Americans comprise a mere 4.5 percent of the global population but consume about 20 percent of energy output annually. The silver lining in that dark cloud of profligacy is that the present energy economy is so wasteful and inefficient that it offers extraordinary potential for energy savings through conservation and efficiency efforts.
In common parlance conservation means using less energy, which can be accomplished through curtailment (turning off the lights when you leave the room) and efficiency (leaving the lights on but replacing old bulbs with high-efficiency LED bulbs).
In the 1970s, following the OPEC oil embargo when fuel prices spiked, America briefly got interested in energy conservation. Jimmy Carter donned a sweater on national TV and put solar panels on the While House roof. But Ronald Reagan took the solar panels down, and two decades of low fossil fuel prices spawned living patterns that used vast amounts of energy, including suburban and exurban housing developments serviced by fleets of SUVs. In hindsight, these choices look foolish—although the present era of high oil prices hasn’t yet prompted a major political party’s national convention to erupt in cheers of “Save, Baby, Save.
Supply-side boosterism has long kept conservation the ugly stepchild of energy policy, but as energy becomes less affordable, Americans may again be ready to consider the compelling reasons why conservation should become the centerpiece of national energy policy. Those reasons include conservation’s contribution to increasing national security, as well as to creating jobs, stimulating innovation, saving money, reducing carbon emissions, and lessening the energy economy’s impacts on wild nature. Numerous studies have analyzed various sectors of the energy economy and outlined the huge potential for intelligent conservation programs to reduce energy consumption while maintaining, and often improving, quality of life.