Wasting Energy

Increased conservation efforts would help to alleviate nation's power shortage

In response to what it has termed an “energy crisis,” the Bush administration has begun to finalize a reform strategy that relies on increasing energy supplies to meet increasing demand. President George W. Bush, a former oil industry executive, has generally favored obtaining greater fossil fuel supplies from previously untapped areas, and Vice President Dick Cheney, also a former oil executive, has said that the United States will need 1,300 new power plants by 2020—more than one a week—to satisfy increasing demand.

But new studies released by Energy Department scientists indicate that the U.S. has an alternative—an aggressive and far-reaching conservation campaign that could reduce energy demand by 20 to 47 percent. The administration should follow the judgment of the scientific community and the needs of the environment and make conservation a central part of its energy strategy.

Many administration and energy department officials have argued that conservation techniques are expensive, saying that they would not make a significant impact on energy demand. However, conservation could significantly cut energy costs in the long run and should be seen as an investment with very high potential rates of return. New technologies like brighter lightbulbs and improved insulation offer the chance to reduce energy use without sacrificing convenience. And these gains could be significant: If the U.S. government (the country’s largest energy consumer) cut its own power consumption by one-fifth, as the energy department scientists deem it could do at a cost of $5 billion, it could save $1 billion in energy per year and pay off the initial investment in only five years.

A conservation campaign can work as long as it is a large-scale effort that reaches all Americans. Such a campaign must start in government office buildings and facilities. After all, though reduced energy consumption helps the country as a whole, individuals are reluctant to use energy-saving products due to their high cost. The reduction in pollution would benefit the health and well-being of all Americans and saves money spent fighting pollution. The government therefore needs to step in to encourage conservation and decrease the costs for individual Americans.

Conservation on its own will not be enough to cope with the current energy deficit, but it should be part of the solution. Preserving the environment needs to be a chief priority for any administration. We have a moral obligation not only to provide a healthy living environment for future generations, but also to leave them with adequate supplies of natural resources so they can enjoy the world as we have. This obligation transcends the short-term economic interests of the current administration.

For far too long, Americans have relied on wasteful use of non-renewable resources to fuel our economy. It is time to focus our efforts on conserving energy and maximizing our use of renewable energy sources—if not to watch our own wallets, then out of regard for our children and grand-children.

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