State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

In Energy, Water and Climate Crises, Conservation is Still Too Often an Unmentionable ‘C’ Word

The following is an excerpt from a Sustain What blog post. Check out the full post

photos of bay in 2011 and 2016
A bay in the Great Salt Lake is becoming a salt flat. Images: NASA

Too much of the clean-energy and climate conversation focuses on deploying the new and the cool. I say that even though I’m a big fan of both.

I’m on the Ford F-150 Lightning list. The first thing I’m doing when we settle into our new old home in Maine next week is setting up meetings with energy contractors to see if the latest heat pumps can cut our electric and propane bills (yes, and CO2 emissions).

But not enough attention is focused on something as old as Amory Lovins’s “negawatts” metric — the energy you don’t use, as with the water you don’t waste, the trip you don’t take.

In a way, resource conservation is like disaster-risk reduction; there’s no headline in an avoided kilowatt-hour just as it’s hard to write a news story about a flood that passed without killing anyone because people and property were prepared. (I ran a great Sustain What webcast on making preparedness the story.)

Now is the time, if ever there was one, to amplify more systemic analyses that point to rapid, high-impact results from changing behavior more than technology.

Lowering the thermostat at home. Choosing to live in a walkable or bike-safe community. Telecommuting. Shifting from watering and cutting lawns to designing landscapes for the climates they exist in.

Ever since President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 sweater-and-fireplace speech on the energy crisis and inflation, talk of using less has seemed decidedly impolitic. It’s almost as if conservation is still an unmentionable “c” word.

I hope you and I can help change that dynamic.

Read on for where we’re at these days with conservation, even with Europe in an energy crisis, America’s driving miles back up over the pre-pandemic peak and Utah’s not-so-Great Salt Lake shriveling away.

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