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Last week, DC was in the grip of a truly stultifying heat wave that caused all those of us who have air conditioners to crank them up full blast and seek shelter in our homes and offices. This, of course, put enormous strain on the power system and in some cases generators became dangerously overheated (just ask Ganesh about Tuesday at the 9:30 Club). In an effort to reduce the demands made on the grid by the countless A/Cs, government offices, at least the ones I work in, turned off their hallway lighting and asked employees to limit their use of electricity as much as possible – turn off computers and other appliances not in use, use those lamps with low-energy bulbs, etc.

So for several days now it’s been eerily dark in my building and I find my way to the bathroom by the feeble glow of the emergency lighting. But I welcome working in a slightly darker office like this if it means the government, as a giant employer, has begun to conserve energy, even if it is the bottom line of their electricity bill that compels them to do this. Perhaps it seems like a small thing when you leave that one light burning all night, or the computer stays on overnight for no reason, but multiplied over the many thousand offices the federal government maintains this is a huge waste. Which is why every unattended computer left to suck down energy in the idle hours, and every light left needlessly burning, and every A/C turned up unnecessarily that is dialed down, taken off the grid, or shut down makes a difference in the energy we’re devouring every day.

Now that we are feeling the sting of our energy consumption in the high prices for gas and electricity, maybe we can begin to understand how deluded our energy use and policy really are.

And if you think that you are not part of the problem, that others (say those developing countries with the large populations, poised to consume huge quantities of energy) use more and need to change first, then I invite you to try a little exercise:  Take the Ecological Footprint Quiz and see how many resources you have so far claimed for yourself. Can you comfortably deny others what you have enjoyed in such abundance, while refusing to curb your own consumption even a little?


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