Friday, May 01, 2009
Conservation is an Energy Source
Every crisis conceals an opportunity. Every problem contains its own solution. We can see the answer through an effort of imagination or, failing that, hindsight. Our ever-escalating consumption of energy and resources has brought us to a volatile point in our history. Does the looming crisis of scarcity and pollution offer an opportunity we don’t see? Can our imagination illuminate the situation, or will hindsight teach us -too late- what could have been done to salvage our future?
The fact is, we have ample energy and answers are within reach. We can continue the blind, destructive search for new energy, or we can recognize that our energy problems mask enormous opportunities, beginning with a wealth of readily available conservation energy.
Our energy policy has to be an inclusive, public decision if it is to be sustainable. Experts have useful contributions to make, but they sorely lack the imagination (or breadth of experience) to deal comprehensively with this all-encompassing issue. The last energy expert to chart our long-term policy was Dick Cheney. The public was kept out of the process and the decisions were made in secret by a skilled but unimaginative few. Rolling blackouts immediately followed, as “market mechanisms” were put to work, threatening power grid supply and economic stability.
Since that time, the United States has embarked on an ongoing occupation of an oil-rich country, dragged its feet on implementing new energy technologies and efficiencies, and proposed only belatedly the further development of dwindling carbon energy fuels, coupled with dangerous and ludicrously expensive nuclear energy. These initiatives, especially the nuclear one, are to be funded by giant open-ended taxpayer subsidies resembling advance bailouts. They also impose incalculable additional costs on the public in terms of public health, pollution, and military expenditure, to name just a few. They guarantee a future of tight supplies and escalating prices, along with global political instability and environmental collapse. The single greatest stakeholder in this energy policy is the American public (who after all pays for it), and it is poorly served by this expertly engineered, but very unimaginative way forward.
What would the American public envision as its own “energy future,“ if it were not imposed from some secret industry committee in the Vice President’s office? A resolution of the worst failures of our energy policy would:
*Add 25-35 percent to available electric power
*be faster, easier and cheaper to develop than our existing resources
*generate an immediate boost to the national energy supply, to jobs, and to the economy , making American business more competitive and efficient while saving it billions of dollars each year
*quickly reduce our carbon and other emissions below 1990 levels, enabling the United States to participate in good faith and with leadership in international treaties intended to control carbon releases and limit climate change
*give the country sufficient time to develop renewable energy technologies which are non-polluting, safe and affordable
*and ease global political instability which already threatens security everywhere...
Of course this scenario is in many ways opposite to what we know from experience. Yet every item on the list is achievable through a responsible use of energy and resources.
Conservation is an energy source. It is real. Its potential is equal to the sum total of our society’s waste and inefficiency, which is on a scale not seen in human history. Our energy problem is a crisis of consumption and not a crisis of supply, and the sources of waste are far easier to identify and ‘tap’ than new sources of energy.
The American people have the moral obligation and the practical necessity to eliminate waste and inefficiency everywhere we can. When we do this, we will increase our autonomy as individuals and as a nation. We will eliminate many of our dependencies, which have stifled our initiative and smothered our democratic institutions. As must be the case if we are to transform a major crisis, we will have devised a solution from the problem itself.
Consider that a third or more of our household energy consumption can currently be chalked up to waste and inefficiency. Generating and distributing electricity for the grid wastes an even larger proportion before we get to turn the lights on at home. Likewise, we waste a large percentage of our transportation fuels as well as raw and finished materials in manufacturing, packaging, construction, etc (stuff is energy). As many have pointed out, our economy is predicated on the waste of energy and resources. Yet there is reason to be glad for the depth and breadth of our prodigal waste. There is more energy currently available through conservation and efficiency than from any single energy source. It does not require decades to develop at enormous taxpayer expense. And conservation sources save money while new energy sources cost money.
Every kilowatt/hour of conserved energy represents a savings to consumers and an increase in money circulating in the economy. Every kilowatt/hour saved is a reduction in pollution. Every kilowatt/hour of conservation and efficiency is a gift of time to our children, who face a future horror it we don’t begin to treat conservation as an energy source now.
The time is over when a President of the United States can claim that energy is a major national security issue yet fail to have a national energy conservation program. The time is over when we as individuals can bemoan a future of scarcity and pollution caused by some inadequate, abstract policy. It is caused by us, and we can do something about it.
The sad legacy of waste and pollution we have built into our economy in the past sixty years can be turned to our advantage now. The crisis conceals an opportunity. The problem contains the solution.
Conservation is an energy source.
This piece originally ran in the The Greenfield Recorder.