Technology vs. Behavior

Walking, biking, or using mass transits are ways for us to avoid using our cars which produce 22 pounds of CO2 emissions as well as other greenhouse gases per gallon consumed. Driving much slower and using conservative braking during traffic jams could potentially smooth out traffic and fix the problem. Turning off the faucet while brushing our teethes could save up to 30 gallons a week.

That’s absurd. As an entitled American, I hate waiting around for a bus or rubbing shoulders with a stranger, I hate being in the hot/cold weather and breaking a sweat. I hate being cut-off in traffic and losing my place; even if the traffic jam is compounded later at least I won’t be late to my meeting. Turning off the faucet? You gotta be kidding me…

That might have been an exaggeration of our behaviors as Americans, but it is true. Why else are we the eleventh highest nation in energy use per capita (kg of oil equivalent per capita) at 7164.46, which is really higher. Iceland is the highest user because of its use of cheap or free thermal energy for heating and many of the Middle eastern countries rank higher because of mass oil production. To highlight the discrepancy between us and the world the difference between our per capita energy consumption and the world’s is 308 million MMBTU per capita – that is a huge difference.

Our attitudes and behaviors play a huge role in this glutinous use of energy and resources. We live in a society that is moving faster and faster. Our busy schedules give us the excuse to cut corners. Our entitlement gives us the power to buy the quicker and more convenient method.  Our apathy towards our environment and fellow human beings give us the blindness to consequences of our selfish choices.

We turn to technology instead as the Savior of our problems. If we just had better [fill in the blank], our lives would be much better and we would also be environmentally friendly. We want more efficient cars that use electricity or get more miles per gallon. We want better traffic technology that gets rid of the thousands of hours that we lose on the road. We want better faucet that save water.

In reality, our behaviors are just as strong as the technology that we want. If we just made these small changes in our lives we could save. For example what if we used reusable canvas bags instead of plastic or paper bags (well Austin has taken care of that problem by forcing us to use reusable bags)? The average American family uses about 60 plastic bags per 4 trips to your local supermarket, but the worst part about this statistic is that only roughly up to 3% of these bags are actually recycled. These plastic bags then litter our beautiful land; each square mile of ocean contains probably 46,000 pieces of plastic and they remain toxic as they slowly degrade (1000 years) on our soil and water. That problem has a very simple solution that would eliminate 100% plastic use. I personally started using a reusable canvas bag and I’ve only had to use plastic once or twice to bag extra groceries in 1 year. Honesty the question is “are you willingly to stop being so lazy and just bring a canvas bag to your shopping trips?”.


Webber, ETP Lecture: ETP Introduction Spring 2013



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4 responses to “Technology vs. Behavior

  1. This article touches on the Roger Duncan’s, former Austin Energy General Manager, “Conservation and Efficiency” lecture on April 11th, 2013. During his lecture, Roger argued that as technology becomes more efficient, the rate at which the population consumes energy will actually increase. This phenomenon is referred to as Jevon’s paradox, which Jevon first observed in England’s increased total coal consumption after James Watt introduced a relatively efficient coal-fired steam engine. The increased energy efficiency tends to decrease the cost of energy use and promote economic growth. It is established that cheap energy and economic growth lead to increased total fuel consumption [1].

    I agree that our attitudes and behaviors play a huge role in the way we consume energy, but sustainability and environmental movements have been gaining momentum. I spoke with Roger about the potential impacts of a population informed of their energy use through smart homes, meter, cars, etc. He argued that although a more informed population could lead to a decrease in total fuel consumption, that reduction would be minimal. Roger instead argued that artificial intelligence supplied with energy prices and consumption rates would lead to higher reductions in fuel consumption. He supported his argument with behavior learning technologies seen in the Nest Thermostat that learns a consumer’s behavior and reduces energy consumption while leaving the consumer’s behavior undisrupted.

    Roger’s statements support your argument that we are in such a hurry, we cannot help but cut corners that lead to glutinous use of energy and resources. Thankfully,technology is making dramatic advancements to the point that it may soon curb our energy consumption regardless of our behavior.

  2. leannarose79

    I totally agree. I think that Americans are just too used to luxury. We’ve grown up our whole lives thinking that it was okay to be wasteful because it didn’t immediately affect us. This among other reasons has given a lot of Americans that “land of the free” attitude that lets them do as they please regardless of who or what they are harming. I feel like this has caused them to grow lazy. Few people encounter situations that technology can’t save them from or prevent them from feeling uncomfortable or “better” their lives in just about any facet. Technology has grown into a safety blanket of sorts that prevents these people from connecting with other people and things. If the connection was there, maybe they would be more concerned with conservation. With every new innovation technology becomes another excuse or does something else for us that we don’t want to. Industry knows this and caters to these behaviors. I’m not against innovation but I think sometimes we forget that we can solve things simpler by just changing our behaviors.

  3. rydelarosa

    It seems like Americans have the same attitude about wasted energy (and/or excess/unnecessary energy use) as wasted water and food. I’m not sure about the percentage of energy and water wasted from our behavior, but I know the food wasted from our habits and poor planning is around 30-40% of all produced in the U.S. annually. I think if Americans were actually aware of how much their behaviors impact energy waste and the magnitude of the waste, things could start to change (kind of like the indicator on new cars that show mpg: drivers modify their driving habits to try to maximize their mpg). I know I am definitely more aware and careful of my food buying and storing habits now that I have information on the large of amount of food that is wasted.

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