Then and now – the more things don’t change . . .

“In a 1977 speech on energy policy, I observed that, ‘Although many Americans refuse to believe it, there is a serious and continuing energy problem in this country.'” – Lee H. Hamilton

Twenty-five years later, my textbook was published with that quote.  Thirty-fiver years later I write this blog.  Nothing has changed, at least not in terms of creating a societal solution for our “serious and continuing energy problem.”

Why not? Cost certainly has to be a major reason – we Americans have always been reluctant to pay taxes.  Our inability to measure costs in the long term, instead of just next week, feeds into that.  We read an article by Derek Jensen, who accused us of sitting around and hoping that someone will show up with some magic solution.  Both of these are very true.

However –

I believe the major obstacle to solving our energy problem is that we view it primarily as a technical problem, when the solution lay in the realm of human systems.

We can build wind turbines that float in the middle of the North Sea.  We can design expensive new green houses (which buyers may not be able to afford, or where keeping old homes working may be preferable.)   We develop expensive niche technologies that everyday people may never experience.

No wonder going green costs to much!  This is how we measure the cost!

Certainly, reformulating our gasoline blend may save us money and  miles per gallon.  However, to create real change, we must change the way people think.  Here are some ideas:

1) In 1977, Carter put on a sweater and told the American public to tough it out.  In 2012, fashion designers could make sweaters so stylish we all want to wear them.

Sweater by Ullvana on Etsy.

2) In 1979, Carter put solar panels on the White House.  In 2012, towns and homeowner associations could approve installment of solar panels, so residents have the option of installing them.

Jimmy Carter, “The President’s Proposed Energy Policy.” 18 April 1977. Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XXXXIII, No. 14, May 1, 1977, pp. 418-420.

3) In 1973 and 1978, the Oil Crises caused Americans to flock to gas-sipping Japanese cars – and firmly set Toyota, Honda, and Nissan as major players in the American market.  Today, we could create compact car parking spaces – close and convenient – to reward people who do the right thing.

And that’s not quite what I meant. 

And those are just the small ones.  Here are some big ones – I’m not writing too much about them now, because these are a list of future topics.

4) We could learn to love to live in dense communities again, driven by the many personal benefits of vibrant communities.

5) Public transportation for the rest of us.  This includes Amtrak.

6) Grants, loans, and subsidies to make old homes energy efficient and add value.

7) Programs that show renters and landlords what they can do to save energy – and give the necessary materials for leak sealing, weatherizing windows, hot water heater wraps, and duct and pipe protection.

8) Full bike society includes not just bike lanes, but secure storage and shower rooms at work / school.

9) This includes bike classes for kids as soon as they no longer need training wheels.

10) Local food systems save trans-national and international shipping.

11) Government education that spreads information about the most cost-effective changes a household or neighborhood can make – e.g. solar water heating instead of solar electrical generation.

12) Making it easy to buy sustainable energy from your electric company.  (It took me three years to find BlueStar, my current provider.)

13) Walking school buses

14) Community gardens

15) Block parties (yes, I’m serious)

16) Individual subsidies for negawatts

17) Community-wide sustainable energy purchasing agreements (like businesses do)

18) I could go on, I will go on, in another post . . .