Dennis: ‘I am so glad that Alison and her bottom-line admiring husband are able to save all of that money becoming environmentalists. I would like to be well-off as much as the next person but my God, I hope I don’t become such a sanctimonious hypocrite. Please spare us. If you want to help do something nice for the environment, why not cut down to just one 3500 square foot home for your family of 3.7 people.’

Dennis a Minute Later: ‘Sorry about the previous e-mail regarding Alison’s energy saving techniques. [Well, I did think it was a little harsh.] That first e-mail does not even begin to display my absolute disgust over such self-aggrandizement with regards to their conspicuous consumption. [Oops.] There are many ways for you to entertain your readers with energy saving hints and cost saving measures which are both economical and helpful to the environment. Publishing Alison’s e-mail or letter was not one of them. [Oops, oops.] I just know you are going to write back and say well at least she is making an effort and if you do I will vote for The Republican candidate (whichever idiot it might be) as sure as I am sitting here. You are supposed to be a Democrat for God’s sake.’

☞ Well at least Alison is making an effort. (But just because I’m a bad Democrat is no reason for you to be one – vote Democrat!)

Karen: ‘Good for Alison. What did she do with the old water heater and the old washing machine? What’s the payoff on the improvements, at a $200 reduction over three months? Those in-line water heaters are $$$, and troublesome. And what would she have saved if she strung some washlines across the deck and quit using her dryer completely? Or learned to live without air conditioning or raised the thermostat to 80? (Does it GET as high as 80 in Connecticut?) Sorry; just not that impressed when people who have tons of money (weekend house in CT = QED) spend it to save it.’

☞ Still, if everyone cut his or her energy consumption by 45%, however wasteful the baseline – indeed, if only energy hogs cut their consumption by 45% – it would be a good start. The good news is that for many people, it would entail little inconvenience, let alone sacrifice. What’s the real sacrifice in driving a car that gets 35 mpg instead of 24mpg – a 46% saving? (Or, soon, one that gets 60 or 80 mpg?)

Kevin: ‘You may want to re-think putting out messages like Alison’s. I know your goal is to change hearts and minds, and you’re usually good at it, but it’s much less effective when you use a lightning rod to do it. Alison has TWO houses and professes to be an environmentalist? A true environmentalist would solve the energy problem and the carbon footprint by simply selling one house. Or donating it to the Sierra Club.’

Carl: ‘Conservation . . . agree that it’s necessary and inevitable, but the changes made are subject to diminishing marginal returns; meanwhile, total electrical use continues to increase exponentially (see here). We live on a sphere, with finite resources. Eventually, our growth-based system will have to stop. Every day we don’t honestly address this will lead to a harder crash some time in the future. For an excellent book which addresses these concerns and much more, try The Upside of Down, Thomas Homer-Dixon.’

☞ Don’t rule out technological advances that lead to abundant clean energy . . . that in turn makes possible unheard of sustainable prosperity. It’s just that ‘getting from here to there,’ in the meantime, could be a bit of a problem. As to diminishing marginal returns, I think the average family or business has a long way to go before it runs out of ways to become substantially more energy efficient.

Charles McChensey: ‘Quite an interesting [account by Alison] re: saving energy. It would be interesting to do a calculation showing the economic value of the savings. I.e., assuming some rate of return for the capital to be invested, what is the payback period for the dollars of energy savings vs. the dollars of invested capital. Front loader washers are in the $1000-1500 range, on demand hot water heaters around $1000 with installation. (CFLs and power strips are probably a negligible investment.) It seems to me that unless one of the major expense appliances fails, replacing a good working appliance for energy efficiency alone is a ‘feel good,’ but not a sound economic decision. Perhaps you can post your thoughts.’

☞ To fully analyze this, you’d have to know how long the replaced appliance might have lasted; whether it will be junked or find a new home; what it will cost, in cash and ‘externalities,’ to junk it; how energy prices will rise in the future . . . and a few other things. But if Alison is saving $200 a quarter, $800 a year, and it cost her $2,400 to do it (say), payback is in three years. Over the ten-year (say) life of the appliances, especially with likely rising energy prices, the saving could work out to an internal rate of return exceeding 50% a year. Tax-free, because Uncle Sam doesn’t tax you on your energy savings. Plus whatever good you’re doing the environment. Plus the psychic benefits and the economic signals it sends to the makers and installers of more efficient appliances. (Signals that say: we demand energy efficiency.)

Anonymous: ‘Now I’m feeling bad about yelling at my spouse for leaving lights on in the house, especially the bathroom. Our electric bill for March – May is only $75.’

☞ That’s astoundingly low – but keep yelling at him. If you could cut your bill by $10 a quarter, you could lower your carbon footprint and buy 4 mosquito nets a year . . . It’s one thing to go without instant-on TV, which entails a (small) level of sacrifice. But what sacrifice is there in not having the bathroom lit when you’re not in it? Or having the TV off (well, mostly off) when you’re not watching it? Or the instant-on feature shut off if you go away for the summer?

Bob Fyfe: ‘Alison and her husband have done an outstanding job in cutting both their electric bill and electric usage and are to be commended. If Alison wants to take the next step, she can sign up to receive all of her electricity from renewable sources (wind and low-impact hydro). Simply click here. This company sells, at a small premium (1.1 cents/kWh), electricity from renewable sources. I estimate that Alison would spend an additional $20 per three month period to purchase 100% renewable energy. This turns out to be less than 10% of the savings that she has seen by reducing her usage. By saving 40% instead of 45%, Alison would completely eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from her electric usage at her weekend home. (Note: I estimated 600kWH of electric usage per month. Multiplied by 1.1 cents/kWh, this gives $6.60 per month or roughly $20 every three months. The actual amount will vary but this is certainly in the right ballpark.)

Stephen Gilbert:Power Saving Hints for Yuppies.’

☞ Fascinating! E.g., ‘The Department of Energy estimates that in the average home, 40 percent of all electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off.’ And: ‘Tweaking can pay off. Annually, my desktop PC is now using 73 percent less energy – saving me $119 a year and depriving the earth of 1,405 more pounds of CO2.’


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