Proposals should include actions thatcould be easliy be implemented by a typical American household.
A lot of energy could be saved if it was only made a little more expensive by the imposition of a small tax. In a market driven economy, the only thing that seems to work to reduce demand is the increase in prices. An increase in price would make people realize the importance of almost everything that has been listed in the suggestions given earlier.
People would keep temperatures within a reasonable range rather than at extremes because their electricity bill is a lot higher; insulate their homes for the same reason. Walk or cycle instead of driving to the next block because the gasoline going into the car costs more. Use a smaller car and look for options to car pool rather than curse everyone else when they find themselves waiting for hours in traffic jams created by their SUVs that could accommodate six with just one person in it. Buy local as the cost of food that has been brought from half way around the world is suddenly more expensive.
And the extra funds collected by doing this could be used to cut America's huge deficit, give a little more to spur initiatives to tap green sources of energy, in a sense save billions that are lost due to weather phenomena that believe it or not are the result of global climatic imbalances caused by humans...the list is truly very long.
But all this falls flat against the argument that America is a free economy, the market always decides what is best. Something that would always prevent any of this from happening.
In America, we still give large tax breaks to fossil fuel powered energy. It's time we stop funding and giving tax breaks to coal power and oil power. Companies can produce green powered products, like solar panels, much cheaper than they once were able to. If these tax breaks could be re-appropriated to greener companies, I think we would see a change. I realize there are already tax breaks in place for things like solar panels on houses and hybrid cars, but the amount of the tax break is generally not enough to assuage the cost of the product. We need to find better ways to encourage the American people to seek greener options while gradually reducing funding and tax credits for less sustainable energy and products. In the current economy, I'd say the greatest motivating factor for many Americans is money.
Apparently many appliances (especially televisions) consume energy even when they are not being used -- merely when they are plugged into a live plug. It would be helpful if most people, then, would simply unplug appliances when they are not in use. This can be done easily if multiple appliances are plugged into power strips containing multiple plugs. Such power strips can easily be shut off. Ceiling fans and fans of all sorts can help reduce energy use and allow thermostats to be raised a bit. Using dark curtains or blinds on the sides of houses that receive full sunlight in the mornings and afternoons can help. I have read that if roofing tiles were white or lighter in color, much energy could be saved. Our neighbor, who recently installed a light-colored metal roof, claims that his utility bills have dropped significantly. If you do a Google search for "easy ways to save power at home," you will find many sites, such as this one:
To back up #6, one possibility is to impose higher taxes on cars that guzzle mor gas, or perhaps to set up congestion charges in major cities, like has been implemented in London in the UK. Also, incentives to purchase smaller and more eco-friendly cars perhaps should also be considered.
One viable option for the average household--or at least members within it--is to trade car driving for bicycle and bus riding. Many nations have streets crammed with cyclists. We might have a thought revolution and rethink bikes as transportation instead of as exercise equipment for the young or stationary.
I fully agree with Brettd and the idea to buy locally. This could be further enabled by government tax cuts for small business.
I believe in Seattle (don't quote me on this) all grocery stores now charge for the use of plastic and paper bags at checkout. It is an arguably insignificant cost (5 or 10 cents a bag), but has greatly increased the number of people bringing their own bags the store. As an example, this idea shows how just the slightest change in the price of something can cause people to re-think old habits. Along this line, I think states who charge a deposit on glass bottles and aluminum cans, but offer it back upon return, are generally cleaner and probably recycle more.
One suggestion that would help a lot for conservation efforts is for Americans to make a real effort to buy local. The average American meal travels hundreds of miles from processing plant or farm to the dinner table, which is a very inefficient way to feed ourselves. Locally produced goods, especially fruit and vegetables, are less expensive, fresher, and use much less energy to transport.
It also would really help if Americans only bought produce that was in season. Buying blueberries in February, for example, means they might be shipped all the way from South America. Picking them yourself and then freezing the extra for later use is a much more sensible approach to energy consumption.
Lastly, the largest energy expenditures in our homes involve anything that is heated or cooled. If you can line dry your clothes instead of using the dryer, you save money and electricity, and your clothes will last longer.
A huge source of energy waste can be traced back to wasted food. Estimates vary widely, but experts agree that somewhere between 14% and 30% of all edible food produced and/or purchased in the US is wasted. One study indicates that the food wasted in the US each year represents the equivalent of 350 million barrels of oil wasted; it costs energy to produce the food at the farm, to process it, to transport it from farm to processing facility to warehouse to store to home, and to dispose of the waste.
Raising people's awareness of this issue would be helpful, as most US households are currently grappling with the issue of rising food prices and static or falling incomes. Avoiding food waste would benefit the household budget, be easy to do, and save a lot of energy.
For many American households, the easiest way to significantly reduce energy consumption would be to change the levels on their thermostats. Heaters and air conditioners are major consumers of energy and people tend to keep them at what some would consider to be fairly extreme levels. I know many people who keep their thermostats at 71 or 72 F in the summer and at 78 in the winter. These settings seem excessive and could surely be moderated by most American households.
A second thing that many Americans could do would be to drive less. Many people drive in situations where driving does not seem necessary. They will, for instance, drive a few blocks to pick their children up from school when it would make more sense just to walk. I have literally seen high school students warm their cars up for 10 minutes on cold mornings to drive two blocks to school. These are ways that energy is wasted that could easily be changed.