Enviros' Simple Goal: Reduce US Energy Consumption 30 Percent

National Journal features an interesting conversation with representatives of Oceana, an ‘ocean conservation nonprofit.’ The leaders of Oceana speak optimistically about the possibility that Congress and President Obama will work together to reimpose and extend the moratorium on offshore drilling, as well as to extend the moratorium on drilling in the coastal plain of ANWR. They also repeatedly return to an overarching goal for the U.S. –to reduce overall energy consumption by a stunning 30 percent!

NJ: Are you worried that the recent downturn in gas prices will dampen enthusiasm for the green movement?

Short: Yeah, to the extent that it removes the incentives for conservation, I do worry about that. But the United States did heroic things in World War II, and given the threat that we are looking at from the loss of ice in the Arctic, it’s not [too early] to resume such heroic thinking now.

And it wouldn’t take much. If we were to accomplish nationwide a 30 percent reduction of energy use through conservation, that would translate to an 8 percent reduction of worldwide emissions because we emit so much. You would see that in the atmosphere in the next year as a measurable reduction, and it would be a profound example for the rest of the world. If we did that, we would have the price of oil down to around 10 bucks a barrel because it’s so sensitive to marginal costs.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, annual energy consumption now stands at about 101.6 quadrillion BTUs. A 30% reduction from that level would bring us to a level of about 71 quadrillion BTUs annually. According to the same source, overall annual energy consumption last checked in at that level in about 1972. So Oceana and its allies want to turn back energy consumption — which rises almost every year — to a level last seen nearly 40 years ago.

But if you look at the population charts, you will see that the population of the U.S. was just 209 million in 1972 — in comparison to a population of 303 million today. That’s a population increase of about 35 percent. In other words, since 1972, U.S. annual energy consumption has increased about 30 percent, and population has increased about 35 percent — meaning per capita consumption has been very stable.

What would it take to produce a 30 percent reduction? Options would include massive rationing, an enormous price increase, or killing off about a third of the country. I’m not sure which one Oceana favors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved all three.