Whenever the price of gas rises, North Americans begin to talk about driving less. Recent oil price trends have seen a noticeable reduction in SUV sales and have hit the large automobile manufacturers hard. Middle class America has been hit hardest by the rising cost of living; higher taxes and mortgages, car payments and the rising price of home and vehicle energy. Large suburban homes require large amounts of heat, electricity (for lighting) and air conditioning. Most households have two or more full-sized cars which are used to travel far distances for education and employment. All of these factors contribute to the decrease in middle-class incomes and free time.
Most North Americans drive two vehicles to work and spend a great deal of their time in traffic. People come home after a long day’s work completely exhausted because of the extra travel time. On weekends and evenings even more time is spent commuting as people drive around completing errands and shopping for consumer products (often produced from petroleum). The consumer society is creating mass fatigue and stress due to our desire to meet the consumption levels of our Neighbours. Most households require two large incomes in order to sustain a typical middle-class lifestyle.
All of this is made possible by cheap energy. Suburbs, large homes, electronics, exotic foods and grocery store chains, travel and hobbies are all made possible by inexpensive resource supplies. While nobody is certain how long these resources will allow us to sustain our way of life, it is fact that North Americans (Canada and the USA) consume approximately 35% of the world’s energy resources, while we only hold about 5% percent of the world’s population. The dangerous part of this energy disparity is that many developing nations are working desperately to meet our consumption levels and live similar consumer lifestyles.
It is only fair that other nations would want access to the same types of homes, education, cars, health and luxury consumables that we enjoy. The problem is that this type of global consumption is not possible. It would take more than six planets with the same resource supplies as earth in order to sustain a global suburban lifestyle. Demand for luxury consumer items is currently booming in countries such as Brazil, China, India and Russia.
If the global demand for energy to fuel industry, homes and transportation continues to rise at current levels, world oil reserves and energy resources will no longer be able to meet demand. When this peak (which many believe we are already experiencing) occurs there will be an inevitable economic slowdown resulting in a recession and possibly even a worldwide economic depression. As nations struggle to meet rising energy needs, we will likely see a rise in resource related disputes and even an increase in military conflicts.
North Americans need a new energy strategy, one that focuses on energy efficiency and conservation. It has been proven much cheaper to invest in energy efficiency plans than to build more energy generating facilities such as power plants. Homeowners are much better off re-fitting their homes than purchasing bigger heating, cooling or energy production technologies. Conservation and efficiency practices can be as simple as improved insulation standards, replacing light bulbs and appliances, or lowering consumption levels.
Some interesting energy efficiency facts:
Fuel-efficient cars will cut fuel, finance and operating costs while reducing harmful environmental emissions.
Home heating and cooling costs can be cut in two by ensuring proper home sealing and insulation.
Switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs reduces energy consumption levels by 80%.
Replacing old appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines can improve efficiency levels up to five times.
Water consumption can be reduced by half with the installation of low-flow shower and faucet fitting technologies.
On-demand water heaters can reduce the cost of hot water by 50%.
Hot water costs can be further reduced halfway by installing a solar thermal water heater.