Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hyman Running on Empty

Mark Hyman studiously avoids the real issue about America’s energy consumption in his recent editorial defending America’s use of a disproportionate amount of the world’s energy.

At least I’m assuming he’s consciously avoiding the issue. Either that, or he just doesn’t get it.

The crux of Hyman’s editorial is that Americans shouldn’t think twice about using the amount of energy we do, since it’s simply a sign of our success as a nation. If we used a percentage of energy equal to our population (as compared to the rest of the world), we would end up living like they do in third world countries.

But Hyman’s framing of the issue is all wrong. The significance of America’s use of a quarter of the world’s energy is that when it comes to environmental issues, it’s crucial that America actively participate in moving to clean and renewable energy. As long as the U.S. keeps using as much energy as it does, and using primarily fossil fuels in the process, much of the eco-friendly developments that other countries make will go for naught.

Contrary to Hyman’s framing of the argument, no one is saying we shouldn’t air condition our hospitals or that we should cut factory production (two things Hyman claims would be necessary if we were to curtail our energy use). Rather, the argument is that, given our huge use of energy, it’s incumbent upon us to find ways of creating and using energy that doesn’t poison the rest of the globe.

Sure, air condition hospitals, but do it using energy from wind farms. Keep our factories productive, but put sensible and attainable regulations on how much pollution they put into the air. Keep the family car, but mandate that Detroit put out cars that meet common sense fuel efficiency standards. And along the way, invest in better public transit systems.

One of the first things the Bush administration did when they assumed power was to back out of the Kyoto protocols. This captured in microcosm the Bush attitude toward the rest of the world: shut up and don’t bother us. The problem is that we are always connected to the rest of the world, whether we want to be or not. Actively participating in the development of alternative energy is the ethical thing to do. On top of that, it would end up stimulating the economy, make us healthier, and help our country run more efficiently in a variety of ways. There’s no downside.

No, there’s no reason America should abandon modern conveniences and turn ourselves into a third world country. But third world countries shouldn’t have to pay the price for our lack of imagination and willpower by suffering the ecological (and economic, health, humanitarian, etc.) ill effects of the disproportionate amount of strain America is putting on the Earth.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.12


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