Sunday, November 19, 2006

Another Way

"THE KEY TO MODERN LIFE IS STRATEGIC IGNORANCE," wrote Joel Achenbach in a preceptive article, Another Way, about energy use in the Washington Post Magazine. He visited a rural enclave called Earthaven in North Carolina whose inhabitants choose to live in an environmentally sustainable way. It is a long article by newspaper standards, but it makes some excellent points.

Americans, for the most part, are woefully ignorant about their energy use.
"If everyone lived at the lifestyle of Americans," says Jim McMillan, who works on alternative energy for the Department of Energy, "we'd need five planets."
Most of the homes in Earthhaven have energy meters in a prominent place so that residents can easily monitor their current energy usage. Why do conventional homes have their electric meter on the outside and not also on the inside of the homes?

A Swedish study showed that drivers adjusted their driving style and improved their fuel economy by an average of 10% when current MPG (or liters/100km) was displayed. An internal display of real-time electricity and gas usage could similiarly influence behavior.

Secondly, sustainable living will be attractive to more people if they feel like they are gaining something rather than giving up something (or wearing a hairshirt like Jimmy Carter's sweater). I live in a dense neighborhood because it frees up time that I would have otherwise spent on commuting and running errands. Everyplace I absolutely need to go is in a very tight radius. It is both time and energy efficient and a sanity saver. Plus, if I walk or ride my bicycle, I get exercise without taking any additional time out of my day.

We use a clothesline because it saves time. We start up a load of laundry after everyone in our family has bathed and before going to sleep. In the morning, I toss the shirts and small items into the dryer and hang up the heavy items up on the clothesline. After breakfast, I pull the shirts out of the dryer and hang them up to dry the rest of the way. When I get home from work, I take the clothes off the line and fluff them up in the dryer for a few minutes. We chat while Mark cleans up after dinner and I fold the laundry. It seems to take no time at all compared to the whole days that other households spend waiting for their clothes to dry in the dryer.

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