Time and again, I’ve heard that the United States accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but consumes about a quarter of the world’s total resources (lumber, minerals, energy, etc.). When you do the math, this means that we Americans consume roughly six times as much stuff, person for person,as the remaining 95 percent of the planet’s human inhabitants.
But for personal car travel, the situation is much more stark. Between our large, low-mileage vehicles, our sprawling urban areas that make driving a necessity rather than a choice, and our great wealth, Americans’ daily travel habits consume more than 15 times as much highway fuel as the average for the other 95 percent of the planet.
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Sure, we enjoy benefits from being able to drive where we want, when we want. But there’s no question that we’re profligate consumers of fuel, with outsized impacts on the climate.
And there’s also very little doubt that our massive fuel consumption does virtually nil to enhance our sense of wellbeing. Per capita fuel use in the US has soared since World War II, but the share of us who say we’re happy has stagnated.
And while we do fairly well in international comparisons of life satisfaction (see, e.g., here, where the US ranks 12th in life satisfaction of 69 nations studied), there’s little apparent correlation between fuel use and happiness. Once you get to a certain level of prosperity, additional consumption of highway fuel (or anything else, for that matter) does little to enhance your sense of wellbeing.
The bottom line: not only do we not get many miles per gallon, we don’t seem to be getting many smiles per gallon, either.