The Value of Energy Efficiency

I wrote yesterday about how Denmark has achieved a high level of economic prosperity and human development while also consuming drastically less energy than the United States does on a per capita basis. Conn Carroll at the Heritage blog counters that Denmark does offshore drilling (“Denmark now produces more 344,000 barrels of oil per day and 369 billion cubic feet of natural gas every year”) and also this:

For as green as Denmark is, however, it still is not energy independent. All the money they take on from oil and gas exports helps pay for the 145 million tons of coal Denmark has to import every year just to keep the lights on (neither Friedman nor Yglesias bother to mention this inconvenient truth).

I’m not sure what’s so inconvenient about this truth. Denmark is a tiny country surrounded by friendly neighbors, it would be absurd and probably impossible for Denmark to be trying to achieve autarky in any domain:

Nor in the case of the United States is it either realistic or desirable for us to seek an environment of zero energy imports. There’s nothing with importing hydroelectricity from Canada. What would be desirable would be to (a) reduce the negative environmental externalities associated with the burning of fossil fuels, and (b) reduce America’s economic vulnerability to supply shocks associated with political instability in the world’s major oil- and gas-exporting regions. One good way to do this would be to take measures to reduce the energy intensity of America’s society and economy. When such measures are proposed, the right typically responds that any such measures would be hugely detrimental to American quality of life. The example of Denmark, however, suggests that this is dead wrong — Denmark is far more energy efficient than the United States and its citizens enjoy a comparable high standard of living.

It’s true that Denmark produces some oil domestically (as does the United States, even with the offshore drilling moratorium in place) but I don’t really see what this has to do with the merits of adopting Denmark-style conservation measures. Clearly, somewhat increased levels of domestic oil production combined with dramatic reductions in domestic oil consumption would be a net environmental benefit so if that’s something Heritage wants to start proposing I think progressives would be excited.