As many environmentalists predicted it would be, this summer in the northern hemisphere has been another scorcher. Parts of Europe sweltered under record temperatures for weeks while North America saw another epic heat-wave that stretched the capacity of its electricity grid to beyond the breaking point.
For the most part it was the same story as last year. As the mercury rose, so did demand on the power grid until entire city blocks on the west and east coasts of the United States were suffering blackouts or “brownouts.” But this year there has been a startling difference. Instead of simply switching off a few lights, crouching beside the air conditioner and grumbling about the failures of the electricity companies, people have been consciously, intelligently and effectively reducing their power consumption. Remarkably, even though every individual and corporation can only do so much, it seems that the new, responsible attitude actually made a difference. The news media, waiting with bated breath to pounce on the first catastrophic power outage, were left with very little to talk about.
There are many possible explanations for the change in the US power consumers’ behavior, but one of the most convincing is that recent events—particularly the sharp and sustained increase in oil prices—have brought home just what a scarce and valuable commodity energy really is. That is a huge step in the right direction because, as we find out in this month’s cover feature, technology and legislation can only achieve so much in averting the coming energy crisis. The most effective—and, in fact, the most important—way to solve the global energy puzzle is to cut consumption.
Whether this summer’s energy shortages will have a lasting impact on corporate energy consumption remains to be seen. But at the very least, in the nation that is most profligate with its precious energy supplies, more and more individuals are beginning to realize that they, too, can make a positive difference.
Until next month,