Opinion: Why Don’t More People Conserve Energy

Mother even trained the bird to save energy
Mother even trained the bird to save energy

Remember when your mother used to follow you around the house turning off the light switches and telling you how you were wasting electricity? That’s had a lasting effect on most of us. Unfortunately, that has led to a huge misconception – that turning off lights is the best way to conserve energy in your home. In fact, it isn’t even in the top ten. Which brings up the point – most Americans have absolutely no idea how to go about conserving energy in any meaningful way. And, they believe they are saving a lot more than they actually are.

One of the biggest failures of the current green movement is in educating the general public. There is so much information out there that myths and truth are being mixed and the public is having a hard time sorting things out. For instance, changing out light bulbs is far more efficient than using older incandescent bulbs. But, if you are using CFLs, turning them on and off frequently reduces their lifespan, negating the energy savings because you’ll go through them faster. Leaving them on if you are planning to return to a room within 15 minutes is actually a better choice. That’s why LED bulbs are a better investment and should be used in rooms that have short occupancy times, like the bathroom and closets.

The light bulb is a good place to start when talking about the disconnect that people have when it comes to energy use. Most people understand how much energy a light bulb takes to run, but they don’t have any clue about the amount of energy that major appliances use.  For instance, it would be easier to discuss energy savings if dishwashers and clothes dryers came with energy use tables. The energy star labels on the front of new appliances are a good start – but most people aren’t willing, or are unable to, purchase a home full of new appliances. For instance, many people think that a central air conditioner is a more efficient option for home cooling than window A/C units, when they actually use about 3.5 times more energy to run and end up cooling portions of the home that are not in use. Unless 4 window units were being used at one time, the window A/C units would be more efficient.

Even if ignorance of the facts is part of the problem, it isn’t the whole enchilada. Conserving energy often means adjusting the daily routine. This is the hardest thing for people to do. So, instead of actually actively saving energy, they chose to do the least change possible while still doing something. The easiest energy saver is changing light bulbs, so this is where most people start. They may even make a second or third small energy saving change like buying a programmable thermostat or having low flow water fixtures installed. As the expenses get higher, say for changing out appliances or buying an electric car, it requires too much of a sacrifice for most Americans. Instead, they will say, things like – I’ve got all LED lighting, or, I just added aerators to all of my faucets. This is enough to show that they are doing something and they are off the hook for doing more.

Until our culture fully embraces energy conservation over comfort and builds it into every aspect of our lives, most people are likely to continue to do as little as possible to conform. What do you think? Do you have a plan to make energy conservation more than hip and cool, and something that everyone is willing to go to the next level for?