Energy Diet

It’s disheartening to realize that no matter how hard you try to reduce energy consumption, the odds are that you cannot do something really meaningful about making your transportation a lot more efficient.

Walking or cycling to and from work is not an option for us. The public transport where we live is not really convenient. Our friends are spread out across the greater Washington area, so getting together with them at their homes or ours always involves a lot of driving.

Making matters worse is that our families are spread across the world, in the UK and South Africa. Reunions involve a lot of flying.

We could of course cut vacation trips, but to be honest we’re not willing to take that step.

We can make an absolute effort to drive as little as we can, drive lightly (no rapid acceleration or hard braking), staying on the speed limit, and keeping our vehicles in shape with properly inflated tires. When we replace our vehicles we will certainly look at hybrids and cars that use a lot less fuel.

I’m not convinced that we as a society have done anywhere near enough to impose better fuel consumption standards on our vehicles. We could support politicians who campaign on that. We should also put pressure on policymakers to subsidize research into solar-powered and hydrogen-powered vehicles – and of course there should be more incentives to make public transport more ubiquitous and affordable. I have never really understood why there is not more of a consumer tax on US gasoline that could be dedicated to underwriting public transport.

National Geographic has given its staff a number of “Green Fridays” the last few summers, allowing us to stay home so that the headquarters buildings can power down and save energy. It is thought that more than a thousand staff not commuting on Green Fridays are using a lot less gasoline. National Geographic also gives us parking incentives if we car pool, and since Caroline and I both work here and commute together we take advantage of that.

National Geographic has also invested in sophisticated video conference equipment, to cut down on travel for business meetings. I’ve cut at least two business trips this year.

We have created a far-flung spread-out civilization. Our families are dispersed across the world. The global economy depends on massive movements of goods. Jobs and food security are at stake. I don’t see a way out of the transport dilemma unless we can come up with viable alternative technologies that use renewable forms of energy.