Chill Out Responsibly, Aug 05

This Summer, Chill Out Responsibly

Dear Meg,
I’m not sure if this necessarily qualifies as a manners question perse, but I was curious as to whether or not there is any etiquette to the issueof energy conservation. I read an article recently in the NewYork Times called “Shiveringfor Luxury” about how more expensive stores are kept much cooler in thesummer than lower priced ones so shoppers would stay longer and spend moremoney. That seemed kind of sneaky to me. This got me to thinking more aboutthe whole issue of waste and conservation in general. What do you say?
—Tony

My Dear Tony,
I read the same article. If I recall correctly, it pointed out thatfor each lowered degree on the thermostat an additional 8 percentof energy is consumed. That’s no small potatoes if you’re talkingabout a 10 degree difference between, say, Hermes at 66 degrees and a smalllocally owned grocery store hanging in at 76. Math is hardly my areaof expertise but I think that means the big H is using 80 percent moreenergy than the poor little grocer?

It might be easy to argue that it’s rude to make a customer uncomfortablebut that’s a rather short-sighted, not to mention self-serving, argument.On my best days I try to view my own actions against what has come to beknown as the “Seven Generations” test. This is a standard adaptedfrom a constitution written more than 500 years ago by the Iroquois nation,a confederation of Native American peoples, suggesting we must always tryto be aware of the consequences of our actions since they are but a partof an interdependent web. If an activity is sustainable, it can go on foreverwithout compromising the ability of future generations to lead a qualitylife. Since the act of determining if an act is sustainable is always basedon the information at hand, we must continually reevaluate our actions.

I would say that keeping thermostats at home and work well above 70 degreesin summer is surely part of attempting to live a sustainable lifestyle, andgood manners, to boot. This said, I’m going to get a bit heavy on youthis month and tell you our nation’s over-dependence on private cars(especially gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles) is threatening our planetand our children’s children’s lives times five—much morethan keeping our thermostats too low. Don’t get me wrong—everylittle bit helps and it’s good form to do everything within your personalpower to care for the environment. “You must add your light to thesum of light,” as Leo Tolstoy once wrote. These words may have originatedin the Gospel of Matthew. I’m afraid I know even less about the Biblethan mathematics.

In any case, a more recent article in the Times indicates that America’s still-increasingpool of more than 200 million autos swallows up more than 11 percent of theworld’s daily oil output. While the rest of the world has increasedits use of oil a mere 19 percent since the last big oil crisis of 1973, ourconsumption has gone up 35 percent. Yikes.

David J. O’Reilly, CEO and Chairman of Texas-based oil behemoth Chevron,a strong proponent of drilling for oil in in the Arctic Wildlife Preserve(and maneuvering into countries such as Angola, Nigeria, Algeria, and Libya,whose populations have been historically ravaged by war and human rightsabuses—very bad manners, by the way), readily admits it took humanity125 years to consume a mere trillion barrels of crude while the next trillionwill probably be used up in only 35 years. Mr. O’Reilly doesn’tsound too worried about this, however, because he believes “thereis plenty of room to play.” I don’t know about you, Tony, butI enjoy a game of Scrabble or Taboo and tossing the Frisbee with my niece,but the things these oil big-wigs are proponents of don’t sound likeall that much fun to me. To be specific and to answer your question moredirectly, they sound wasteful, not very well thought out, and as far fromthe idea of conservation as possible. To be fair, I doubt Mr. O’ Reillyor any of his colleagues took their respective career paths because theynecessarily concur with my particular environmental philosophies.

I hope this response does not read like one of those all too common blogrants or, even worse, make me sound like an AM-radio talk-show hostwho has had a spot too much caffeine and possesses far too many uninformedopinions for her own good. If so, I apologize. Thank you ever so much forthe question, however. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to address anissue I care so much about, and I hope I’ve been helpful. Stay cool—withinreason, of course.
Love, Meg