In your recent magazine column (Sierra, January/February 2014) you noted Americans emit about twice the rate of carbon dioxide per person per year as our friends in Italy, Japan, and the U.K. What are they doing smarter and less consumptive that we could replicate here?
—Ann, in Westlake Village, California
Thank you for reading that fine excursion into the realm of truth. Mainly it’s what these furriners don’t do that lowers their CO2 emissions, since they’re not so burdened by our all-American obsession with big cars, big houses, and Big Gulps in general. Not that they’re one bit more virtuous than us. They just started out with a lot less land and natural resources, so they didn’t have the wherewithal to sprawl and splurge on the hyper-consumptive U.S. scale. For example, despite the fact that we’ve already burned through trillions of gallons of oil, we still have about 40 times more proven petroleum reserves than Italy and way more than 400 times those of Japan. So, back when us Yanks were all laughing at movies and cartoons featuring oil-drenched dudes blasted into the stratosphere by stupendous oil gushers, the furriners had to make cars with much better gas mileage and drive them less. The Italians’ gasoline-powered cars were already exceeding 35 miles per gallon when we were stuck down around 22. Hence, to have any hope of matching them, it’s obvious that we must keep up the pressure to get U.S. fuel economy up to President Obama’s target of 35.5 mpg by 2016, and then go for broke to meet his goal of 54.5 by 2025.