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Rethinking Energy Use This Summer: A chance to protect your pocketbook and the environment

This blog entry is written by Kitt Urdang, a junior at Williams College and a summer 2022 intern with the Charlotte Energy Committee.

In 2022, Charlotters may have noticed two energy-related changes to their everyday lives — sky-high gas prices and unusual weather conditions.

The cause of high gas prices isn’t entirely clear, with some attributing the costs to pent-up demand from the pandemic, some to the high cost of crude oil due to a decrease in global supply after Russia invaded Ukraine, and others (including President Biden) citing oil companies for profiteering off of everyday Americans. Prices have started to decline, but remain significantly higher than typical pre-pandemic rates.

As for the weather, climate change is no longer an apocalyptic future problem that can be prevented — its effects are already here. Vermont’s average air temperature is increasing at one of the highest rates in the nation, and Lake Champlain is freezing over less frequently. Annual precipitation and the number of days with heavy precipitation have both increased. In the coming decades, Vermonters can expect more rain, less snow, and more frequent extreme heat days and extreme storms.

Luckily, there are ways for Charlotters to both save money on gas and reduce their environmental impact to mitigate the effects of climate change. When humans burn fossil fuels to produce energy — and most people do for activities like driving their car, air conditioning their home, and heating their household’s water — they release carbon dioxide and toxic substances into the air, thereby contributing to climate change. By avoiding or modifying activities that use energy from fossil fuels, Charlotters can save money and slow climate change’s impacts.

On average, rural Americans live in homes that use ten percent more energy than urban homes. They also drive 7,000 more miles annually, using an additional 330 gallons of gasoline. Therefore, reducing household energy use and gasoline consumption is an excellent way to save money and reduce one’s environmental impact.

The summer’s long, warm, and sunny days offer a great chance to reduce gasoline consumption by walking or riding a bicycle for short trips. For longer trips, consider carpooling with family or friends — it can be a great way to get to know someone better or promote family bonding while saving energy and money.

Public transportation is relatively limited in Vermont, but the Amtrak stations at Burlington, Vergennes, and Essex Junction provide service to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and more. With a ride from a friend or by catching the Green Mountain Transit bus in Shelburne, Charlotte residents can be on their way to a weekend in the Northeast’s biggest cities — using much less energy than they would be if driving, skipping the summer weekend traffic, and without spending a small fortune on gasoline.

For Charlotters who prefer to relax at home during the summer, there are ways to reduce energy consumption in the house that will also lower the utility bills at the end of the month. Running the air conditioning and central heat are two of the most significant ways that households consume energy, and with a little extra planning, anyone can avoid over-spending on air conditioning this summer.

When it’s cool outside, especially at night, open the windows and let the home fill with the crisp Vermont air. Use electric fans rather than central air, and close the windows and curtains to prevent the hot daytime air and sun from warming the house. If there’s a heat wave in the forecast, make sure to keep the cool air in by closing all windows and doors.

For anyone looking for a longer-term project to cool their home, consider shade-oriented landscaping. Planting more trees near one’s home can reduce the temperature by six degrees or more. The Department of Energy recommends planting deciduous trees to the south of the building for maximum cooling effect over a five- to ten-year period. For quicker results, shrubs and groundcover plants can be used along patios, driveways, and other paved areas to lessen heat radiation and cool the air around the home.

Beyond heating and cooling, there are small changes around the home that reduce energy use. Let clothes air-dry on a clothesline or drying rack, unplug any household appliances that aren’t used regularly, and turn off lights when not needed.

No one is a perfect energy user — everyone will need to use energy from fossil fuels until our energy infrastructure is completely switched over to electricity powered by renewables. In the meantime, with a bit of extra thought and planning, Charlotters can save money and do their parts to slow the effects of climate change this summer.

Members of the CEC demonstrate good carpooling etiquette in an electric vehicle with bike attached…and eyes only temporarily off the road.

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