On Friday morning, NPR’s All Things Considered revisited the city of Juneau, Alaska two months after a series of avalanches destroyed the city’s main power line. Alaska Electric Light and Power, the only power utility in the state, had to scramble to meet the city’s energy demands with diesel-powered generators.
Overnight, the price of electricity shot up 400–500%.
The response was immediate. Anticipating the massive sticker shock of that first electricity bill, the good people of Juneau didn’t wait around for the next generation of LED lightbulbs or the rollout of the long-awaited (and probably over-hyped) Chevy Volt. Those hardy—and surprisingly resilient—Alaskan folk took matters into their own hands.
The city dimmed or shut off street lights. The International Airport left its runway lights off except when a plane was taking off or landing. People switched from electric to wood stoves, turned down their thermostats, and bundled up indoors. They started doing dishes by hand, with cold water, and hanging laundry to dry on clotheslines. They turned the lights on only when desperately necessary.
The citizens of Juneau were able to collectively cut their power consumption by nearly a third in one week, and maintain that level for the next six weeks.
And although many predicted that Juneauites would resume their pre-crisis levels of electricity consumption once the plant was back up and running, two months out they’ve been able to maintain a level 10% below last summer’s levels (this in spite of an especially cold and wet summer).
So what should we take away from this story? Two things:
- Americans can and are willing to quickly and drastically change their behavior, given the right incentive—namely, a sucker-punch to the wallet.
- We don’t have to wait around for radical new technological advances or government intervention—we, as individuals and communities, can do what it takes to lower our consumption of fossil fuels. Today. Right now.