Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


August 4, 2007

Avoiding the All or Nothing Trap: Some is Just Fine

I read way, way too many eco-blogs, enviro-blogs, politico-blogs and globalwarmingo-blogs. With several exceptions (e.g. IdealBite and An Inconvenient Truth, to name several) there’s way too much polarity in the conversation — it’s all or nothing, when often the best choice is both, either or just some.

Locally grown vs. Organic food, for instance: both would be great, either is good, some is good. There is a great debate amongst the purists as to which one is right, but that’s the wrong discussion. The only thing one might say conclusively is that none is the least good option.

How about laundry: yes, line-drying is the solar alternative to the clothes dryer appliance, but an efficient washer (that spins the clothes really dry) and dryer is better than standard. And doing fewer loads of laundry is better still.

I got rid of my gas mower and replaced the gas mower with a rechargeable electric. But shouldn’t I use a reel (push) mower? Sure. But even if I stuck with gasoline, the biggest change I made was cutting my lawn high, leaving the clippings in, and watering less: I have mowed perhaps three times in three months. Oh, and I measured the amount of electricity used to recharge the mower with my Kill-A-Watt– it cost about 12 cents (5/100ths of one gallon of gas, which is much, much less than a single gas mow uses).

Good for me and my wife — we both drive Priuses (Prii?). But we still use gasoline. So the most important change is not that I switched to a Prius, but that I am doing bicycle commuting to work, and perhaps that I pay the (unaccounted for external costs of) greenhouse gas emissions with a TerraPass. My money for the Prius and TerraPass arguably increases the demand for more fuel efficient vehicles and for alternative energy. They don’t solve the problem; they mitigate it.

It is hot as hell here in Boston this week. We are running our air conditioners. We must be evil, right? Well, we need less because we have insulated, has ceiling fans, keep our shades drawn, have efficient units, use the energy saver settings, have a small house, etc. But what’s more important is that we only run the AC when other options, like the whole house fan, don’t work. Sitting on our patio, we listen to the hum of the central air compressors of our neighbors running night and day (hot, warm or cold), from June to October (that is, if we can hear it over the lawnmowers and whiny hand leaf blowers — arrgh!).

So the purists might be saving more than I am. But I think they have the same problem as dieting and exercise programs: the ones that are not realistic get dropped, usually. The changes we have made, in many cases, are ones that many people could also make.

So make small changes, incrementally, and don’t worry about the purists. Every change you make is a good change.

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