Acton Institute Powerblog

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

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

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


  • Roger McKinney

    What good would it do to provide free gasoline to poor countries where people don’t have the money to buy food, let alone cars in which to burn the gas or the roads to drive them on? Of course the poor don’t have access to energy resources like oil; they’re poor! And even oil producers can be poor; look at Venezual, Nigeria, Mexico and Iran.

    Unless you advocate more aid, providing access to energy resources requires economic development and the encyclical is extremely short on how to do that.

  • Neal Lang

    “What good would it do to provide free gasoline to poor countries where people don’t have the money to buy food, let alone cars in which to burn the gas or the roads to drive them on? Of course the poor don’t have access to energy resources like oil; they’re poor! And even oil producers can be poor; look at Venezual, Nigeria, Mexico and Iran.”

    In Nigeria, the subsidized price of gasoline is around the equivalent of $.25 per gallon – as it was here in the US in the 1960s. This lead to smuggling of the subsidized fuel into neighboring countries. Of course, Nigeria, once a West African “bread basket,” now must import food to feed its people.

  • The renewable resource, Nuclear Energy, is ironically the resource available in a free market economy that can lift the world population out of poverty.
    The surrounding politics and its injustices in curtailing Nuclear energy ,especially here in the USA is a world scandal.
    The result has caused millions of jobs lost, commodities inflating, non renewable resources being needlessly depleted,
    and the poor further devistated
    The Pontiff is rightly concerned.

  • Roger McKinney

    ed, I don’t agree with the state’s limits on nuclear power, but neither do I see how that is responsible for the loss of millions of jobs. Commodities have deflated considerably, but the price of oil has little to do with commodity inflation; inflation is a monetary policy. Nuclear energy would not replace cars and trucks, which use most of the oil in the country, but even if we didn’t use it, it wouldn’t be available to poor people who can’t afford to buy it. There needs to be a lot more truth in encyclicals before the love will have much power.

  • Clare Krishan

    Sorry, self-interested mercantilism as “salvation” no longer passes muster – if the poor countries can wire dollars for our goods and services such as lucrative patented contraceptive drugs or receivables revenue from wireless cell phones, why not oil and transportation infrastructure? The poor are poor because fro the last 40 years they’ve been swallowing our contraceptives and have too few hands to build the roads and rail needed to develop their industrial base, see Jim Peron’s “Population Politics and the Shambles of Africa”

    Lord Bauer, in The Development Frontier, suggests that the lack of people in Africa may be the cause of some of the problems:

    population growth can have favourable external effects. It can facilitate the more effective division of labour and thereby increase real incomes. In fact, in much of Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, sparseness of population inhibits economic advance. It retards the development of transport facilities and communications, and thus inhibits the movement of people and goods and the spread of new ideas and methods. These obstacles to enterprise and economic advance are particularly difficult to overcome.

    Bauer isn’t alone in making this observation. A growing number of “authorities believe that Africa is actually underpopulated.

    They are also deeply indebted from malinvestments in inappropriate technology (good for hooking up in cultures where polygamy is endemic, but not so good for staying home with one’s wife and raising fully developed –healthy, educated, unencumbered– kids) rooted in exports of our fiscal-policy-generated bubble-technology. Shame on us.