Why Do Americans Drive More Than Europeans?

Michael Giberson

This result indicates that the quality of urban mobility infrastructure development can hard-wire either energy profligacy or energy efficiency into the system for decades. It also highlights the pernicious impact on long-term demand of low energy prices such as those driven by subsidies, particularly in emerging markets.

From Shell’s Signals & Signposts: Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050, via FT EnergySource blog.

I think they are saying that cities that were established and grew during periods when transportation energy was expensive tend to be structurally adapted to economize on energy use; other cities, built around cheap transportation energy, tend to be structurally adapted to economize on other things.

If conserving energy is the goal above all other goals, then old European cities were lucky to grow up during times of high transportation energy costs and American cities less lucky. If other goals are deemed possibly of interest, then it becomes less clear which adaption should be preferred. Suddenly the use of the word “pernicious” is suspect unless limited exclusively to subsidized transportation energy prices. (I’d drop the “such as those” from the second sentence quoted to make the point clear.)