What Americans Can Learn From How the Rest of the World Saves Energy
Most Americans aren't as devoted as Ed Begley, Jr. to conserving energy that they'll ride a bike to create energy to run a toaster. But travel abroad to Europe, Australia, or any other developed country, and you'll see that much of the rest of the world is serious about saving energy and the world's resources.
The United States is known for doing a poor job at being energy efficient. In a report about a dozen countries with the biggest economies, the United States' energy efficiency efforts were only ahead of Brazil, Canada, and Russia, according to the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE. The United Kingdom ranked first, followed by Germany, Italy, Japan, and France.
While not everyone can live near an efficient public transportation system, such as Sydney's rail service, or can afford to rebuild their home with solar power, there are some things that much of the rest of the world does that Americans either don't do, or if they do, don't do in great numbers. Here are a few. (See also: 5 Ways to Save Water, Energy, Money, and the World All in One Afternoon)
While these are a common way in America to avoid running wet clothes in a dryer, they don't seem to be as common as they are in Europe or elsewhere. Clothes dryers are often small in other parts of the world — to save money and space — and thus encourage people to hang clothes out to dry.
Pay Higher Gas Prices
While not as cheap as Venezuela, gasoline in America is relatively cheap when compared to other countries. A $4 gallon in the U.S. can cost double in Europe, due partly to higher taxes. Paying more for gas can have two positive results: You'll either walk or take public transportation to get anywhere, or it will make buying a car with better gas mileage look like a deal. If a U.S. company can make cars for Europe that get 62 miles per gallon, it can do the same for Americans.
Make Buying Solar Power Easy
On a recent trip to Australia, I noticed a mom-and-pop store on a corner selling home solar power kits. It wasn't a huge warehouse with miles of supplies, and it didn't have professional looking signs, just a simple window sign offering solar panels for the home. While Home Depot once sold do-it-yourself solar panels (that were geared more toward contractors than DIYers), installation and sales is often done in the U.S. by professionals who sell to the masses. You don't see small stores on American street corners selling solar power kits.
Practice Rain Water Collection
Collecting rain water and saving it for watering plants or pumping it inside a home to flush toilets or wash clothes is a great idea in dry climates, but can also be used in the U.S. as a way to save water. Large tanks that hold at least 10,000 gallons are common outside Australian homes.
Automatically Turn Off Lights
While staying in a hotel for a week on a recent trip overseas, each time I wanted any of the lights on in the suite, I had to put the door card key into a slot just inside the door that would let the power turn on. It required me to be in the room to turn on any lights, and all of the lights turned off when I removed the card key and left the room. It was a simple way to turn off every light without having to remember to do it or go around to every light and switch it off. About a month later I stayed at a hotel in America. While I didn't expect to find the same device, there was nothing to prevent me from leaving every light on before going out for the evening.
Use Smaller Refrigerators
Everything is bigger in America: homes, cars, kitchens, bedrooms, and even everyday appliances such as dryers and refrigerators. Whether it's because their homes are smaller or they like to shop more often for fresh groceries, Europeans typically have smaller refrigerators. After air conditioners, refrigerators are the second-biggest users of electricity.
Beyond tougher regulations and fewer resources, the rest of the world may also have a leg up on America in saving energy because they live in smaller communities and smaller populations. America is such an expansive land that even with 314 million people, there's room to stretch out and forget about the millions of people you share the country with. Europe has more than double the population, but it's split among many countries, giving a feeling of intimacy in a smaller geographic area and possibly the incentive not to waste energy because you care about taking care of your neighbors.
During my trip to Australia this summer, I noticed a small benefit of going to a city park in Brisbane, a park similar to one you might find in America. Free gas grills are available for the public to use at these city parks, with a nearby sign asking users to clean up after themselves and keep the grills clean for the next user.
I never saw a dirty grill while there, leaving me to conjecture that no one wanted to leave a mess for the next person to clean. Americans may keep public barbecues clean for the next user in some parts of the country, but I haven't seen it happen where I've been. It's not that Americans don't care for others, but that taking the little steps to take care of the environment because it will help you and your neighbor isn't as common in the U.S. as it is elsewhere. It's a small step to leave something in the same (or better) condition than you found it. It's only an example, but cleaning up after yourself at a public park can carry over to energy consumption and other aspects of life.