Want a Higher Quality of Life? Stop wasting your money!
Last week I argued that by increasing density in our central cities, we could cut back on a lot of unnecessary energy consumption and increase the national wealth at the same time. "A less wasteful nation is a wealthier nation," I said.
Today I found affirmation of that premise from an unlikely source: the American Enterprise Institute. Normally, conservatives scoff at notions of "conserving" or becoming more efficient when it comes to energy consumption. We usually hear, "Environmental regulations hurt business," or, "I'm rich so I should be allowed to pollute as much as I want." But on the AEI's blog today:
The U.S. economy has never been more energy efficient than it is today and it just keeps getting more efficient every year as we find ways to produce more output with less energy... which translates into a rising standard of living for the average American.
Unfortunately, the average American doesn't realize just how much money is being wasted because of the way our communities are built. Our sprawling land-use patterns result in a massive waste of energy, time, and money. Hour-long commutes are becoming the norm as homes and jobs are located further apart. Average home sizes are increasing even as the number of people living in these homes is decreasing. Both of these trends lead to the consumption of more energy and the draining of household budgets.
There is a smarter way, one that could lead to more household wealth and a higher standard of living. Instead of burning gasoline to get a gallon of milk, we could build communities where it is possible to walk or bike to the store, burning calories in the process. We could invest in mass transit so that most households have a viable alternative to driving alone to work, saving our overall energy consumption as well as allowing households to spend less money on gas.
The most bizarre argument from conservatives about smart growth is that it will lead to a lower quality of life. That conclusion is based on the absurd idea that the more we drive, the richer we are. But who really wants to spend so much money at the pump every week? Who really wants to have a higher electricity bill every month? Instead of burning up our money to produce energy, why not put that money towards things that we really want, like a better education, or improved health outcomes?
It is nice to see the Enterprise Institute acknowledge that energy efficiency can lead to a higher quality of life. Now, let's make the changes that will allow us to stop the waste.