The U.S. economy grew 2.8% last year, But energy use DROPPED by 2.4% and CO2 emission DROPPED even more, by 3.8%. And despite the overall decline in renewables, the carbon intensity of power generation still fell by 3.5 percent, mostly because natural gas is replacing coal. We are figuring out how to grow the economy, keep the free market and still go green.
This provides a good case study. Our European friends, who talk green, have not achieved both growth and carbon reduction. They have also sometimes reduced CO2, but at the expense of growth. Meanwhile, the U.S. is successfully separating growth from increased energy use and energy from increased carbon emissions.
This is not the first time we have responded well. Our American market system just works better than the planners in other places. It often doesn’t seem that way. Planners have a rhetorical advantage. They can point to their plan. We can only respond with the true but unsatisfying, “Our plan is to let millions of people make plans in the belief that what they come up with will be better than your experts.”
This is something I have noticed in my years of travel and living overseas. Many places are nicer than the U.S. in theory. People have more rights, in theory. They get more stuff, in theory. But Americans do better in reality. I think it is just difficult for academics to understand the U.S. market economy. Market forces are as protean as they are ubiquitous. They defy explanation. So for many years, since before we were even a country, intellectuals have been predicting our imminent demise.
The CO2 problem remains, however. China and others are emitting enough CO2 to swamp any improvements we make. In less than ten years, China will emit more CO2 all by itself than the whole world did in 1990.
We can figure out how to make the future work; I have less confidence in some others.
My picture shows elm trees at the White House. These elms resist Dutch elm disease that wiped out so many elms in the 1960s and 1970.