What a 19th Century Philosopher can tell us about energy conservation

Posted:  July 11th, 2011 by:  The Environment Site comments:  0

Back in the 19th century, philosopher William Hazlitt stated we are only “imaginatively connected” to our future self whereas we are naturally connected to our past and present self. But what does a deep thinker like Hazlitt have to tell us about today’s energy debate?

It has something to do with the fact we unconsciously believe that our future self is someone else, not us; that our grasp on the future is tenuous at best and our motivations are totally rooted in the present: My gas bill is going up by 20 per cent so I am going to switch provider rather than save energy; I have just had a new lawn laid so will use as much tap water as I need to make sure it survives despite the ridiculously dry spring we have just experienced.

Our present self finds it hard to make decisions based on anything other than our immediate needs and wants. In Australia, scientists receive death threats because they advocate a carbon tax; China threatens financial retaliation if the EU includes foreign airlines in its Emissions Trading Scheme…countries, not just individuals, find it hard to look beyond the immediate.

Monday Morning
It is the classic Monday Morning Syndrome: I know I should have ironed a shirt on Sunday evening as I have a busy start to the week, I had plenty of time but couldn’t be bothered. Future Me will deal with the problem. On Monday morning I rush around dealing with the issue, making myself late cursing my lack of attention to the problem on Sunday night.

We are collectively leaving the problems on climate change to our future selves. That is bad enough, but we are also leaving them to future generations. Saving a few pounds now to meet the build budget, stores up problems for the future when the building rapidly becomes unfit for purpose. We know what will happen, but leave Future Self to deal with it.
A plumber leaves out an 80p isolating valve and a few years later his successor has to spend three hours trying to isolate the water supply in order to change the washer on a dripping tap. Everything we do now has consequences in the future and those consequences are increasingly frightening.

Germany has announced it will abandon nuclear power and go all out for renewables…but in the meantime that is bound to lead to a significant increase in gas consumption. The UK is decommissioning its nuclear capacity, but nimbyism means every proposed wind or solar farm gets held up by planning red tape.

If you don’t want nuclear; or wind; or to pay more; and you don’t want the hassle…what do you want? You can’t leave everything to Future You and expect to keep the lights on.

David Frise is head of sustainability at the HVCA whose members are committed to delivering high quality, responsible and sustainable building services solutions. dfrise@hvca.org.uk

Read more at www.hvca.org.uk

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/413456228/sizes/s/in/photostream/

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