Green Energy, Schmeen Energy - Nobody Cares!
If you have seen the movie "Jurassic Park" (and who hasn't?) you might remember the scene where Dennis Nedry, the would-be thief of InGen's dinosaur embryos is having lunch with Lewis Dodgson, the potential purchaser of said embryos. After his loud declaration that "We got Dodgson here" received no reaction or interest from the other restaurant patrons Nedry mocks Dodgson's secretive behavior with the comment "Nobody Cares!".
That's how I am starting to feel about green energy.
As someone that reads postings on this blog site and probably other similar sites as well you might take great offence at that statement. You care about renewable energy, you care about our need to stop burning hydro-carbons, you care about conservation. So do I.
Opinion polls tell us that a majority of people want to reduce their impact on the planet and are even willing to pay a bit more for electricity and probably even manufactured goods that are more earth-friendly. Millions of people turn off lights and appliances on "Earth Day".
So what am I talking about?
I recently traveled to Chicago and while on a stop-over at SEA-TAC I thought I would grab a magazine with some earth-friendly articles to read while I was waiting for my next flight. I walked into the closest newsstand and viewed the racks of glossy magazines.
There were dozens of magazines about lifestyles - houses, hair, happiness, hardship; not a single article on solar panels, energy conservation, living with less "conspicuous consumption" or anything like that - quite the opposite really.
There were dozens of magazines about the great outdoors - hiking, biking, hunting, fishing; not a single article about deforestation/reforestation, urban bicycle commuting, or even climate change for that matter.
There were dozens of magazines about cars - old cars, new cars, hot rods, and motorcycles; not a single article about electric cars (not even the Tesla!), electric bikes, fleet fuel consumption, or hydrid technology.
I am not lying when I tell you that amongst the hundreds of magazines in that shop there was not a single earth-friendly article to read.
What does that tell me? It tells me that as much as most people have a vague intention to treat the earth better when it comes right down to it they are just not that interested in how that intention could be translated into action; i.e. "nobody cares". And by "nobody" I mean the large majority of the inhabitants of spaceship earth.
As someone that I suspect is pretty well informed about these topics I bet that you cannot answer the most basic of questions about your personal impact on the environment.
- What has been the actual fuel consumption of the car you drive over the past few months? (if you don't drive an automobile bully for you!) Has it been trending up or down?
- If you drive by yourself to work (I do and I'm not proud to say that) have you investigated car pooling in the last year? (I have good intentions about car-pooling with a neighbor but haven't got it done yet - I do bicycle to work about 1 day every two weeks).
- Do you know how much electricity your house consumes in a month? Has the consumption been going up or down over the past year? How does your house consumption compare to similar houses in your neighborhood?
- On hot summer days and cold winter nights do you know what is going on with demand vs. supply in your city or region? Have you ever been alerted to try and reduce your consumption of electricity (i.e. participated in a Demand Response event)?
- Do you know the rough breakdown of electricity generation sources that provide power to your home? (hydro, coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar)
I confess that my answer to most of these questions is either "no" or "I don't know". Pathetic. But there you have it.
At it's core the problem is one of psychology and awareness. I discussed this at length in a previous blog posting. Now a start-up out of Arlington, Virginia is proving that getting electricity consumers to "buy in" to the concept of Demand Response can produce real results. Alex Laskey of Opower sums it up like this.
"Most of these interventions are about translating intentions into behavior. They can appear to an outsider as if it's about changing behavior, but it's perhaps better thought of as realizing intentions."
So we can be successful in changing the way consumers view energy usage. Given that we really only have a problem for a few hours a day for a few weeks per year that is pretty encouraging. By way of example, a record heatwave on the eastern seaboard recently required the largest Demand Response in the history of the utility (PJM) to keep the lights on and the air conditioners humming.
But memories are short and old habits die hard. We all need to be reminded on a regular basis that these issues won't go away and need our regular attention. That's why I keep writing posts for The Black Swan Blog.