principle that matters, not the exact percentages. But what does this charge actually mean? What counts as energy today–the same things that counted as energy before the United States existed, viz., the human back, the horse, the ox, the waterfall, the windmill, peat,or firewood or coal in the fireplace? No, when we say “energy” today we mean electricity, oil, gasoline, gas, nuclear power, fuel cells, ethanol.

But the fact is, the United States pioneered in inventing all these forms of modern power. The first oil well was not dug in the Middle East until a British-American consortium did so in 1909, thereby conferring enormous wealth on peoples who were at the time the very byword for poverty — they were short even on shade and water — “poor Bedouins” (now called “rich Arab sheiks”). In other words, the tiny proportion of the population living in the United States invented nearly 100% of what the modern world means by “energy,” and has already made it possible for nearly 75% of the world’s population to share in its many modern varieties — and, perhaps, we can do even better in the future. No doubt, we should. And we will.

But, please, don’t blame the U.S. because the rest of the world is not so inventive.