Acton Institute Powerblog

Caritas in Veritate: The United States, an Over-Consumer in Energy?

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Energy has been a hot topic not just in the United States but throughout the world.  From cap-and-trade legislation to the talks that occurred at the G8 Summit, energy is making headlines everywhere.  Caritas in Veritate also addresses the issue of energy; however, it is in a different light from that which is occurring in the politics.

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict calls for us to be more conscious of our use of energy, and for larger, more developed countries to not hoard all of the energy.  Furthermore, Pope Benedict calls for the international community to be more conscious of its use of non-renewable energy and to begin to regulate the use of non-renewable.  His concern is that poor countries will not be able to gain access to energy resources, especially non-renewable energy.

The United States is the largest energy producer, but it is also the largest energy consumer.  In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, in 2006 the United States produced 71.054 quadrillion Btu and consumed 99.889 quadrillion Btu.  These figures point out a large difference between the amount of energy produced and consumed by the United States.  At face value these figures make the United States look like an over-consumer of energy and that the Pope’s message on energy would strike an enormous note with the United States.

However, looking beyond these numbers and what they consist of, the United States is not the mass over-consumer that these numbers make it look like.  In 2006, the United States issued 89,823 patents (more patents were issued by the United States alone than the by the rest of the countries combined).  The number of patents issued in the United States can be correlated into the manufacturing that occurs in the United States.  Since the United States issued 89,823 patents in 2006 it can be expected that a large number of new products were manufactured in the United States or developed in the United States and manufactured abroad.  As a result, in order to manufacture and develop this large amount of new products, in addition to the manufacturing that was already occurring, the United States used a large amount of energy.

The Energy Information Administration also keeps records on the amount of energy used by manufacturers in the United States.  Of the 99.889 quadrillion Btu consumed by the United States in 2006, 21,046 trillion Btu was consumed by manufactures in the United States.  Since the United States manufactures a large number of goods it is able to export these goods across the world.  According to the United States Census, 1,451,685 goods and services were exported by the United States in 2006.  Compared to 2005, this number was actually up by 12.7 percent.

While the United States uses a large amount of energy it is able to manufacture goods that are exported to other countries through trade.  As a result, countries that do not have the technology, finances, or capital to increase their energy usage to manufacture more goods benefit from the United States.  The United States, who can afford to purchase energy to manufacture goods and services, can send its goods and services to the poor countries that do not use a large amount of energy and do not have the means to manufacture the goods that can be produced in the United States.  The trade the United States engages in encourages poor countries to develop so they can export even more of their goods to the United States.

However, just because the United States is able to provide goods and services to countries that do not have the means to produce such commodities, does not mean the United States is exempt from conserving energy.  We are all called for to be stewards of  Earth.  As Pope Benedict states in Caritas in Veritate, “At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it.”  As Christians, we still need to be consciousness of our use of energy to make sure our children will be given an Earth that has the same resources we are blessed to have.  Furthermore, we also need to be conscious of the condition of the poor and not exploit energy and natural resources.  Simply because we, as citizens of the United States, have the financial means that allow us to utilize and have access to energy and natural resources does not mean the same benefits are procured by those less fortunate.

Louie Glinzak