Art imitates life, or vice-versa. Well, art may be too strong a word. I had eagerly been awaiting the release of The Day the Earth Stood Still, a remake of one of my all-time favorite movies. In both films an emissary from an advanced civilization pays a visit to save us earthlings from ourselves. In the 1951 original, the threat of nuclear annihilation was the impetus for the uninvited guest. In the sadly disappointing remake, which I saw last night, it's global warming. In both films the message was the same; change your behavior or die.
In the new version the man who came to dinner is prepared to exterminate the human race in order to save the planet, one of the few, we are informed, capable of supporting intelligent life - a debatable point. Anyway, he needn't have bothered. We are more than equal to the task all on our own. (See Frost,Robert)
We are, however, as the earthlings in the movie so desperately try to convince Dirty Harry from Alpha Ceturi, capable of change. It's been documented. Studies confirm that energy monitoring devices, digital displays that provide real-time feedback showing the moment-to-moment effects of our actions upon a building's energy consumption, actually reduce energy use by up to ten percent.
This week's New York Times Magazine reports on a new twist in the human-techno energy use behavior mod dance. A Swiss-born inventor working in the Computing Culture group of the Media Lab at MIT has created a leg band that can track your energy consumption. "When it detects," as the Times writes, "that electric current levels have exceeded a certain threshold, the wireless device slowly drives six stainless-steel thorns into the flesh of your leg." I'm not making this up. The inventor calls it "therapy for environmental guilt." I call it meshuggah.
There are, however, several painless and inexpensive home energy monitoring devices on the market, as well as more elaborate ones for larger buildings.A company called Agilewavesmakes a sophisticated system that monitors every type of energy use in every part of large, complex structures, as well as the cost of the energy used and the resulting CO2 emissions.
For a selection of less costly residential models you might check out the Power Meter Store web site.
Or you can make your own very inexpensive and easy to assemble behavior modification system, as I did. I taped a copy of our electric bill to the inside of the door to the garage, where it would be impossible to miss. It changed my wife's behavior immediately; I got the silent treatment for three days. Too polite to say it aloud, she was no doubt thinking, as were the aliens in The Day the Earth Stood Still, change your behavior or die.
Oddly enough, though, our electric consumption actually went down. Go figure.