More (or hopefully less) power to the people

SEATTLE (U-WIRE) — I learned to drive on a Nissan Sentra, which my mother still owns. The little import car drives well, never breaks down and is, most importantly in these high-gas-price days, very gas-efficient.
While I was learning to drive, my father, being the manly man he is, drove a Blazer. This huge heap of rusting metal always made me apprehensive while driving it. The thing guzzled gas as quickly as a college freshman guzzles beer. When it came time to bid farewell (and good riddance) to this huge monstrosity, I was relieved, figuring my father had learned his lesson and would invest in a more fuel-efficient vehicle.
Instead, he bought a Ford Explorer — a car that has only slightly better gas mileage than the 18-year-old Blazer we had given up.
This just went to prove to me that we Americans simply use too much power, too many of our natural resources. Since the industrial age, the American attitude has been, “If it’s there, use it.” There’s no such thing as moderation to the average American — or rather, if there is, it is someone else’s job to conserve. Even in this age of recycling and worries about the environment, people simply can’t stop their basic need for instant gratification. Why bike when you can drive; why take the bus when you have a car?
There are the odd individuals who actually do bike everywhere, wash their clothes by hand and recycle everything. But these are simply too few and far between.
Most Americans simply use as much power as they want. This is, after all, a technological age, and just about everything requires electricity, from ovens to computers to DVD players. A lot of people don’t even attempt to mitigate the effects of their usage: They leave lights on, they watch TV even when there is nothing of interest on, and they turn on their heaters instead of just putting on sweaters.
This is what caused California’s little energy crisis, which has since turned into our problem. The Californians had a slightly colder winter than they were used to, so they panicked and turned up the heat. Along with their other energy-consuming practices, this pushed an industry over the edge that was still struggling to adapt to privatization.
Now we’re feeling the after-effects of the basic problem of American greed in all things, even those intangible. We hear dire predictions of brownouts and other warnings of unthinkable magnitude. “What will we do without power?” we cry.
I suggest that perhaps this little energy crisis is best for us. We will finally learn what happens to unmitigated use: Eventually, the supply runs out. Then what are we left with but remnants of our foolish ways? Perhaps this will make us stop and reconsider whether the absolute essentials in modern life are really all that essential.
I know that I personally would go crazy without my computer, and even I consider this a statement of sad fact. While I do not advocate everyone sitting around in the dark, I do think that perhaps we can use any brownouts that do occur as a sort of Sabbath. We can sit around and reflect upon our sins of energy-consumption and maybe, just maybe, we will come up with a viable solution on how we can each help to conserve energy.
If even a few individuals who are inconvenienced by any energy shortages sit down and revise their energy usage, their friends might listen to the changes they are making and why. Even if we have no brownouts, the higher energy bills might just be enough to piss people off so that they watch their energy consumption.
Who knows, perhaps being faced with a lack of sufficient energy — or at least higher energy bills — will make a ripple effect throughout the country. And if not, then perhaps we all deserve to sit in the dark.
Abby Freedman’s column originally appeared in the University of Washington’s The Daily on Jan. 12. Send comments to [email protected]