06 August 2006

How much is enough?

We had a heat wave in New York this week. Temperatures were in the 90s every day; with the humidity, it felt like it was in the 100s. The air did not move; it settled down on top of us, making it hard to breathe.

Mayor Bloomberg implored everyone to reduce their use of electricity, lest we overload the grid and cause a blackout. In 2003 we had one that affected the entire city for three days. With the rest of the country suffering in the same way last week, it was not unlikely that we'd lose power.

Most of us didn't, though, thanks to some conservation, and luck. Apparently businesses responded fairly well to the Mayor's pleas. My office building turned up the air conditioning a few degrees and turned off non-essential lights. The Empire State and Chrysler Buildings were not lit up as they usually are. Retail shops still blasted their a/c high enough to be felt on the street, but enough other people pitched in to make it work.

Who didn't respond at all heroically, though, was the general population. Electric usage went up after 6pm, when people got home and cranked up their a/c.

On the one hand, who can blame them? It was miserable. Just the walk from the subway took a couple of hours to recover from.

However, I couldn't help but think: this is it, folks. Do you think it's going to get, on the whole, cooler in the years to come? Do you think we're modernizing our electric plants fast enough to keep up with increased demand? Do you think coal and oil will last forever, and even if they do, that it's a good thing to be pumping more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?

We should be conserving every day, not just when there's an emergency. The problem is, no one is asking us to; no one is telling us to.


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