Monday, December 27, 2010

Place as Prerequisite for Energy Conservation

Recently I was asked to help a military base launch an energy conservation campaign. Since most base residents are not responsible for the cost of their utility bills, this proved to be an enormous challenge, but I discovered that the challenge goes far beyond economics. Most residents only live on base for a few months, so the base is only a transition in their life, a place to pass through, and the care and attention often dedicated toward "home" can be lacking. How do you convince people to "do the right thing" (turn down the heat, shut a window, put on extra layers -- ultimately be uncomfortable) when their home is little more than a pass-through place anyway?

One of my business associates lives in an old high-rise apartment. Last week during a particularly bitter coldsnap, she proclaimed that she had to put the heat up to 80 degrees when she got home so she felt "comfortable." (I discovered she wears short sleeves and shorts much of the winter).

"There are better ways to keep warm," I suggested, "put on an extra layer."

She wasn't convinced. "I don't have to pay for the heat or air anyway," she told us. "And the landlord hasn't done anything to fix the windows. There are drafts everywhere." It wasn't a place she necessarily cared about, felt any responsibility toward, and shrug, she didn't see what difference her small sacrifices would make anyway.

I wonder if "energy conservation" is only possible when we live in a place that we consider "home." Perhaps being responsible for the bills is one way to feel that we're home, but it goes far deeper than that. If our contributions seem pointless, it makes it more difficult to conserve, and if we don't care much about where we are, the sacrifice doesn't seem relevant. Perhaps we need to find ways (economically, psychologically, spiritually) of making people feel at home on this earth if we are to create the sense of care and responsibility necessary to ensure the sustainability of our planet. Photo courtesy of rickjames330


Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your thoughts, and I do think that understanding the psychology of why and how humans make choices is important in most endeavors. I'm reading a book that you might enjoy: "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely, which was given to me by my son who's getting a PhD in neurobiology (at Duke, but that's not the only reason he gave me the book... :) Ariely currently hails from Duke). It's an easy read that you can pick up and read in bits and pieces. Though you may have already read it!

Our Founders said...

I haven't read it but I certainly will. Thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Anonymous said...

what I was looking for, thanks

Gregory Zimmerman said...

your comments ring true.
sense of place seems to be a prerequisite to a lot of stewardship.
our challenge here in my area that this wonderful place in a rural area is not presently under development pressure. getting people to not take it for granted is one issue we face. we get them to recognize the special features of our place to try to get them to work for conservation of our heritage and natural heritage.