Energy: We are the ones who will change things - or not

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Pablo Edronkin

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Our world is in trouble, but it is up to us people to change things; we are expecting that politicians will revert global warming, provide us with new sources of energy and solve all troubles over our heads, but guess what? Human nature doesn't work that way.

There are two kinds of individuals in the world: those that are being led and those who lead, but the dispersion among both groups is not the same and most people, for various reasons, prefer to be led. If leaders are legitimate, like in a democracy, that creates expectations among the many based on the promises that the few, the elected leaders have made. In many cases this only ends in disappointment because it is indeed hard to keep all promises, not all politicians really have the will to do that and the nature of expectations is mostly subjective and thus, very difficult to gauge, let alone, satisfy. In other words, expecting something from others often ends in receiving nothing.

Energy is a problem for all of us; progress requires more energy but for several reasons, any progress we make regarding an increase in efficiency seems to be overshadowed very soon by what is known as the "rebound effect". This means that any improvement is always nullified by an increase of collateral problems coming from other factors in the same equation. For example: If auto - makers begin to produce more efficient cars, the improvements achieved in realms like efficiency and contamination decrease are pretty soon erased by things like an increase of the market. This is often related to the very nature of the improvements themselves: More car efficiency leads to money savings that instead of being invested or saved, become a money mass used for consumption, which increases soon and of course, also includes new cars. If now you have a vehicle that costs you - say - 20 euros an hour, and you get a certain speed, capacity and power for that money, once the same car becomes more 25% efficient, you would have to spend just 15 euros to use the same car.

However, since you now have five euros more to spend, you will likely not think about investing it in some sophisticated way but actually use that money, buying things. And one of the things that people like to buy is a vehicle, cars; so, instead of becoming more efficient with the car you had before, you would likely change it and get a 20-euros-an-hour brand new car, which means a more powerful and luxurious vehicle that drains more natural resources and for the environment makes no difference.

As long as we just expect our politicians to solve such issues we are doomed; as long as we believe in collective, coordinated action, we are doomed too because with those initiatives it is simply not enough. The basis of any society is the family, not the parliament or congress, not an environmentally minded NGO. For anything to take hold in society it is indispensable that it becomes a habit at the family level, for good or bad. Just take religion as an example of the importance of family values: It is not a great cathedral, synagogue, mosque or temple what defines religion, but what families do with their prayers. Visiting the Vatican or Mecca, while interesting and important for the faithful in their respective religions, is not definitive. It doesn't produce good Christians or Muslims. What does is what kids learn at their homes from their parents; that produces habits and leads them into whatever religious temple they prefer.

So, in the same way, it is not the price of crude oil itself or what the financial markets want what defines what really happens with the environment. It is not just the big fish but the little ones who decide because big fish in this realm without the agreement of little ones can do nothing. It is the citizen, the consumer that agrees to, tolerates or wants certain forms of energy, and it is up to the individuals that are responsibly for each family - that means you and your spouse too - to do something proactively to change things.

Greenhouse, again: Glaciers such as this one are melting all around the world. If we do nothing, they will disappear.

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