Power Trip: The Story of America's Love Affair with Energy
Author Amanda Little talks about America's energy addiction and how it can be cured.
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Here is the age-old question: Can individuals really make an impact, or is it up to politicians and big-business leaders?Skip to next paragraph
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I think there’s sort of a false dichotomy. We hear it a lot, that things like switching to energy-saving light bulbs are just a drop in the bucket. But to me they’re important because it’s about a shifting of consciousness. When we start making changes in our own lives, however incremental they might be, it changes the way we relate to politics. When we demonstrate these efficiencies in our lives, we can say, “Hey, we’re doing it in our own homes, why can’t we do this at a government level?”
In Lenoir City, Tenn., and post-Katrina New Orleans, architects have engineered “zero-energy” homes that produce as much energy as they consume and cost less than $150,000. Why can’t all buildings function this way?
The answer is they can, and they should. There’s no excuse for not raising the bar on our building standards. The payback is so immediate. It’s shockingly easy to reduce your home energy bill with very little initial investment. It’s criminal that we’re not expecting this of all building owners in this country.
What does our future look like if we don’t lessen our dependence on fossil fuels?
I think it’s really simple: It’s going to cost us. This extraordinary lack of efficiency in our economy is just going to become more and more expensive. The cost of transportation and warming our homes is going to spike. The problem is that it means we’re at a disadvantage in the global economy. All of our competitors’ economies will be much more robust and resilient when energy is more expensive because they’re already used to it. We’re going to play catch-up.
Why should we be optimistic?
We are extremely effective innovators. The architects of our current fossil-fuel energy landscapes were some of the people we still celebrate as the greatest inventors of all time. [These include] Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and, in the political world, FDR and Eisenhower. They were largely really smart, innovative people who responded to what was then a really good thing – an abundance of cheap oil and coal. Now we’re dealing with the hidden consequences, the environmental and political costs. I am incredibly optimistic that the same ingenuity that got us into this mess is going to get us out of it.
Nora Dunne is a Monitor contributor.