Friday, August 8, 2008

The best way to get people to conserve

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck wrote a piece ridiculing Barack Obama's assertion that if people performed simple actions like properly inflating tires and regularly scheduling tune-ups, Americans could save a significant amount of oil. Beck's problem is with the phrase, "but if everyone did". He says:
"Saying 'we ought to' is exactly the same as 'but if everyone' -- a way to make a ridiculous point sound plausible. It's like saying: We ought to all live in peace and harmony. It's not that easy."
It's hard to argue with that on the surface. Even if Obama were president, he probably couldn't get people to conserve just by asking them. Fortunately, we have a mechanism known as the price system that can help get people to conserve. Keeping tires inflated and cars in proper condition can increase fuel economy by 7%. Maybe that's not going to change behavior at $2.00 per gallon; at $4:00 per gallon, it's a different story.

Greater energy efficiency (which is just another way of saying conservation) has to be a part of the energy solution. And price signals are great for making people act like environmentalists. As the price of gas has gone up, Americans have started driving less. When stuff gets expensive, no one needs to tell us to buy less of it.

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