Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Less is more: First steps at the personal scale

In my last post, I brought up energy independence in pursuit of a sustainable energy economy. I don’t care to dwell at this time on activity at the big scales- the national and regional levels- not only because this becomes ponderously abstract, but because these scales focus on someone else doing most of the thinking and work, while everyone else sleeps through the changes. Besides, as Messrs. McCain and Obama begin to do what politicians do, the broader scales will get plenty of attention.
While a roughly sustainable energy economy will require a sea change in peoples’ thinking, there are opportunities everywhere to make simple personal choices that contribute to energy independence, such as:
In a typical home, unplugging devices that aren’t in use is a good way to save energy. Most electronics and appliances draw-down some current, even if turned off. CRT televisions actually draw a fairly large amount when not in use. Plugging groups of devices into a surge protector can achieve a similar effect, and allows you to simply flip a switch to “unplug” several devices. A little over a year ago, my wife and I spent about $30 on surge protectors, and immediately experienced a 5%-10% drop in our monthly electricity bill.
Don’t buy things you don’t want or need. This may sound obvious, but it’s worth stating. Just about everyone makes pointless purchases every now and then. If you look around your home and find stuff you don’t want or need anymore, sell it or donate it to someone who might, rather than throwing it away.
Recognize that it’s colder in the winter and hotter in the summer. Buy some sweaters and some short-sleeved shirts and adjust the thermostat accordingly. It turns out that Ebenezer Scrooge had a good point about coal and waistcoats.
Use your local museums, libraries, and archives. Art, science, history, literature, and similar pursuits offer potentially infinite value, in many cases with very limited resources.
Combine trips and favor local businesses or clusters of businesses. Similarly, find out if anyone in your home needs to run errands at the same time. This evergreen advice saves time and money, even when gas prices aren’t extravagant. It makes even more sense when prices are high.
Whether you call it vintage, pre-owned, or used, buy stuff that wasn’t made a week ago. Books, exercise equipment, camping gear, and music are great candidates for this.
Build relationships with people in your community. Just like the museums/libraries/archives, this creates value that doesn’t require acquiring things. It also means that you can trade some tomatoes that you’ve grown for some pole beans that your neighbor grew.

Many of these choices revolve around merely appreciating what is of value, and what is waste. Developing a mindset of pursuing value while reducing waste reveals other opportunities. As record high gas prices bring the role and presence of energy to the forefront of our thoughts, now is a good time to put this understanding into practice.

Image source: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden


Sue said...

Several things:
One a great resource learning things to do, is the site called Celsius. In particular check out their "Actions" page:

Another is a site that probably won't sit to well with some folks but has great ideas, Green with a Gun from Australia. In particular check out his recent fuel efficiency post. the statistics are interesting, but they are for Europe and Australia, not the U.S.

Third, be careful about the plugging and unplugging (or using a surge protector to turn on and off), some appliances that are designed to stay on and draw power, do not respond well, and can have their programming scrambled. A year or so ago, after learning about how much power was being drawn from appliances/electronics on "ready" we decided to start unplugging. After being unplugged and plugged back in only six times, our microwaves display went completely haywire. While the microwave still works one can no longer see a display of the programming. We also ruined a DVD player, its programming became so hopelessly scrambled that it could not be used.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Thanks for the links. As for the plugging and unplugging, I generally don't pull anything that has a clock. Items like CRT televisions/monitors, toaster-ovens, food-processors, lamps, fans, heaters, and battery-chargers are good candidates for unplugging.

E. R. Dunhill said...

...I've wished for years that manufacturers would stop putting clocks on everything. If I want a clock, I'll buy a clock. If I want a microwave oven, I'll buy a microwave oven.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Reminds me a little of my grandparents' Depression era mentality. Waste not want not.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Alas, there are some tragically unhip parallels between Depression-era thinking and a resource-conservative lifestyle, though it's easy to overstate these. This mindset helped people subsist in the 30s when poverty was dropped on them. People did it because they had to.
However, there's nothing stopping people from using the underlying reasoning to improve their quality of life. My wife and I garden, walk to local restaurants, save water with a rain barrel, and diaper the baby in reusable diapers when we're at home. This kind of thinking helped us to buy our first home in one of the most expensive markets in the country at the age of 23.
It's funny that you bring up the grandparent-wisdom on this issue. I learned this ethic at a very young age from my grandmother (now 96 and still sharp as a tack) who lives on a farm in Louisiana. On her farm, I learned to save empty containers, make work-knives out of broken tools, conserve water, and put-out any food I didn't finish for the dogs and cats. I think everyone should be so fortunate as to spend time on a small farm with someone so wise.