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Energy conservation was much easier for toasters

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Suddenly, It's Hip to Conserve Energy reminds us that an earlier president (Reagan) mandated energy-efficient appliances for household applications and as a result "household energy use has fallen because of power-efficient appliances and technology-smart homes prodded along by tight new building codes" and so "capita energy use has remained about the same over the last 20 years" even as total use has risen with population growth and fuel-inefficient vehicles.

Our automakers resist higher fuel economy standards even as "Americans still use 10 times more gasoline per capita than the world average." Congress may not explicitly link fuel taxes and a "third rail" backlash but it seems like that in their resistance to touch the subject. Americans conserve under duress, such as the oil shocks of the 1970s and rolling blackouts of 2001, but it is a transient affair that reverts to mass consumption.

Toasters and refrigerators are less complex than automobiles and less wrapped up in the American psyche, but something must give. We have previously spoken of the impacts of the Hubbert curve on declining oil production and the rising contestants for the stocks that remain. Yet Hybrid Vehicles Hit the Heartland...Barely makes clear that only fringe areas on either coast along with some cities have even a modicum of interest in fuel efficient vehicles. Yes, we drive long distances (but not as long as Australians), transport larger families, and often carry more things, but until someone elects to 'follow the money' and so force, in one or more ways, better energy efficiency, we remain yoked to the politics of oil, or a proliferation of nuclear plants, or both.

I wonder how we will fare as the one of the key engines of US economic gain -- food grains -- is challenged by the likes of Russia and Brazil. How will we perceive oil if we have the same difficulty in paying for it as might some third world nation.

Suddenly, It's Hip to Conserve Energy
By TIMOTHY EGAN
New York Times
June 20, 2004

Hybrid Vehicles Hit the Heartland...Barely
By DANNY HAKIM
New York Times
June 19, 2004

Gordon Housworth


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