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News > Using less energy: The issue no one wants
Using less energy: The issue no one wants

Posted 12/7/2012   Updated 12/7/2012 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. Kirk L. Rowe
Clinical Neuropsychologist, 88th Medical Group

12/7/2012 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio -- Can I see a show of hands for those who want to use less energy? Of course no one wants to use less energy. That would be like asking if anyone would like to breathe less. Energy, like air, makes our life possible. Energy is like the central nervous system of our lives and the only time we really give it much thought is when we don't have it.

However, given the financial situation in which we find ourselves, we need to find creative ways to use less energy. The first step in using less energy is generating a discussion about it. Although we've been urged by the Air Force since 2009 to "make energy a consideration in everything we do," we've resisted talking about it; at least at the base and individual levels. Consequently, we have made little movement in addressing this national security issue. Our inaction has also cost us millions of dollars as we continue to use excessive amounts of energy with little or no thought about its impact.

Diffusion of responsibility is a term that describes how we have avoided talking about our energy use since the call from our government came out in the 1970s to conserve and use less. Diffusion of responsibility is a social psychology phenomenon that describes the process of when more people are present, the less accountable any of those people feel for their actions. This is also known as bystander apathy, which incidentally we've been addressing in the Air Force for the last 18 years in regards to suicide prevention.

And with the diffusion of responsibility, we don't concern ourselves with using less energy when no one is talking about it or being held accountable. Confronting the problem of our energy use is very difficult because as stated earlier, who wants to use less of something that brings us so much convenience, comfort, entertainment and essentially defines our way of life.

Currently, our country is in dire financial straights, but despite this, the parade of televisions continue to play on every base oblivious to energy and cost factors. We continue to see lights in use when people aren't present, use paper towels in restrooms, mow grass for purely cosmetic reasons and drive government vehicles that are not yet hybrids. Former President George Bush said Americans are addicted to oil. Inherent in addiction is resistance to letting go of our addiction and going to great lengths to feed it. If someone drilled three to four miles below the ocean floor for cocaine, we would call that drug-seeking behavior.

After the oil embargo in the mid 1970s, we reduced our speed on the highways to 55 mph, in addition to putting sweaters on and turning down thermostats to 68 degrees at the request of President Carter. Our president asked us to sacrifice for the good of our country and we did it. However , in the early '80s, the solar panels were removed from the White House roof and in 1995, the 55 mph. law was repealed, so we let the good times roll, thinking we would have cheap oil forever.

Why do we have this belief? Because we deserve it and that's how it's always been. There are now more than 6 billion other people who also want unlimited cheap energy, too. When taking into account the number of people on the planet and the amount of oil available it's not hard to see why alternative energy source and energy conservation are necessities.

The belief that we will have access to cheap energy forever is a myth. Despite how vast our planet appears, the truth is that we live on a planet with limited resources. Given our current appetite and how much we have consumed in the past, it's hard to fathom that we must operate differently in the coming years. At this point in the evolution of society, it's time to start looking up for our energy rather than down.

We can look up for wind, solar and indirectly geothermal, but as a nation and a world community, we need other alternatives than our limited oil and gas supplies. While we have an overabundance of coal, we need to taper our use and move toward a cleaner way to power our planet and our lives. The sun provides 10,000 times more energy than human society needs at any given time. Then the question for the 21st century should be - how can we harness solar energy more effectively and efficiently?

President Bush said in 2001 that "We can't conserve our way to energy independence, nor can we conserve our way to having enough energy available. So we've got to do both." While we all do our part in conserving the precious energy we currently have, we need to also support research for methods to respectfully power our planet. It's in our own best interest.

The military has a unique opportunity to help lead our country in this complex problem (a way in which democracy may not be able to on this issue). We have the leadership structure, a superior ability to assess a problem, chart the way forward and get the job done. As we gradually and reluctantly let go of the fact that someone else will solve this problem for us, let's all step up and do our part.

Addressing our energy addiction will require ways of thinking that will initially be foreign to us, but need to be studied and sifted through at every level of leadership in order to take advantage of the myriad of ideas within our Air Force.

It will require rewriting operating instructions that currently guide our behavior but are now obsolete. "That's how we've always done it" will not get it done. We need to push bystander apathy aside and take the first step.

Let's make 2013 the year that energy awareness/action gets off the ground and turn the vision of trying to "make energy a consideration in everything we do" into a reality.

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