Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


January 27, 2006

Waste and Responsibility

Category: Conservation,Economics,Household,Save Electricity,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 5:55 pm

Waste might be defined as any act that expends energy that is not used for any productive purpose. A regular car brakes by causing friction that transfers energy of movement into heat; our Priuses are able to reclaim some of that energy and store it in a battery to help make the car go. So anything that doesn’t use energy completely efficiently is wasteful. And if my college physics memory is correct, there’s a law of thermodynamics that says no transfer of energy can occur without some loss. So look: we’re using up the energy of the universe. Deal with it.

But when it comes to saving energy in a more practical sense, I have found it helpful to think about ways that we use energy that will just be lost. And by far the lowest hanging fruit on this tree are the cases where you simply don’t use the energy in the first place.

  • Turn off lights you’re not using
  • Don’t drive if you don’t have to
  • Put on a sweater and turn down the heat
  • Don’t buy things you don’t need
  • Eat less, and eat less non-organic food
  • Blah, blah, blah.

The problem with lists like this is that they create this urge to measure, and then compare the savings to something big, like for example an airplane taking off. This probably uses more energy in five or ten minutes than our whole household uses in a year.

So how can we avoid the real problem of just being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem?

Waste is inevitable at some level, but totally within our control in many nearly costless ways as individuals. The saying “think globally, act locally” is the key. Remember that local can be very, very local, as in the actions that you (yes, you) take.

So perhaps rather than trying to save the world on your own, we can each simply think about what actions are responsible. Is it “responsible” of me to heat my house? Yes. Is it responsible of me to heat my house when no one is in it? Most likely, no.

Little acts of individual responsibility, even tiny acts, have a surprising effect: they make you think a little about what your actions cause. Don’t be guilty, don’t be overwhelmed: simply start by gaining awareness of this extra dimension of your life and its impact on the world. It can be kind of fun to find ways to do more efficiently that which you will do anyway. Isn’t this just an aspect of being a responsible person?

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