Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


October 22, 2005

From Bad to Less Bad is Good

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Big Things,Conservation,Editorial – Tom Harrison – 11:26 am

I am trying to focus on a single mission: reduce my energy consumption by 5%. A lot of the facts out there are stark, depressing and out and out frightening. I believe a lot of it is true. I am also concerned with radicalizing the position: the people who understand tend to present information in a way that is alarming, because they are rightly alarmed themselves. But this may be counterproductive: I don’t think most people will respond to these alarms with action. In addition to the alarms, we need ways to help people take specific, measurable action.

So, reducing consumption by 5% is not going to solve any problems really. It only defers the inevitable a little. But I think that has value in two ways. First, conservation buys us time to act. Second it raises awareness, and as long as you’re not being superficial about the act (don’t drive your cardboard to be recycled in an SUV :-).

So one thing to think about is that we can make changes that take us from a bad place to a less bad place. They might not all add up to a net benefit. But as long as you are aware of the overall result of your actions, the net should be good.

The Big Picture
The main reason is that we are running out of fossil fuels, which allows us to consume the Earth at an unsustainable rate. This sounds a lot like an environmental position, doesn’t it? Ok, so I’ll freely admit that I am a tree-hugger. But the position I am working to advance here is not a traditional environmental one. I do think we’re a fairly smart species and have been faced with undoing our own bad deeds numerous times in our history. For example, 100 years ago in the US, we had cut down a huge number of trees because they were the primary source of energy. It took a long time, but the trees recovered.

(Of course now the trees are being cut down to make room for urban sprawl, and drilling for oil in the Arctic. And also of course, the reason we could stop using wood for fuel is that we found oil, a nearly free resource, at the time).

The end of oil is a more perilous threat, especially to the US. While we are unquestionably the single most powerful nation now, our dominance is threatened. New technologies are being created in other countries, and transitional technologies are being adopted more readily elsewhere. It’s not the countries with the most oil that will have power, although there’s a short-term argument for this position. In the long run, it’s the countries that adapt to the new realities and understanding by accepting science (yes, global warming is real), and embracing science and research (e.g. funding development of fuel cells and related technology) that will come out on top. The US is headed in the wrong direction now, but would be in a decent position if we got our act together pretty soon.

So perhaps my motives for reducing energy consumption are geo-political as much as they are environmental as much as they are pure economics. And what the heck, let’s throw in health and medical impacts while we’re at it. All of this is really the same; it cannot be disentangled.

So I am focusing on an aspect of the problem that is primarily economic. My goal is to understand and find ways to do something practical and measurable: reduce consumption (of energy) by 5%. It’s only one small part of the bigger picture.

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