"Save energy" is a trumpet call heard around the world, but the differing responses of Americans and other peoples can be surprising. Chalk up to the credit of the United States:
* Alone among major industrial powers, the US last year reduced its consumption of oil, from an average 18,737,000 million barrels daily in 1978 to 18,417,000 in 1979 (a cutback of about 1.7 percent).
These figures, compiled by the Department of Energy, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the American Petroleum Institute, apply to the first nine months of 1979, the latest period for which statistics are available.
When the full year's record is in, the picture may look even better, for conservation of oil accelerated among Americans in the closing months of the year.
By contrast, according to the CIA, Japan increased its consumption by 2.5 percent last year; West Germany, by 3.1 percent; France, by 3.7 percent; Canada, by 5.5 percent; Britain, by 2.2 percent; and Italy, by 3.5 percent.
Americans, in other words, were the only people to heed the call for energy conservation when the price of oil was rising sharply and supplies were uncertain.
In other ways, however, the Western Europeans and Japanese do bettern than Americans:
They burn much less energy per person than Americans because they drive smaller cars, depend more on public transport to get to work, and use the heat created by industrial boilers in two ways: to run factory machines and to heat neighboring buildings.
Therefore, they assert, Americans are simply cutting out a bit of energy wastage and have a long way to go to catch up with them.
Western Europe and Japan price oil realistically, passing on to consumers the full brunt of oil price hikes decreed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Gasoline in Japan or Europe costs $2.50 to $3 a gallon -- double or more the price paid by Americans, whose domestic oil is still partially under price controls.
Canada, in this respect, shows up poorly. Canadians not only increased the amount of oil they burned last year, but paid prices far below the world level.
Some West European lands have another advantage over Americans, stemming from the growing value of their currencies against the US dollar.
The West Germans and Swiss, in particular, whose currencies have shot up in value, can buy more dollars with their marks and francs. Since OPEC oil is priced in dollars, this makes oil imports relatively cheaper for these two countries.
Now the United States, which hopes to cut oil consumption still further this year, pleads with its industrial partners in the International Energy Agency (IEA) to do the same.
This year, because the world economy is depressed, demand for oil by industrial powers is expected to be lower than in 1979. So a number of IEA's 20 members may buy less foreign oil this year than last.
US officials stress the need to set firm oil-conservation targets for 1981 and following years, when demand may grow and supplies become tight.
What the United States does is central. Americans burn far more oil than Japan, West Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Canada put together. To satisfy this demand, the US buys more than 25 percent of OPEC's total output.