Friday, July 25, 2008

2,000-Watt Society...could we do it?

Hopefully you had a chance to read Elizabeth Kolbert's article The Island in the Wind from the last post, but if you didn't, another thing she talks about in the article, which I hadn't heard of, is the 2,000 Watt Society. The basic premise is that in a sustainable world, people would consume about 2,000 watts of electricity per year for all of their daily activities: growing food, transportation, electricity, heat, etc. She goes on to say:

Most of the people in the world today consume far less than this. The average Bangladeshi, for example, uses only about twenty-six hundred kilowatt-hours a year—this figure includes all forms of energy, from electricity to transportation fuel—which is the equivalent of using roughly three hundred watts continuously. The average Indian uses about eighty-seven hundred kilowatt-hours a year, making India a one-thousand-watt society, while the average Chinese uses about thirteen thousand kilowatt-hours a year, making China a fifteen-hundred-watt society.
Those of us who live in the industrialized world, by contrast, consume far more than two thousand watts. Switzerland, for instance, is a five-thousand-watt society. Most other Western European countries are six-thousand-watt societies; the United States and Canada run at twelve thousand watts. One of the founding principles of the 2,000-Watt Society is that this disparity is in itself unsustainable. “It’s a basic matter of fairness” is how Stulz put it to me. But increasing energy use in developing countries to match that of industrialized nations would be unacceptable on ecological grounds. Were per-capita demand in the developing world to reach current European levels, global energy consumption would more than double, and were it to rise to the American level, global energy consumption would more than triple. The 2,000-Watt Society gives industrialized countries a target for cutting energy use at the same time that it sets a limit for growth in developing nations.

I'm sure that you, like me, get tired of hearing how many more resources the average American uses up when compared with people in the rest of the world, as the problem seems so insurmountable. The question is, what can you do? What would a 2,000 Watt a year life look like? Well, it would look a lot like all of the things we talk about all the time: energy effienciency, public transportation and biking/walking, local foodsheds, renewable energy, and a reduction in the culture of consumption. The Swiss researchers who came up with this model expressed their doubts that the US would or could go to from a 12,000 to a 2,000 watt society, but concluded that if global climate change models pan out as expected, we will be dragged, kicking and screaming, to adopt it.

1 comment:

Linda Armstrong said...

Get a copy of the July 7 and 14 New Yorker. The article begins on page 69. It also discusses an energy efficient building in Switzerland. I think we could save a lot by requiring such efficiency in the construction of new government buildings and schools. Solar is problematic at this point. The panels do not last long enough or produce enough power to pay for themselves. Passive solar heating (south-facing windows) and geothermal are more promising.
I think the question we in the US must ask ourselves first is, "Do we really have to make this trip?"
1. Do office workers have to commute when they could work at their computers and answer work phones from home?
2. Do business travelers have to fly when they could hold conference calls or do virtual conferencing in local TV studios?
3. Do children have to be bused to distant schools and sporting events? In LA, busing for integration is a joke. Less than 2 percent of students in the city are white. It isn't doing anybody any good and it's spewing carbon into the atmosphere.
4. Should public servants such as police officers and teachers live 40 miles away from their jobs? Wouldn't they understand the people they worked with better if they lived within 5 or 10 miles?
5. Should doctors and other professionals live 40 miles from the people they serve? Shouldn't neighborhoods be better balanced? They used to be when I was a kid.
6. Should film stars be celebrated for having lots of kids (and thus encouraging others to follow suit)? Shouldn't people think about the resources consumed by a person during a lifetime? It's not an act of generousity to, um, multiply. What's wrong with just one loved child?
7. Shouldn't we be supporting the expansion and improvement of passenger train service in the US? So what if it doesn't make money? Public roads don't make money, either.
8. Shouldn't we be expanding and improving our national railroads? Trucking is fine for local loads. Freight belongs on trains. Trains can be powered in a number of different ways. Europe is way ahead of us in this regard.
9. Shouldn't we be promoting local travel and ways to have fun closer to home?
10. Should't we be developing fashions that wash easily and dry quickly?
11. Shouldn't we be tapping our national imagination for holding competitions for ways to generate and save evergy? For example, how about a sculpture competition--moving sculptures that generate energy--tides? wind? How about an architecture competition for a new government, church, or business building that would be self-sustaining? Gates, are you listening?--offer a prize!