Franz Litz – New Year’s Promises

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Here we are at the start of the 12th year of this, the 21st century. In this time of reflecting on the year past and looking forward to the year to come, we make resolutions seeking to improve our situations and ourselves.

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It’s possible that not many of us had global politics or the global environment in mind in making those New Year’s resolutions. Yet we shouldn’t be surprised in this day and age to find connections between the personal and the global. Where climate change and energy are concerned, acting locally is acting globally.

Some of us undoubtedly decided we are going to get our finances in order this year, for example.  We plan to trim as much fat as we can from those household budgets to free ourselves up to pay off debt or save for college or that summer vacation. Saving on energy costs should be a top consideration.

I am not talking here about just setting the thermostat a bit lower this winter than you might like to—though that is an approach that works, at least it seemed to work for my father growing up. My father’s approach to saving energy involved sweaters and more blankets. And groans from his kids.  Perhaps he got that idea from President Carter, who famously appeared on TV in a sweater and asked the country to conserve energy at a time of tight oil supplies. 

Beyond lowering your thermostat, I am suggesting you can be both frugal and comfortable. Get a home energy audit done on your home and find out the most cost-effective ways to save money on heating—whether its weather stripping or insulation or a furnace upgrade. The idea is to retain more of the heat you are paying for so that your furnace runs less and you save money.

On the electricity front, consider which appliances in your home are sucking up the most electricity.  Think about what you can turn off—like that extra refrigerator or the TV you have plugged in in the bedroom or basement that you rarely use. Knowing which appliances are the biggest energy hogs will help you plan for more efficient replacements going forward. Cheap energy meters are available that allow you to assess each appliance’s electricity load.

And what about your transportation costs? Some analysts are predicting that gasoline prices will be the highest they have ever been this year. One way to take a bite out of your weekly budget expenses is to change your approach to getting to work.

If you carpool just one day a week, for example, you cut your costs by up to 15%. You don’t have to make a huge change. Just join a colleague or two or three and commute together one day a week for starters.  If it works well, maybe make it two days a week. Sit down and calculate the cost savings.  It adds up.

Or maybe it’s time to trade in that car that gets only 20 miles per gallon for one that gets twice that amount?  At current gas prices, someone who drives 15,000 miles in a year can save more than $1200 a year by making this change.  And as gas prices rise, a more fuel efficient car means you are shielding yourself and your family from future price increases. 

And if saving money doesn’t do it for you, here’s the feel good part. Making us less dependent on oil companies and other energy suppliers helps to loosen the tight grip of the oil industry on our national pocket book and our politics. Ask yourself whether we’d be bearing the steep cost of two wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan if we weren’t concerned about the stability of oil supplies in the Middle East. And what about those tax breaks Congress keeps voting in for big oil?

And then there is climate change. When we burn less natural gas, heating oil, gasoline and diesel, we put less global warming pollution in the air.  And we protect human health when less pollution finds its way into our lungs.

My Dad was right. Saving energy saves money. In the second decade of the 21st century, it also makes sense for a whole host of other reasons.

Franz Litz is the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center and Professor of Law at Pace Law School.

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