A reader wrote to Jonah the other day that Americans constitute 5 % of the world’s population but use 25% of the world’s energy. Another way to look at it is to ask, What is energy? It used to be the backs of humans and animals. Then it was water wheels and wind mills. Surely, America today does not use a large proportion of the world’s horse power, oxen power, and other old-fashioned sources of energy. Today, when we say “energy,” we usually mean gasoline for the combustion engine, nuclear power, electricity, the use of natural gas, modern sources like that. The United States pioneered in virtually every source of what in the modern world counts as energy. You might say we invented nearly 100 % of it, and have already shared about 75% of it with others. Not as good as we might yet do (as China and India become the world’s largest users of modern energy), but pretty darn good, don’t you think?
Besides, as Jonah and his correspondents have pointed out, the US also produces a lot more of the world’s goods with the minority of energy that it does use than any other country. We invented, we use it more efficiently, and we share most of it with others. We also take in more of the Third World’s imports than any other country — helping them in the best way possible, paying them for more job creation among their own formerly poor populations. China and India alone have raised over a half-billion people out of poverty during the last twenty years, the largest and fastest moving poverty-reduction program in history.