Matt on American energy usage:

. . . using less energy is probably the cleanest energy option out there. One way to achieve that would be for our country to become much, much poorer, but there's a lot of variation among countries of comparable wealth.

Denmark, for example, consumes 3832.8 kilograms of oil equivalent per capita, whereas Germany consumes 4203.1, France consumes 4518.4, Belgium consumes 5703.4, Finland consumes 7218.1, and the United States consumes 7794.8 over twice as much as Denmark. And the Danes and Germans aren't living in circumstances of abject poverty or anything.



It is true that life is still very much worth living in Europe, but I think we urbanites also have to recognize that people buy big houses in the suburbs because there are attractive features to living in a large house in the suburbs. (She said, half an hour after wondering where she was going to put all those books). It's also key to remember that it's harder to go back than to stand pat. In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, Benjamin Friedman argues pretty convincingly that people feel good when their circumstances are improving relative to their peer group, or when their absolute standard of living goes up. Actual retrograde movement into a smaller house with less yard, or a tiny car, feels wrenching. Moreover, it has broad effects on society: if the stagnation is widespread, people become less generous, more self-involved. Charitable giving drops off sharply during recessions, because people think of it as a luxury.

In an interesting way, I wonder if environmentalism and liberalism aren't politically at war with each other. I don't mean that they are philosophically incompatible; they aren't, and in fact they tend to come as a package deal. But if we actually cut back on people's standards of living in order to conserve energy, their willingness to support other parts of the liberal platform, such as broader safety nets, will probably drop.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.