Sunday, August 03, 2008

Short-Term Individual Changes To Reduce Energy Consumption

As a society, we have to make a lot of changes to mitigate the effects of energy depletion. However, a lot of people feel helpless when it comes to effecting change, because they feel that their actions won’t make a difference. However, it would be a mistake to think that. Above and beyond the role that societal changes play, people making individual changes in their consumption patterns can actually make a major difference. Just as conservation became a popular buzzword after the oil shocks in the early 1970’s, a large mass of people making changes in personal habits will possibly put off major declines in our standards of living by a few or several years. One should not underestimate the power of grassroots societal shifts.

Several people have emailed to ask me what they can do to try to help solve the problem on an individual level, or what I’m doing personally to help. So before I write a post talking about ways that our collective society should change, I’ve come up with a short list of five simple things that I’ve already done to change my personal habits, which each play a small part in reducing my overall energy footprint. These changes go beyond common-sense items like allowing your house to be cooler in the fall and winter (in northern climates), not standing in front of the fridge with the door open, and pledging not to buy a new car. And just so you know, I don’t have to do any of the things on this list: I just want to. It makes me feel like I’m contributing to the solution (partly) rather than being solely a part of the problem:

01. Compact fluorescent light bulbs: If you haven’t seen compact fluorescent bulbs yet, you will soon. They are becoming immensely popular. Yes, they may cost about four to six times as much as a regular incandescent light bulb, but they usually have a rated life that is five to ten times as long as an incandescent, so the cost equals out. Where you gain, however, lies in the fact that it only takes about one third or less electricity to power these bulbs compared to regular bulbs. Aside from a very small number of applications (ie. if you ‘need’ or prefer yellowish/incandescent light in a particular area, or if the bulb needs to support certain shapes of wire shades of a lamp cover), these bulbs are a sure-fire way to reduce your electrical bill.

02. Wash with cold water: I’m no fashion king, but when it comes to washing my clothing, I’m pretty sure that cold water does almost as good a job as hot water. And it uses far less electricity, because you don’t have to heat the water. Even whites can be washed in cold water – try it yourself.

03. Turn down your water heater: The way that a water heater works is that it keeps a large amount of water on hand at a certain temperature, let say around 150 degrees Fahrenheit. That water may sometimes come directly out your taps as original “hot water,” or it may be mixed slightly with cold water, depending on how you run your taps. If you find that the water coming out of the taps in your home is too hot to run your hands under, so you mix it with cold, or if you need to have a lot of cold mixed in with the hot to make your shower bearable, then your hot water heater is probably set higher than it needs to be. Turning it down by ten degrees or so probably won’t make your life uncomfortable, but over the course of the year, if you only have to keep the water ten degrees cooler than before, you’re saving a lot of electricity again. The only disclaimer I have about this task is that you shouldn’t play with the settings on your hot water heater if you aren’t comfortable working around electricity. Turning the temperature down is quite easy for an experienced handyman, but if you’re not that type of person, ask a friend who is comfortable to turn down the thermostat.

04. Walking to work more often: As a tree planter, I walk about fifteen to thirty kilometres per day, on average. I don`t know why I tend to get so lazy in the winter. Western civilization has made me decadent, but I can change. During the fall and winter, I can certainly take a ten-minute walk to work, rather than driving there. The less that I travel in the car, the better, and since most of my driving is in a very small radius around town, walking is quite often feasible. And for the days when I’m busy and running late, walking will just mean that I have to plan my time better. Besides, spending more time walking to work and from work will be healthy. Well, except maybe for my liver – if I`m walking home from work all the time, I`ll be able to have a couple drinks before I leave.

05. Refrain from using Christmas lighting: A lot of Canadians take great pride in decorating their houses with extensive Christmas lights in December. This will be a hard tradition for many to let go of, but the fact is that it burns a lot of unnecessary energy. If you hold off from putting the lights up this coming Christmas season, you’re effectively saying to your neighbours, “I’m doing my part to help conserve energy.” I`m not saying that you should refrain from having a decorated tree inside just yet (although that may also change in the future), but at least the outside lights can be sacrificed. If you’re not sure about this decision, look at your electric bill before you go digging out the Christmas lights this December.

You may find it interesting that only one of these specific five items, #4, deals with saving fuel or oil directly. The other four items deal with reducing electricity usage. But remember, a high proportion of the electricity generated in North America comes directly from power plants that consume oil or natural gas, so if you can minimize your electrical bill, you’re actually reducing the amount of oil and/or natural gas that you are consuming. And the best thing about all of these items (except for #4) is that it really takes NO effort or willpower to do these. All you have to do is make a decision one time, and you’ll continue to get the benefits again and again after that. Take the plunge – go out right now and make a list of five things that you`re going to do to save energy, and follow it. You can borrow from my list if you want.