Earlier this fall, on one of the first chilly days, I considered climbing into the crawlspace to light the pilot on my floor furnace, but decided it was easier to just put on a sweatshirt. The practically prehistoric furnace is part of the house I had intended to demolish as part of my derailed plans for a new house, so I have been putting up with it for a few years now. I do turn off the pilot for most of the year and put up with the inconvenience of lighting it once a year in an effort to save some money and energy.
Back to the sweatshirt story. It reminded me of President Carter during the first oil crisis in the 1970s; he urged Americans to conserve, put on sweaters, and he even put solar panels on the White House. Solar power and energy efficiency were everywhere, and the modern green building movement saw its first sparks during this time.
Then Reagan came into office, oil prices were manipulated back down to lull us into complacency, the solar panels came off the White House, and we went back to our consumptive lifestyles. Despite the occasional brief interruption during periods when oil prices spiked, for over 20 years we have been living a relatively thoughtless and consumptive lifestyle in this country. For the average person, the idea of any sort of sacrifice for the greater good has been invisible for more than two decades.
Battleships can’t turn on a dime
I believe that the recent economic challenges will change our attitudes on housing. It will not be as easy to see our homes as investment vehicles, buying, building, and renovating, always confident of solid financial returns. We will need to start looking at houses as places that we will live in for many years and may not even get much of a return on when we sell. This should lead us to building smaller, more efficient, and more durable homes. This gives me some confidence that we are headed in a different direction; but we still have a long way to go, and ingrained behaviors will not change quickly or easily. Many of us still feel entitled, that we deserve everything we want, from luxury homes to fancy cars and that ever-present, energy-hogging 60-in. plasma TV.
Kids these days…
I remember that drafty old apartment in college many decades ago, where we put plastic on the windows, kept the thermostat down, wore warm clothes. I don’t want to sound like a cranky old guy (which I am, I suppose), but I do think that as a society we have become soft, lazy, and demanding. We expect luxury and convenience in everything we do. I have friends who keep their heat or AC on with windows and doors open. They also cool or heat their homes on perfectly nice days, simply because they can’t take the time to open windows and turn off thermostats. As I said in an earlier post, we can have all the green homes we want, but if we don’t have green people who understand how to manage them efficiently, their value will be limited.
There are people out there who turn things off, dress appropriately for the temperature, walk, bike, recycle, and just consume less, but they are still a minority in this country. When big changes come—and they may be here sooner than we think—these people will be better able to adapt by being accustomed to little inconveniences. The rest of us will have to learn how to live with less very quickly.
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