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What’s your Energy Pet Peeve?

May 13, 2013

This was a question posed during the NIEES workshop I attended in April. For some reason, that question really stuck with me. At the time, I said something about the split incentive problem because I am increasingly grossed out by the insulation problems in my house (if you stand near some of the windows while it’s raining really hard, you get wet – forget air leakage, there is water leakage).

However, as I thought more about it, I wish I had said something about anti-science environmentalism instead. I’m referring to the type of environmentalism that ignores the real complexity that exists around sustainability and energy issues. For example, carpooling does not reduce carbon emissions in every context. Sure, carpooling is better than everyone driving separate cars, but it’s not better than taking the bus (which would be operating anyway). Carpooling is also not the more environmentally friendly option if you convince a friend to go out of their way to pick you up and drive you to an event that they would have otherwise not attended – in this case, it really would have been better to just drive yourself. I feel like a lot of self-proclaimed environmentalists have a tendency to blanketly label a certain action as GREEN without layering that critical carbon footprint/life cycle analysis (LCA) lens on it.

As someone who has (briefly) studied LCA and tried to deal with these types of complexities, I find this incredibly irritating. It’s not ok to complain about our lack of investment in renewable energy when you are using air-conditioning in coal country and staunchly anti-nuclear. What if environmental regulations are bad for the economy? We have to deal with that. What if these regulations are just moving our pollution to other countries? That’s not ok either. The point is – it’s complicated – and you can’t avoid that by following 10 Tips for Living a Green Life. You can’t get mad that low-income women use disposable diapers because they don’t have the time or resources to do laundry that often. Maybe instead of using green cleaning products, you should just clean less (this is why I’m a bad roommate, but my point stands).

So rather than becoming bitter, I’ve been trying to think about how I can get involved and make a difference. I’ve become increasingly interested in regulation and the ethical issues related to it as I more seriously consider a career in government. Some ideas that have crossed my mind:

I recently went on a tour of downtown Pittsburgh lead by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. I was mostly shocked by how many of the buildings are empty. That’s one of the things I like about Pittsburgh, it has so much potential – it’s a hopeful place. There’s real desire to make changes here (although maybe I’m just optimistic).

I want to do some sort of public outreach through art. I’ll have to think about it.

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