Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

November 1, 2010

Climate Change: Science vs. Ignorance, Fear and Power

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Climate Change – Tom Harrison – 5:29 pm

Climate change is a technical subject and few of us are true experts. I am not an expert, so I am faced with a choice of accepting the findings of science or denying it. Denial is common in history, even though science has usually been right. The Earth is not the center of the universe, but this view threatened a great power of the time, and Galileo was locked up for heresy. Today we know science was on the right track, but it shook the foundations of belief, and power.

Today we have a similar situation. The implications of climate change are far more than simply “inconvenient” — they are a fundamental threat to the current world order. The response by those under threat has been to couch it in vague terms involving liberty, freedom — enrolling and manipulating an army of foot soldiers who are kept ignorant of the facts and fighting a righteous battle for truth, justice and the American way.

But the truth is, the energy companies are holding the purse strings — energy is money is power. The company and people who own energy are now powerful beyond our ability to understand. They control part of the media, they elect our officials, and they are getting more and more powerful. Just like the cigarette companies, they know that their product is harmful — those in power know that climate change is real.

Eventually the cigarette companies were neutralized … when their CEOs’ faces were lined up in front of Congress. Eventually the energy companies will get theirs. Millions of people died early deaths because of the delay tactics of the cigarette companies — we’re faced with an even greater threat from climate change. Recent reporting has begun to reveal the lies and motives, and the faces behind them. But it’s not enough, and we’re losing through inaction and delay. (more…)

October 7, 2010

How Heat Works (Warning: Scientific Content)

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Fun,Household,Technology – Tom Harrison – 1:01 pm

Heat, Thermostats and Serious Content (photo: Dan Zeng)

A few weeks ago I posted on the MS Hohm blog about programmable thermostats — Energy Star no longer recommends them, but not because they don’t work, but instead because people don’t use them correctly.

Studies show that people can be lazy, intimidated, etc.  But I want to discuss a significant reason pointed out in the study: people have an incorrect “mental model” of how programmable thermostats work (PDF).

A mental model is just how you picture something working — how you understand stuff in order to get through a complicated world, right or wrong.  A classic mismatch of mental model and reality is that “the computer” is the the screen, rather than the part that has the CPU, Memory and Disk in it (leave it to Apple to make a computer that matches peoples’ mental models!)

Apparently a certain Alaskan Senator had the mental model of the Internet as a “series of tubes.” But I won’t go there.

My hope is that where it matters, we can get a proper mental model that helps us make good decisions.  Here are some that caused people to not use programmable thermostats. (more…)

December 21, 2008

Top 10 Things We Did To Cut Our Electricity Bill in Half

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Conservation,Save Electricity,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 6:28 pm

Here’s a chart of our electricity use at home over the last four years, showing an almost 50% reduction in use over the course of four years, saving us $118 per month at our current rate. You can make the same kinds of changes we have — nothing we have done is exotic, and nothing has really affected the quality of our lives.

One Half As Much Saves $118 Per Month

One Half As Much Saves $118 Per Month

Conservation is about as un-sexy as it gets; but it works and is easy for electricity. Measuring our gas bill is a little harder, but I have to think we have made some progress there, too. I did a calculation on our water bill, and that one is stunning, as well.

Conservation may be dull, but saving money is cool, and it’s very easy to save a pretty substantial amount. One way to think about saving money by conservation is that it is like tax-free income! Between state and federal taxes, you probably pay from 20% to 50% of your income; if you got a $118/month raise, you would see less thant $100 of it, maybe as little as $59! But if you conserve, it’s tax free income. (more…)

November 23, 2005

Cradle To Cradle: One Important Book on Sustainability

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Big Things,Conservation,Policy,Sustainability – Tom Harrison – 5:58 pm

I recently finished reading Cradle To Cradle, by William McDonough & Michael Braungart which raises some wonderful concepts of design and ways of thinking about how we do things that address really broad issues including:

  • Energy consumption
  • Waste and how we deal with it
  • Design in harmony with nature
  • Designs that model natural systems
  • Sustainability

The authors propose a really different way of thinking about things. (more…)

October 29, 2005

Noticing Little Things: Become Aware and Change is Easy

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Big Things,Cool Sites,Observations,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 5:05 pm

My wife found a cool site called Ideal Bite whose authors are doing great things to “entertain and educate you on easy ways to be greener”. One of the things you can do is sign up for daily email tips. We have found some simple things on the site that we have adopted as part of our life. For example:

  • When making tea, heat up only as much water as you need
  • Turn out the lights when you’re not using them
  • Replace your light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lights
  • Wash your hands with cold water

and so on.

These things sound so … silly, I guess, and we have heard them all before. But what I have found most interesting is (more…)

October 22, 2005

California, Here You Come

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Editorial,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 12:43 pm

This summer, my family and I went to California for our summer vacation to see some natural beauty along the Pacific Coast Highway north of LA. We were there during the week of the natural disaster of hurricane Katerina. But we left California feeling as though we had seen a glimpse of the future. What we saw was not pretty.

First let me say that this is not a California-bashing polemic. The state has many great qualities and has taken a leadership role by using its size to force auto-makers and other industries to reduce emissions. But there’s a reason for that. (more…)

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. (more…)

October 16, 2005

The Power of Not — Using None Conserves Most

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Big Things,Conservation – Tom Harrison – 10:20 pm

I am a software manager and developer for my work. When you need software to do something new, most developers will start thinking “how am I going to do this”. I think the first question to ask should be “does this need to be done at all”, and if so then “has anyone else done it already”. I have found that the fastest, most reliable delivery, fewest risks and the fewest bugs are those projects that you figure out how not to do.

Likewise when it comes to conserving energy, by far the biggest percentage win is in finding ways not to do something (more…)

October 15, 2005

Measuring Energy Consumption

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Editorial,Observations,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 10:12 am

In my first few posts, I have used statements like “2x less” or “a lot less” and other kind of non-specific measures. So if we’re really going to claim a 5% decrease in consumption, we need a way to measure this. Measuring is not terribly easy, though.

The simplest way would be to focus on our main energy bills. In addition to a dollar cost, they measure usage such as therms of gas, kilowatts of electricity and so on. But then there’s the car — I use Quicken to keep track of my expenses, and almost always use a credit card to buy gasoline these days, but here I can only measure cost. I could measure miles driven. I think this part has to be as simple as possible, and for that reason, I think measuring total dollars spent is best.

But measuring dollars on energy costs has several problems. (more…)

October 13, 2005

The End of Oil: The Five Percent Mission

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Economics,Policy,Political,Save Fuel,Technology – Tom Harrison – 9:07 pm

In 2004, Paul Roberts wrote a great book called “The End of Oil, On the Edge of a Perilous New World” that has inspired me to act. I will act by using 5 percent less energy this year than last.

Robert’ basic assertion is that we are running out of oil, and that our supply is falling as our demand is increasing. This is not a pretty economic picture. While this assertion is at some level unquestionably correct, it is not that we are running out of oil but instead what the causes are, what the trends are, and what we can do about it that make this book different. (more…)