One might have expected that the rest of the world would be pleased when the country that consumes 25 percent of the world's oil and produces a similar share of global carbon dioxide emissions announced a new energy plan in May. But the new plan instead left the international community bewildered and angry.
These observers were stunned by the fact that drilling, digging, and burning appeared to be the main themes of U.S. President George W. Bush's new energy plan, which is designed to increase the use of fossil fuels. These were themes that seemed aimed at exacerbating what to much of the world appears to be the main problem: the disproportionate use of resources--and contribution to global pollution--by a country with less than 5 percent of the world's population.
Only the rhetoric and photoops connected to the new energy plan appear to be grounded in the 21st century. After months of incorporating the advice of oil and coal companies into its energy plan, the Bush administration changed its tone-but not its substance--at the last minute, in response to public criticism and polls showing the unpopularity of the energy sources that former oilmen Bush and Cheney favor.
But the president's proclamation that the United States "can be a world leader in conservation" rang hollow. The measures he proposed to improve the energy efficiency of the world's least efficient major economy ranged from minimal to impotent. Indeed, the very week the new plan was announced, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that thanks to the popularity of SUV's, U.S. automobile efficiency has fallen back below the levels of the late 1980s.