Former President Jimmy Carter was vilified for his 1977 fireside chat where he wore a cardigan sweater and suggested Americans should turn down the thermostat (http://tinyurl.com/y8p4awt). How dare he suggest that Americans do something for their country. That single event may very well have cost him any chance at re-election. The irony is that the Arab Oil Embargo had occurred barely four years earlier. True that was an artificial event as opposed to a natural event, (like peak oil) but how soon we forget how much we depend on energy, and fossil fuels in particular. Sometimes we have very short memories.
I never saw that talk (hooray for YouTube) but it seems to me he wasn’t suggesting anyone should freeze to death or be uncomfortable. It seems to me he was merely suggesting we should practice some of that rugged individualism we have always prided ourselves on. I believe he was suggesting we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our renewable energy resource portfolio.
President Carter’s message has never been more prescient than it is today. Imagine how much different our society would be if we’d followed his energy vision. Rising energy prices have generated much interest among the public in conservation and energy efficiency, and I believe there is much confusion among the public which seems to use the two interchangeably. They have similar meanings but there is a fundamental difference. Conservation is more resource focused while efficiency is more technology focused.
Conservation or conserve, means ‘to protect from loss or waste, to protect and preserve resources through management in a prudent manner’. Efficiency or efficient, means to ‘accomplish a task or job with the minimum amount of time or effort’. We were conserving resources long before we started using them more efficiently, so efficiency is not a substitution for conservation. Some environmentalists might even say we haven’t done a very good job of conserving since we are approaching resource depletion in many areas including; fisheries, timber, and minerals specifically. That’s a subject for a later post.
Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder, referring to efficiency in their book The Clean Tech Revolution wrote, ‘the cheapest kilowatt-hour of electricity you’ll ever buy is the one you don’t use.’ That’s actually refers more to conservation rather than energy efficiency. Efficiency is using CFL’s or LED’s instead of incandescents, while conservation is just turning them off when they’re not in use.
I am not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination, otherwise I wouldn’t be such an ardent supporter of renewable energy. Renewable energy depends on technology to generate and distribute energy and there’s no way around that. I believe our society puts too much faith in technology, as though there is a technical solution for everything. Kunstler refers to this as ‘techno-narcissism’ but to me it actually seems like ‘techno-fanticizing’.
There is no technological solution for the fact that energy (and oil in particular) is a finite resource; the First Law of Thermodynamics specifically says ‘energy is neither created or destroyed’. It follows that there is a finite amount of energy because the earth is a self-contained sphere. Eventually we will live within our ‘solar budget’ which is the amount of energy that we get from the sun on an annual basis. The sun produces energy in the form of solar, wind, tidal, biomass and geothermal (to some extent). Our mission is to utilize all forms of renewable energy to the greatest extent possible.
President Carter proposed an emphasis on conservation along with extensive renewable energy development. It’s unfortunate we didn’t have the foresight to follow his vision back then, which would have begun to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Now we need a crash program at much greater expense and with much less guarantee of predictable outcomes. Let the Mayan New Year bring forth a shift in consciousness towards energy conservation.
Thanks for reading.