Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

December 16, 2009

Climate Change: Individuals Cannot Make A Real Difference

Category: Climate Change,Observations,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:05 am

Can I, personally, make a difference in our attempts to reduce or mitigate climate change impacts? Or is this instead a problem that needs to be addressed through policy changes?

At a party last weekend, my friend Mike said he had just bought an electricity monitor based on my recommendation, and admitted it was a gift for his wife — he said that all of our little individual efforts add up to nothing significant. He didn’t really believe that personal action will affect things; his wife does.

I have written down my personal attempts to make change here in this blog, now in my fifth year. Much of what I have done involves making small changes that have indeed added up, so perhaps you might guess that I disagree with Mike’s view. Is it really true that all of the little things I have done add up to nothing?

Yes: the changes I have made add up to nothing.

Even our personal reduction of our energy consumption by almost one half of its former levels (probably more) over these years has resulted in a dramatic reduction of our impact, it means very little. The problem is that we need is to get the other several billions of people living in industrialized countries to make even modest changes. And our governments to concur and set in motion a new set of policies that lead us back to sustainable occupation of the planet.

So why bother making personal changes when a wasteful neighbor (not Mike) undoes our efforts five times over?

The answer lies in how big changes tend to happen. I see myself as part of a movement. I do what I can to make the movement progress.

Mike bought an electricity meter because I had one. Theresa and I have Prius’s now — we bought them to replace our older less efficient cars. We were the first on our street to have a Prius. But we told several neighbors and friends how much we like them (and that they really do get good mileage and are big enough for almost everything). Now our street has nine Prius drivers. Did I cause this — maybe not all of them.

But my personal efforts matter because:

  • By making changes, I learn what works and what doesn’t
  • My purchases and support of products that enable green choices help make their companies viable
  • People see and hear about what I do and a few might start doing things on their own
  • I have learned enough to participate in the debates with actual knowledge and facts
  • As more people come to see various realities, and understand, they influence their leaders

In short, my personal efforts affect others’. And their actions also affect others. It doesn’t take long to get to billions of people, actually.

I am actively participating in a movement that was underway long before I was part of it. Buying an electricity monitor is just one way that my actions affect others.

Oh, and I pay about $250/month less for energy than I would otherwise.


  1. Great post. No matter how small individual efforts may be in the big picture, I agree that they’re still important. It’s important that as individuals we also lend support to political change, too. We all need to do everything that we can!

    Comment by Kirsten@Nexyoo — December 16, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

  2. Hi Tom,

    as one of the people who has been inspired by your blog, I have to agree with what you say. I now measure my electricity, water, and petrol consumption, and am actively looking at ways to reduce them. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Tony Wildish — December 16, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  3. Kirsten and Tony —

    Just my view, rationalizing what may have been better described as “peeing into the wind”. Still, you both are “mavens” — it’s hard when you want something to happen, and the outcome is just “it might happen”.

    Thanks for your support.

    All of this will, of course, happen. The only question is: when?


    P.S. Now would be good.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — December 16, 2009 @ 6:48 pm

  4. Tom,
    Thanks for joining us for dinner and revealing my present. I’ve been wanting an electricity monitor for a long time! Don’t worry, I’ll act surprised.
    Electricity monitor today . . . paperless office tomorrow. We’re on our way. And so are millions of others. It’s a fight worth fighting.
    Thanks for being a good friend and role model,
    Mike’s Wife
    P.S. Can you send me the name and phone number of the person who did your energy audit? That’s on the list for 2010 as well.

    Comment by Mike's Wife — December 18, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  5. Mike’s Wife —

    As it turns out, we also had dinner with another couple — it wasn’t your Mike that revealed the holiday present. Your Mike is getting you a Hummer and shares in ExxonMobil.

    Sorry — I guess I should have “anonymized” the data in the post a little better. Who knew anyone I know read the drivel I wrote? And thanks for dinner, it was awesome as always!

    And the guy who did our energy audit is Flemming Lund at Infrared Diagnostics. There’s a link at the bottom ofmy post on the results of the audit.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — December 18, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

  6. For Christmas, I received a ScanGaugeII – a vehicle monitoring device that I have wanted for a couple of years. While I have electric vehicles, there are still gassers in the household fleet. This should help me to improve my driving efficiency techniques still further.

    Even though my household energy consumption has dropped (upgraded insulation & windows, solar heating, programmable thermostat, efficient appliances, water use reductions, hot water use reductions, etc.), I expect 2010 will bring still more ways to reduce our energy consumption.

    Does it make a difference? I know it has to, and as more people see that it doesn’t reduce our quality of life, I expect they will find it less intimidating, and try some things themselves.

    Try, measure, repost success, repeat.

    Comment by Darryl McMahon — December 26, 2009 @ 11:41 pm

  7. Tom

    We do read what you post, and at times we comment!

    Change begins with one person who has a vision, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, but when the people with vision give up, that is when a society dies.

    Energy saving cannot be for the money, ours is like $20.00 per months, 35% of the small apartment we live in, and our carbon saving are less than visible at best.

    But I believe we make a difference, and one day we will all (well almost all) save, simply because it is the right thing to do!

    Comment by Alex — January 17, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

  8. Tom and all,
    I have gone a step further for 2010. I have initiated a campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in 2010. It started as a New Year’s resolution out of my frustration with the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen. As I spoke to a few people in late December, there was a sense they did not know what they could do that would make a positive contribution. Therefore, I decided to create a new Web site to provide that sort of information, that could be used by regular consumers and citizens to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as well, without reducing quality of life. The focus is on Canadians, but much of the information will work in at least parts of the U.S. as well.

    If that is of interest, please visit If you think it is helpful, please spread the word.

    Comment by Darryl McMahon — January 18, 2010 @ 8:06 am

  9. Darryl, good on you for setting up the new site. I see you already link to 1010uk, but did you know they were trying to take it global too? Not very effectively, it seems, they aren’t the most web-savvy of people by the look of their site.

    There’s a page buried deep in their site for people outside the UK, with a contact email address. You might be able to help each other spread the word better together.

    Comment by Tony Wildish — January 18, 2010 @ 8:32 am

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