Thursday, February 16, 2006

Unlike America, Japan Cuts Energy Use Ruthlessly


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Every time the price of fossil fuels jump, the Japanese people respond to government commands they cut back by ruthlessly cutting down energy use, for example, not heating buildings at all. Meanwhile, America can't even throttle back gas guzzling vehicles.

From the Washington Post:
When the Japanese government issued a national battle cry against soaring global energy prices this winter, no one heeded the call to arms more than this farming town in the misty mountains of western Japan.

To save on energy, local officials shut off the heating system in the town hall, leaving themselves and 100 workers no respite from near-freezing temperatures. On a recent frosty morning, rows of desks were brimming with employees bundled in coats and wool blankets while nursing thermoses of hot tea. To cut back on gasoline use, officials say, most of the town's 13,000 citizens are strictly obeying a nationwide call to turn off car engines while idling, particularly when stopped at traffic lights.
Note the difference from America. When we lost a lot of our oil wells, like a big baby, we ran over to Europe and demanded they supply us with lots of oil or we would run up the price of oil to over $100 a barrel. So, grinding their teeth, they forked over the fuel which we then happily guzzled, hardly pausing in stride.

We made nearly zero attempts at curbing our consumption on any level. I remember when Carter was savaged for suggesting we heat our houses at 68 degrees and put on a sweater! Reagan said, "What me worry?" and we all cheered, turned up the theromstat and went on to party like there was no tomorrow.

And there will be no tomorrow at this rate.
Takao Iwase, Kamiita's husky administrative director, joined other locals in switching off the heat at home, too -- leaving his family to quickly hustle from steaming nighttime baths to the warm comforters on their traditional futons. "We're saving [$100] a day at city hall by shutting off the heat," Iwase, wearing four layers of clothing and a winter coat inside his office, said proudly. "But we no longer see this as just an economic issue. Japan has no natural resources of its own, so saving energy has become our national duty."
This sounds so much like the Chinese, heh. Japan runs a giant surplus with us. They must import all their oil but in our case, even if it is only 60% of our oil we are importing, this is still, by volume, more than Japan imports and since we have nearly wiped out our industrial base, very little of the oil we import is creating value that can be exported at a profit, unlike Japan.

The Japanese have always put their personal comfort second to other considerations. For example, there is no clamor for cheap beef. Why? Well, it would have to be imported and this will ruin the trade balance so shop owners and meat packing houses and everyone conspire with the government to not only not allow foreign beef in except for a very small amount, but the media won't express consumer rage over high prices.
Canon's $225 Pixus MP500 printer, which uses 60 percent less electricity than the company's other models, has become the number one seller here despite a variety of less costly options on the market. Matsushita, maker of the Panasonic and National brands, is selling a $600 energy-efficient ceiling lamp that proudly tells its users, "You are saving 10 percent on electricity," each time it's switched on. Last year, the company jumped into the housing subdivision business and is now building suburban "eco-homes" fully equipped with energy-saving gadgets and solar panels that can chop 65 percent off the average Japanese power bill of about $180 a month.
The Japanese use much less energy than we and their cost per kilowatt hour is much higher. America's trade imbalance is a very serious thing and one component that is very bad is our importation of fossil fuels.

Just like balancing the budget, we have to cut back on that element or else slowly or increasingly swiftly, bleed to death.

As my illustration above shows, the typical American house has central heating and many of them use natural gas. In Japan, it has been quite different up until recently. The table the family in the picture are using is called a Kotatsu. It is a low table with two quilts thrown on top of and then, to protect them, a hard surface for eating off of. I have eaten at such tables when visiting Japanese nuns, for example. When your legs are warm, the upper body feels much warmer than expected and to warm the hands, you slip them under the quilt occasionally.

We lived in a tent complex on a very cold mountain for ten years. We got used to wearing bathrobes that are big and thick, like huge quilts, along with heavy felt booties and long woolen socks. I used to warm up bricks on the Victorian cook stove and slip them under the blankets, wrapped in a towel, to heat up the beds so we wouldn't freeze when climbing under the covers. The other thing was to drape the bedding covers over a chair by the woodstove and then, when it was warm, go to bed with it.

I also took old fur coats and remade them as blankets and trust me, nothing is warmer than a mink coat, fur side under.

Because America is big and was allowed to run up a gigantic debt, we have resized ourselves and our infrastructure to deadly proportions. I once owned a mansion and heating that monster was a nightmare. I was glad to be rid of it. Right now, America is dotted with mini-mansion of great size, all of which will have to be abandoned when the energy problem becomes the energy nightmare. What a waste.
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