"Should Energy Conservation Methods be Practiced by Everyone?"
If we stop and take a look at the planet we call home, we will see that the Earth gives us the very air we need to breathe that no other planet in our solar system can offer. Earth also gives us the water we need to sustain life since the human body is
made up of 61.8% water (1). In addition to air and water, the Earth gives us the raw materials needed to build our homes and cities, manufacture the goods that make our lives what we have come to rely on in our hi-tech society, and also allow us the greater advantage of rapid transportation our forefathers could only dream of.
Even though the Earth is composed of fragile, complex ecosystems that interact with each other and are connected by energy (8), it has managed to heal itself over the years from cataclysmic events such as ice ages, volcanic eruptions, and meteor strikes. But as mankind's ever increasing energy consumption has placed greater demands on the Earth and given to exponential exploitation of its natural resources, the Earth is at a point that it can no longer heal itself at a rate that will keep up with the afore mentioned destruction. We are at the crossroads that will ultimately decide if the Earth will continue in this downward spiral towards extinction or will we step up as its ambassadors and make the necessary adjustments to our moral philosophy concerning the environmental ethics of the Earth. By doing this, we will allow it to begin the healing process that will ensure a healthy environment for today and future generations.
This leads us to the question, "should energy conservation methods be practiced by everyone"? We, as humans, have a moral obligation to preserve our environment. It is in our own best interest. This is a very strong statement when you take into consideration the consequences of not doing so. These consequences are severe and acute simply because they are not isolated to one region or group of people. It is instead one that has a global impact on us all. The end result of not practicing energy conservation is an atrocity that can be prevented. Before we discuss the consequences of not putting into practice this moral obligation to the environment, let us look at the background of this concept.
The moral philosophy behind this concept is better known as environmental ethics. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Environmental ethics is the discipline that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents (4). So, what does it mean to practice methods of energy conservation? To start, energy conservation can be defined as the reduction or elimination of unnecessary energy use and waste (3). Although there are many ways that will facilitate this concept, this essay will focus on: (1) the 3 R's (reduce, recycle, and reuse), (2) a greater dependence on renewable energy sources, and (3) an increased use of energy efficient products and practices. These methods provide benefits that are far reaching.
The first of these methods is reduction. Waste prevention or "source reduction", means consuming and throwing away less (2). For example of this is over the past 35 years the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.4 pounds per day (5). The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place . This is the EPA's preferred method of waste management. Source reduction refers to any change in the design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials or products (including packaging) to reduce their amount or toxicity before they become municipal solid waste (5). We as consumers only have control over one: purchasing. This happens to be the most powerful one because as consumers our buying power can force manufactures to take a stronger look at what they can do with their products to practice better methods of energy conservation. An example of this is that since 1977 the weight of 2-liter plastic soft drink bottles has been reduced from 68 grams each to 51 grams. That means that 250 million pounds of plastic per year has been kept out of the waste stream (5). So how is this energy conservation? Through the action of source reduction, we conserve energy on the handling and disposal of this solid waste. Also, energy is conserved because less raw materials are needed to manufacture these products. This will conserve resources and help reduce pollution, including greenhouse gases (primarily methane) (5).
The second of the three R's is recycling. Recycling is a series of activities that includes collecting recyclable materials that would otherwise be considered waste, sorting and processing recyclables into raw materials such as fibers, and manufacturing raw materials into new products (9). This is actually a three step process that includes: collecting and processing of materials, manufacturing recycled-content products, and purchasing of recycled products. This process creates a loop that ensures the overall success and value of recycling (9). Once again, we as consumers can demand more environmentally sound products that are manufactured by companies that made the choice to implement better practices of energy conservation. Changes can be seen on the horizon when it comes to the idea of recycling. Today, this country recycles 32.5 percent of its waste, a rate that has almost doubled during the past 15 years (9). Recycling diverted 82 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators in 2006 (2). Recycling not only slows down the rate at which our natural resources are being depleted, but it also conserves energy. According to the British Metal Recycling Association, recycling saves the following amount of energy versus extraction and manufacturing of these metals: aluminum 95%, copper 85 %, lead 60%, steel 62-74%, and zinc 60% (7). The Department of Energy states that a ton of paper made of recycled fibers conserves 7,000 gallons of water, up to 31 trees, 4,000 KWh of electricity, and up to 60 pounds of air pollutants (not including carbon dioxide). Overall, recycling paper uses 60 percent less energy than making paper from new materials.
The last of the three R's is reusing. This concept is the hardest for Americans to relate to because we live in a "disposable society", although it is the simplest in form. When given the choice, reusing is better than recycling because the item does not need to be reprocessed before it can be used again. There are more than 6,000 reuse centers around the country, ranging from specialized programs for building materials or unneeded materials in schools to local programs such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, according to the Reuse Development Organization (5).
Renewable energy is a term used to define energy resources that are constantly being replenished or sustained. The energy that is produced from these sources is beneficial in many ways. It is clean, meaning it causes no pollution to the environment and costs nothing to retrieve and use. In contrast, non-renewable energy such as fossil fuels is costly to retrieve and damaging to the environment to use. It also has a finite amount before it is exhausted unlike renewable energy that is constantly being produced. Some of these sources come from the energy of the sun, such as solar, wind, and biomass. Others, like geothermal utilize the internal heat of the planet to create energy. We can also use the most abundant and precious of our resources for energy in the form of hydroelectric as well as the heat and movement of the ocean. With so many positive factors to influence our decision to use renewable energy, it is hard to comprehend why our society still relies so heavily on non-renewable energy sources like coal, petroleum, and natural gas.
The last of our methods to conserve energy is to increase our use of energy efficient products and practices. In existing homes, this can be done by installing a programmable thermostat and replacing current light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. Energy conserving practices such as setting your thermostat to 68 F in the winter and 78 F in the summer and by turning unused lights off can save $150-$200 a year on your energy bill. When you construct a new home, a full range of energy efficient products can be incorporated into the design and construction process. The initial construction costs for putting in double pane windows, increased insulation, and a geothermal heat exchange heating and cooling system will be higher than conventional building costs. In the long run, these products and practices will recover initial construction costs and create energy savings for years to come. Another benefit is the reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels. According to the US Department of Energy, residences accounted for 20% of US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, in 2000. That amounts to 313.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (10).
Why should we, as a society, practice energy conservation? First, we consume less of our natural resources. This allows for a better balance in the system as a whole and ensures that enough resources remain for future generations. We do not find anything strange about starting college funds and completing wills to take care of the future, so then why not the same for our natural resources? Our actions can ensure the viability of a greater ecosystem diversity that optimizes an increased intrinsic value of nature. Second, we will cause less pollution to an already fragile system. A healthier planet means a healthier environment to live in. Increased vitality means less of a dependence on our health care system, which benefits us economically. When we have a better balance in nature, we have created a greater economic growth felt now and for years to come. Lastly, we will have a prodigious self-awareness of our place in nature and a better overall satisfaction with ourselves for contributing to a healthier environment. It is much better to be a contributing part of a system rather than a cancerous growth that only takes. We will gain a sense of accomplishment knowing that we are creating a positive outlook for the future instead of depleting it for self-centered pleasure. Society, for the most part, teaches to practice good sportsmanship and being a team player. Why not apply the same principles towards team management in nature?
As with any discussion dealing with the topic of moral philosophy, there will always be the other side of the argument. This topic is not without its share of debates against it. One such opposition is that there really is no reason to practice energy conservation because there are plenty of natural resources to supply our energy needs for years to come. This is a true statement yet it lacks any depth of thought. It is shortsighted with reference to the future and is missing one key idea. Our natural resources are being depleted at a rate that far exceeds the growth and replenishment of future resources. This thought process is unmotivated and characteristic of failure. What would be the outcome, if a business were run with that same unhealthy disregard for it as is held for our natural resources?
Another frequently quoted argument is that energy conservation is too hard to do because the changes necessary are too drastic to handle. As with anything that is new and requires change, there will always be some "growing pains" until familiarity of the action sets in. That is the case with practicing methods of energy conservation. What is not looked at is the fact that you don't have to be an eco-god to succeed at this. You only need to manage small changes done slowly to see the consequences of your actions. Here is a brief list of simple things that can be done that have a tremendous positive impact on our environment through less energy used: (1) replace your current light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, (2) consolidate your trips when you drive, (3) make wiser choices when making purchases when given the opportunity (consider a hybrid vehicle, choose products with less overall packaging, purchase from companies with a commitment to the environment), (4) invest in energy efficient appliances, windows, and insulation, and (5) donate used items to charity instead of throwing them out and adding to the solid waste in landfills.
With all of these methods of energy conservation, there is a recurring theme that is analogous within them - change. Our personal attitude and behavior have to go through an adjustment process that ultimately leads to a community of conscience. Is this too much of an investment of one's time and money? The benefits are greater all across the board when we search out better products or ways of doing something that have a positive impact on the environment. The old adage says, "you get what you pay for". This same principle applies in nature as well. But how can I, as one person, make a difference? If everyone did just a few things toward energy conservation, the results would have an instant impact that could be felt in all parts of the world. You don't have to win a Nobel Peace Prize for work done for the environment to make a difference, just like you don't have to be the star of the team for the team to be successful.
Our society spends much time busying itself with making decisions that conclude what is right and wrong. Each one of us has our own moral philosophy that influences the choices we make. We make choices on varied subjects such as abortion, human rights, animal rights, religion, economics, and even politics. Oftentimes, the choices or decisions never carry over into the realm of our environment. I suppose it is viewed as a constant and that it does not need our attention. I contend that it DOES and that we should take the principles that doctrine our moral philosophy in other areas and apply them to nature. Then, with slow but steady progress, we will be able to complete the adjustments necessary to our conscious thinking process to facilitate constant awareness of our overall place in nature keepers of the planet Earth.