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If we cut our per-capita electricity consumption in half, overnight, we’d still be using more juice than those living in the Netherlands.1 This World Bank statistic forces us to entertain the possibility that Dutch people live in dark caves without modern conveniences. But in reality, their houses are not dark at all; compared with American households, Dutch homes average 20 percent more light bulbs.2 They even have an enormous light bulb company, Phillips. In fact, life isn’t so harsh in the Netherlands these days, as I can attest; I’ve been fortunate enough to call the country home for part of my life. Like many Europeans, the Dutch enjoy longer life spans than Americans do, less poverty, less air pollution , lower debt, incredibly clean drinking water from the tap, and a high standard of living that somehow allows them to enjoy delicious foods like Dutch apple pie, but with a fraction of our obesity rate.3 Those slinky little rascals! It’s no wonder they consistently rank higher than U.S. 13. Efficiency Culture Wisdomenoughtoleechusof ourillisdailyspun; but there exists no loom to weave it into fabric. –Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Upon This Age”  citizens in international studies on happiness.4 How do they do it? Is it really possible to achieve well-being with just a fraction of the energy input we use in the United States? Certainly. But I’d like to pose a more provocative question: Could lower energy use in the Netherlands actually be fostering Dutch happiness? Perhaps their cheeriness does not exist in spite of their frugal energy use but rather because of it. This isn’t as counterintuitive as it might seem. Since the Dutch use less energy than Americans, they don’t have to manage as many of the negative side effects, costs, and limitations associated with energy capture, distribution , and use—a list of consequences that has been growing over recent decades. These side effects, which were limited mostly to apprehensions about air pollution in the 1960s, now include concerns such as political stability, price volatility, wealth transfers , social justice, economic risks, supply interruptions, supply limits, enrichment of hostile regimes, conflict, and climate change. But how can we be expected to judge the negative side effects of the energy we personally draw upon? We don’t each spend one day a month on an oil rig, pumping our monthly oil allotment. How can we make choices about energy technologies if we have so little firsthand experience with their operations? If handed a jar of toxic chemicals, most people would not be willing to pour it into their local stream or lake. In fact, many people would actively protest such an action. Yet they may hold little issue with living in a car-centered suburb and commuting daily to and from work in a gasoline-powered car, essentially pouring the same jar of chemicals into the environment five days per week. Energy researchers John Byrne and Noah Toly observe that in “the narratives of both conventional and sustainable energy, citizens are empowered to consume the products of the energy regime while largely divesting themselves of authority to govern its operations.”5 Our vehicle’s exhaust system does not leave us with a vial of pollutants to be tossed into the neighbor’s yard. Our grocer does not label the beef steak to The Future of Environmentalism  indicate how much petro-fertilizer was used to grow grain that was fed to the cow, how many gallons of water the ranch polluted , how much methane the cow released, or even if the cow was treated humanely. We can assume that the most economical process was likely employed, but would it be congruent with our own values? Time and space displace us from power production and its numerous side effects. Since we can rarely acquire sufficient technical expertise ourselves, we can travel only to a certain point before placing our trust in others, even if they may stand to profit by keeping us in the dark. And as it turns out, we’ve been kept conveniently in the dark on a great many things. So, let’s turn on the lights. The Real Energy Crisis America has plenty of energy—more than twice as much as it needs. We just waste most of it. Established energy giants are willing to embrace alternative energy since it creates a convenient diversion from this simple reality. They understand that even if America were to, say...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803243361
Related ISBN
9780803237759
MARC Record
OCLC
808337203
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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