Why America Won’t Be ‘Great’ Again

Like Britain, the rise and fall of the American Empire is written in the language of energy. But unlike Britain, which declined as rapidly as it rose, the American rise and fall is less spectacular (at least so far).

Before getting to the data, I’ll point out an important difference between Britain and the United States. Britain is an island whose geographic boundaries didn’t change as it conquered the world. That makes estimating energy use per capita fairly straightforward. The US, in contrast, was a colony that expanded its own territory at the same time that it expanded its imperial power. This changing territory makes it more difficult to track energy use per capita. The further back in time we go, the more poorly defined ‘US energy use per capita’ becomes. For that reason, I’m skeptical of some of the energy data that I present here…

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