Monday, 9 January 2006

Why save energy?

Just a thought. What I am about to write is only that. It is certainly not WLT policy, and it is not even something I believe in, but it's meant as a thought to elicit thoughts of others, and perhaps some facts to discredit it or prove it.

Is there any point in conserving energy? At present the amount of energy consumed globally is largely limited by supply, not demand. So if I reduce my energy use, someone else, somewhere else will use that energy. But they may use it on something more damaging. In simple terms, I may save a gallon of petrol by not driving somewhere, but the person who uses the petrol may use it to power a chain saw to cut down a tree.

Another thought. Cheap public transport is damaging to the environment. The cheaper public transport is, the more people will use it -- a pretty obvious and incontrovertible fact. But is this a good thing? Just because it is public transport, and perhaps more 'efficient' it is not automatically a good thing. Cheap public transport allows people living over 100 miles from London to commute daily; in order to do so they may ruin a nice bit of countryside to build a commuter home. Surely the only 'green' form of commuting is bikes or feet.

And finally, what about the air transport dilemma. If air transport becomes more energy efficient than trains, is it 'greener'? Our local, highly subsidised, half empty trains, does not compare favourably with a full-to-capacity easy Jet. What we are always failing to ask, is: what is the purpose of the journey? Public transport is no greener than any other form of transport, if it is for a non-essential journey. So it all boils down to what is an essential journey. I.e the whole debate about energy efficiency and travel is really a philosophical one, not one about facts, since the facts are almost entirely subjective. Most journeys are non-essential, and most freight being shipped around is far from essential. Worrying about the energy used shipping it, and making minor savings is, as one of my correspondents wrote recently, like "rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic".

The iceberg ahead is comprised of the billions of people now on this planet. And like an iceberg, below the waterline are all those under 20 years old, yet to reproduce themselves. And like the Titanic we are on a course that cannot be altered in time to avert a disaster. A few may get into the lifeboats but the rest, in steerage will probably go down.

Just a thought.


  1. Why save energy indeed? - In the past year and a half I've clocked up about 3,000 miles commuting to work in London by bike (and saved a lot of fuel doing so), and yet on my daily route I encounter 4x4s which can barely do 12 miles to the gallon. At the moment energy is so cheap (too cheap), that there is little incentive for us to save energy and become more efficient. But this won't always be the case, with North Sea oil and gas running out, and governments slowly waking up to the impending risks of Climate Change, we will all have to save energy. By creating a greener society now, while we have time the impact on our society will be greatly reduced.

  2. A nice thought by Pete, but I don't think he's right. Energy is certainly far too cheap, but it is even cheaper in many other parts of the world outside the UK. Another way of looking at it is to say we are all to wealthy. Unfortunately, by the time the greener society dreamed of by Pete arrives the world's population may well have doubled. That worries me far more than any energy crisis, as it will have much, much bigger impacts on climate and all the other global changes taking place. There's an elephant in the room.....

  3. Of course the human population crisis is the underlying problem, but just because this is something that we as individuals can't do much to control, does that mean we should simply give up?

    If we, that consider ourselves green (albeit in different shades), give up trying to create a greener society, how on earth are we ever going to convince others to make changes to their livestyles?

    Yes, the world's population may well have doubled by the time a majority of people have started to live more environmentally friendly, and this will undoubtedly have huge impacts on the earth. However, Pete is right. If we don't even attempt to do the best we can to change the way we, and those we can influence, live our lives now, at the current population level, then the future state of the planet is likely to be much, much worse.

    I'm generally fairly pesimistic about the future of the planet, but 12 billion people (hopefully less) with a majority trying to lead low-impact lives, would surely be preferable to 12 billion people (possibly more) living as if they had the whole earth to themselves?

    Not saving energy because someone else may use more instead sounds like a bad excuse for "business as ususal" to me.

  4. Yes, Helena's right of course. Otherwise we would all give up, and live a hedonistic life, and not worry. But my underlying fear is that governments are using energy as a red herring to detract our attention away from the elephant in the room, which they are afraid to confront, and meanwhile we all continue rearranging the deckchairs....