As Californians turn on their air conditioners this summer, even while they listen to official forecasts of blackouts on the radio, they can think ... Brazil.
Expected outages caused by an electricity crunch have driven that nation to take desperate measures. Pro- soccer matches will not be played at night. City street lighting has been cut by 35 percent. And people who violate quotas on electricity usage will have their power cut off for six days.
Forced conservation hasn't been proposed in California, even though much of the state may see 34 days of rotating blackouts this summer. Instead, officials are scrambling to garner more juice and impose price caps.
After all, the state already has the second-lowest per capita use of energy in the nation, due in large part to efforts in the 1970s to make buildings and appliances more efficient - with no sacrifice in comfort, of course. And Gov. Gray Davis has directed $800 million to be spent on energy saving.
But obviously more can be done to rally Californians to turn up their thermostats this summer and take other steps to reduce electricity usage and avert blackouts for everyone.
Higher rates - about $35 more a month on average for most homeowners - will spur some conservation. Those who use no more than they have in the past might see no increase. But to avoid hurting the economy through blackouts, Californians have to think beyond their immediate concerns and make some sacrifices in lifestyle. "This is a war California is in," warns one high-tech executive. "Every time California goes black, the economy sees red."
Electricity savings could be 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts, by some estimates, which is nearly half of the estimated shortage for the hottest days.
President Bush, who put conservation goals in his energy plan, has helped California by ordering federal offices to reduce lighting and computer use and increase office temperatures to 78 degrees.
Out of this crisis, Californians can gain a greater sense of community, a lesson that sometimes less is more.