Energy Shortage—What Can We Do About It?
HOW will the impending global shortage of energy affect you? Is it real? Or is it a hoax? Will it strike soon? Or is it only something for our children and grandchildren to worry about?
During the past year, the world found that these questions were thrust upon it. Energy suddenly became the number one concern of many millions of people.
In Greece, motorists were restricted to driving only on alternate weekends. Tanzania introduced gasoline rationing. Waits of several hours in long gas lines became commonplace in Turkey, Ireland and the United States.
“Pulling into a service station is beginning to seem like entering a combat zone,” said Time magazine in May. “Frazzled and angry drivers are starting to boil over.” In California, a frustrated man drove into a station ahead of a quarter-mile (.4-km) line of cars and used a pistol to keep other angry customers at bay while he pumped gas into his tank. Two New York motorists were killed in gas-line disputes. And a few beleaguered service-station attendants even took to carrying guns to keep the peace.
Dizzying Price Hikes
Added to the scarcity were staggering price jumps in many lands. By mid-1978, motorists in Turkey were paying more than three times as much as they paid for gasoline just a year before. Their price of about $2.80 per gallon ($.75 per L) was equaled by France, and in other countries the price actually passed $4 ($1 per L) by late 1979. Philippine drivers had to pay about two thirds more for gasoline than they did the previous year, as did Americans, who had long been spoiled by low fuel prices. And by late summer, Britons were paying almost 50 percent more for gas than they did last January. Even Japan’s already high prices climbed about 40 percent in a year.
Truck drivers particularly felt the crunch as diesel-fuel prices kept pace with gasoline. As one Ohio trucker complained: ‘When you get only three or four miles to the gallon (80 or 60 L/100 km) that’s rough.’ And, of course, such increases in transportation costs affect the price of almost everything you purchase.
The price increases for home heating oil world wide are especially disconcerting because they have their greatest impact on the poor. People must have heat, even though they do without a car. Starting last winter, the average price for heating oil in the nations of the European Economic Community rose over 60 percent by fall and was still growing rapidly. The Swiss and the Germans had experienced a near doubling of oil prices by late summer. It is said that many canceled vacation plans for this reason.
In the United States, where heating oil prices were expected to rise sharply by this winter, the New York Times stated: “The average low-income family that uses oil (as do most families in the Northeast, whatever their income) is going to see its home-heating bill increase by $400 or more, a major financial blow.” Since heating costs for businesses go up at the same rate, prices of foods and other necessities get a boost as well.
All these price rises are pushing developing countries, many already enormously in debt, even farther toward the brink of bankruptcy, with ominous consequences for the world economic system. Badly needed modernization programs must be slowed or stopped.
All of this is making energy limitations more of a reality to the world. Is there anything that we personally can do about it, at least to ease the effect on our own lives and thereby contribute to overall energy conservation?
Ways That You Can Conserve
The fact that there is a great deal of energy being wasted world wide shows that there is room to make adjustments. According to World Bank figures, the average American uses more than twice as much energy as do individuals in the other industrialized countries.
Of course, some persons may feel that there is not really much point in trying to conserve energy. After all, how much difference will the frugality of a few people make? Regardless of what others do, there can be benefits to the one who conserves—not only financial savings, but benefits in terms of health and safety.
Aside from owning more fuel-efficient autos, those who wish to conserve energy can reduce fuel consumption in any car. A major gas waster is speed. It is claimed that as much as one fifth or more of the gas can be saved by driving 55 miles per hour (89 km/h) instead of 70 mph (113 km/h). And there is another real benefit to those who drive more slowly—safety. Though some do not agree that dropping the U.S. speed limit to 55 mph in 1974 was the entire reason, nevertheless, more than 10,000 fewer people died on American highways that year than in 1973. Also, the number of fatalities per 100 million miles (161 million km) driven dropped from 4.11 to 3.52. The Federal Republic of Germany, with no speed limit on superhighways, has more than twice this fatality rate.
In addition to the major energy savings from efficient autos and lower speeds, there are numerous small things that you can do to save gas. Though each may produce only small savings, if taken together the total can be significant. The chart on page 6 lists some of these ways to conserve.
Another method of saving energy is to avoid overheating homes and businesses in the winter and overcooling them in the summer. The benefits are more than financial. “One of the commonest causes of ‘catching cold,’” says Dr. Harry Johnson in Invitation to Health, “is the overheating of homes, shops, offices, schools, and almost every other place where people gather.” He notes that very warm overdry air “tends to dry out the air passages of the nose and throat and to lower their resistance to infection.” And lowering a home thermostat by just 6 degrees F (3.3 degrees C) may save 35 to 40 percent on fuel bills. Often it could be lowered even more if warmer clothing were worn indoors.
Even greater benefits can be gained by cutting back on the use of air conditioning. Most air-conditioned buildings have been kept colder than necessary for comfort. Of course, some persons like it cooler and some like it warmer, but tests show that 97 percent are comfortable at 78 degrees F (26° C). And it takes 60 percent more energy to cool a home to 72 degrees than to 78. As an energy-saving measure, the United States government issued a directive in July making it illegal to cool public buildings below 78 degrees. Dr. Stephen Rosen, an expert on weather and health, says: “Air conditioning probably postpones our acclimatization to summer heat,” and, as a result, “workers in air-conditioned quarters tend to have more ailments, feel more uncomfortable, have more headaches than those who work in non-air-conditioned spaces.”
There are many other things that you can do to conserve home heating fuel. The chart on page 7 lists some that, when combined, can significantly reduce your costs. For example, in many homes, adequate insulation alone can cut heating bills by as much as half.
Regardless of what people do in the way of conservation, the way of life to which many are accustomed may be in for a change. Will they finally have to give up traveling in the family automobile and go back to public transportation to save fuel? Will they be forced to cut back on their free-and-easy use of air conditioning, stop heating their backyard swimming pools, and dim streets now brilliantly lighted by advertising signs?
“But,” they may object, “not so fast. Before you take away all our laborsaving appliances, our electric can openers and carving knives, our electric shavers and toothbrushes, our electric lawn mowers and hedge clippers, our gasoline motorboats and snowmobiles—what about some of the other sources of energy? Aren’t there other things we can fall back on if the oil runs out?”
Others protest that the shortage is not so bad as it is made out. They hear about the oil glut on the West Coast in the United States because of more oil coming in from the new Alaskan field than can be fed into Western refineries or transported to the East. There is said to be still a large surplus of natural gas, tied up in political wrangles about how much to charge for it. Mexico reports discovery of an oil field that may be larger than that on the Arabian Peninsula. What does all of this indicate?
In recent surveys in the United States, two thirds of the people voiced the opinion that the fuel shortage is a hoax. Some believe it was foisted on the public by conniving oil companies to fatten their profits. The situation is surely confused, and confusing. Nonetheless, we need to face the realities of the immediate future. Every one of us is concerned, because our daily lives will be affected by the outcome of the fuel crisis.
Other Sources of Energy
It is true there are many possible sources of energy to which we might turn to lessen our dependence on petroleum. Coal is still abundant in many parts of the earth, enough for a long time to come. Already energy from nuclear fission has become an important part of the electric power supply in several countries. The reserves of uranium appear likely to outlast the petroleum, but they are becoming more expensive to mine and refine. Looking farther ahead, we are told that nuclear fusion promises unlimited energy drawn from the oceans’ water.
The energy in sunlight is constantly supplied from an inexhaustible source. Man has long used power from the sun indirectly, by burning wood, and through water-powered generators and windmills. It may be possible now to generate electricity from the sun’s heat and light. Any practical system for getting power from the sun would provide an ideal solution to the energy problem, because the sun shines everywhere.
Of course, when we talk about replacing one kind of energy with another, we recognize that not all kinds are equally useful. Coal can replace oil to drive electric turbines or locomotives, but not to run automobiles. Nuclear power is practical only in very large power plants, but solar power might be found useful in units small enough for individual homes. Hydroelectric power must be carried on high-power lines from river dams to cities. Geothermal heat is useful in volcanic regions, but not everyone lives next to a volcano.
Also, some energy sources cause pollution, which becomes intolerable on a large scale. Coal furnaces put smoke and soot into the air and ash heaps on the ground, hydrocarbon fuels are responsible for smog, and nuclear energy worries us with its radioactive emissions and long-lived wastes. Wind, water and solar power are free of such handicaps.
Financial interests rooted in the present economic system also have to be considered. Large investments of capital in power plants and extensive distribution networks might become obsolete with some foreseeable shifts in energy sources. There will be resistance to change, even a change that might be clearly desirable or inevitable in the long run.
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Fuel saving when you drive
Inflate tires 3 to 5 pounds (0.2 to 0.35 kg/sq cm) over
recommended pressure [up to 32 pounds per square inch (2.25
Use radial tires
Use “low friction” or synthetic oil
Keep engine in tune
After starting, get car moving immediately (slowly for first few
Avoid complete stops at temporary obstructions such as stoplights
by slowing down well ahead
Stop engine when necessary to wait 30 seconds or more
Use snow tires any longer than necessary
Carry unnecessary items in trunk (reduce weight)
Start car moving in “jackrabbit” fashion
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Fuel saving at home
Add insulation to ceilings and walls
Install double-pane or storm windows and weather-strip all outdoor
Shut off heating in unused rooms and close doors
Keep drapes and furniture from blocking heat outlets
Lower hot-water temperature (Many hot-water heaters use more
energy than an airconditioner, refrigerator, freezer and TV set
Wash and rinse laundry in cold water
Take more showers than tub baths (Showers use about half the hot
Use low-wattage or fluorescent bulbs where possible
Shut off lights not being used
Close fireplace or wood-stove damper when not in use
Use pilot light on gas stove (pilot lights use up to half of all
cooking gas); install electric igniter
Keep fire high after food on stove reaches boil (will cook no
faster than steady simmer)
Rinse dishes with running hot water (Use cold water or dip in pan
of hot water)
Let hot water run while wet shaving