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By Chronicle Editorial board
THE ISSUE: We understand energy saving but don’t practice it.
OUR OPINION: What will it take to get us to change our ways?
The late pop artist Andy Warhol may seem like an unlikely philosopher, but he nailed it with this one: “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
That’s absolutely the case with our energy usage in this country. A recent nationwide poll showed Americans understand effective ways to save energy, but we have a hard time doing it.
If you ask, people will tell you they favor energy conservation. But many folks who generally remember to flip the light off when they leave a room won’t set the thermostat at recommended levels, drive more fuel-efficient cars or retrofit windows for greater insulating efficiency.
People moan about how expensive gasoline is — but compared with our European neighbors, we get off easy. A 2011 report shows gas prices in the U.S. are less than half of what they are in France, the least expensive of the major European countries.
Maybe higher prices and the need to conserve energy are creeping so gradually into our collective awareness that we’re not feeling the pinch yet. It’s like the old story of how to cook a frog: put him in boiling water and he’ll jump right out. But put him in cool water that’s slowly heated, and he’ll be cooked to death because he doesn’t perceive the danger.
While the younger generations have grown up with the “reduce and conserve” message, many of their elders are stuck in their old ways and reluctant to change.
What’s it going to take? The easy answer is, “higher prices.” When you can’t afford to keep the house at 68 degrees during the summer, you’ll raise the thermostat to 78 and use the fans.
The more challenging answer is, make meaningful information available and provide practical, understandable guidance. For example, how does your household energy usage compare with your neighbors, and what three things can you do to minimize usage? On request, your electricity provider will have a representative conduct an energy audit at your home — a great opportunity to get very specific answers that you can use immediately.
The combination of financial expediency and actionable knowledge will accelerate culture change in our society.
That rascal Warhol had it again: “When people are ready to, they change. … You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.”