Efficient gluttons

Americans are becoming more energy efficient—but are using more energy than ever. That’s according to a new study by CIBC World Markets, which looks at the issue from an economic view. The study’s authors, Jeff Rubin and Benjamin Tal, call it “the efficiency paradox,” and it’s happening in every developed country.

The same areas where the government focuses most of its energy efficiency measures—residential and transportation sectors—also have shown the greatest gains of energy usage.

Drivers get better gas mileage these days but drive larger cars and farther distances. The average American drives 12,000 miles a year, compared to 9,500 miles in 1970. And the number of light trucks, including SUVs, vans and pick-ups, has risen 45 percent between 1995 and 2005. That’s seven times faster than the rate for passenger cars.

Homeowners have a wide range of energy-efficient ways to power their homes, but the average size of a home has increased from 1,000 square feet in the 1950s to 2,500 square feet today. And while refrigerators, for example, have become more energy-efficient, more people have two refrigerators in their homes.

The report says energy-efficient regulations don’t lead to reduced oil or greenhouse gas emissions because consumers view the measures as tax cuts while continuing to use more energy. One solution the authors recommend is a carbon-trading system that would attach a price to emissions. “In the past, the efficiency paradox has been used as an argument against efforts to promote greater energy efficiency and conservation,” writes Rubin in the study’s introduction. “That is not our intention here. On the contrary, for a world facing the twin challenges of oil depletion and global climate change, there has never been a more urgent need for both.”

The full report can be downloaded at http://research.cibcwm.com/economic_public/download/snov07.pdf