Think before you switch to higher electricity usage

The best energy investment we can make is energy conservation and efficiency. We could cut our excessive consumption between 30 and 75 percent and still live comfortable lives. As consumers, our purchases decide our direction.

As children, when we whined about the inconvenience of walking to school in cold weather, our parents topped our complaints with stories of the rigors of their youth. While it never seemed relevant to us, they conveyed the message that we could deal with it by adopting a can-do attitude and dressing appropriately for the weather—cold, wet or hot. As teen-agers, we walked in—30o temperatures dressed in woolen clothing and awkward galoshes, never giving style a second thought.

We adjusted then, and we can adjust now. If peak oil is a reality in the near future, we will learn to. While we may not like the changes, they will be less severe if we start making them now.

Another factor should also be a reason for adjusting. We are often reminded of the economic costs of consuming fuel in a car, home or appliance, but we seldom make a connection between our behavior and the environmental destruction it causes.

When authors of books such as The Limits to Growth warn of environmental destruction caused by too many people consuming too many resources on a finite planet, few of us take the conclusions to heart and consciously alter our lifestyles. We live in the moment with few cares for tomorrow or those who follow us.

We can make simple, effective changes today. If every family only used compact fluorescent bulbs, our electrical consumption would drop by 5 percent, our air would be cleaner, less climate-altering carbon dioxide would be released, and we would maintain the same level of lighting we now enjoy. Think of them as a holiday gift to the planet. This simple act would have a far greater positive impact on the state than the goal of 2 percent of electrical production from wind farms by 2006.

If instead we buy energy-consuming electronic gadgets, environmental consequences will intensify. Such devices consumed 5 percent of household electricity in 1980 and consume 20 percent today. Sales of these products, including big screen televisions, digital cameras, laptops and portable music players continue to grow. Televisions and accessories alone can account for 10 percent of a household’s electric bill. Huge plasma TVs use twice the electricity of standard TVs. Some use as much electricity as a refrigerator. Those who buy these gadgets are also buying more nuclear power plants, more coal-fired plants and more wind farms.

The latest gadget and the switch that turns it on has a direct connection to fuel consumption, climate change, environmental destruction and increased sources of power generation. Powering an appliance anywhere has environmental consequences somewhere—in our back yard or a distant place. Whether the Rocky Mountains or a seaside resort is your favorite vacation retreat, how you and your neighbors use energy today could make your favorite place of refuge far less inviting.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2005, issue

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