Provident Living for Changing Times

A blog to encourage good stewardship through energy and resource conservation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Energy Conservation

We were skeptical when our son told us that we were approaching an energy crisis: that the world as we had always known it was coming to an end and we needed to prepare. Please don’t misunderstand me. My husband and I believe in preparation. We know of the conditions that have been prophesied for the last days. We are grateful for the Church’s emphasis on provident living. We have always tried to follow the council of the prophets to have a year’s supply of food and other necessities, and as we have seen disasters around the earth, we have made an increased effort to update our 72 hour kits and to plan and make other preparations for potential disasters.

It was just that, three years ago when our son shared the information he was learning with us, we hadn’t heard any public discussion of an imminent end to the cheap energy we had grown up with. Surely a change that would have such a profound impact on our way of life would be receiving more attention. Could the problem really be as serious as he thought?

Besides, wasn’t there a scripture somewhere that said the earth was full, with enough and to spare of the things we need? How could we run out? We looked and found the vaguely remembered scripture. It was in D&C 104: 11-18, given in 1834 as the Lord instructed Joseph Smith concerning the law of consecration and stewardship. He said,
11. It is wisdom in me; therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship;
12. That every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him.
13. For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
14. I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and the earth, my very handiwork and all things therein are mine.
15. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
16. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
17. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
18. Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

Furthermore, we found a cross reference to a scripture in D&C 59: 20, which said,
And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

That wasn’t what we had remembered. Far from saying we couldn’t run out, the Lord was saying that we would be accountable to Him if we consumed more than our share of the resources He had prepared to meet the needs of all His children.

Among the other blessings which the Lord prepared were the rich reserves of fossil fuels on the earth, which were relatively untouched at the time this revelation was given. In the intervening years, the technological societies of the world have become extremely dependent on the world’s supply of fossil fuels, particularly oil, and have used them lavishly. Oil not only runs our transportation, it fuels our manufacturing processes. It is used in the production of the synthetics, plastics and chemicals that dominate our markets, and in the fertilizers that provide us with an abundance of food.

For awhile, the supply of oil seemed unlimited, and there seemed little reason to use it “with judgment, not to excess,” or to limit our own consumption so “the poor and the needy” of the world could have their “portion.” Then, in the 1970s, the domestic oil production in the United States reached its peak and began to decline. My husband and I were newly married at the time, and he worked in a gas station. Gas prices jumped from $0.23 a gallon to $0.69 a gallon and continued to climb. We remember the rationing and the long lines at the gas stations. Everyone became more aware that the supply of fossil fuels was finite and for a time, conservation measures decreased demand and helped to control the rise in energy costs. Eventually, oil imported from other countries eased the shortage in the United States and the other industrialized nations and made the need to conserve seem less urgent.

When our son first discussed the energy crisis with us, we were pretty much oblivious to what was going on in the world of geology. As we investigated further, we learned that geologists now claim that the location and approximate size of all the earth’s major oil deposits (including the currently untapped ones) are known. (While science is always subject to error, there seemed to us to be good evidence for their claim.) That information is used in predictions of peak oil production.

A geophysicist named M. King Hubbard began the work on predicting peak oil production in the 1950s with an accurate prediction of the 1970s peak in US oil production. His work has since been refined by others and applied to the world situation. Many geologists now report that we have either already reached, or will soon reach the peak in world-wide oil production, and thereafter oil production will begin to decline until we reach the end of our readily useable oil supplies. The most pessimistic prediction of the peak and decline in world oil production is one made by C.J. Campbell, a former oil executive (FINA). But the most optimistic predictions are not significantly different. [1]

Some experts estimate that at the current rate of use, the world’s available oil will be depleted in about 40 to 50 years. Whether the timing of the predictions is completely accurate or not, we do know that the supply is limited, and the worldwide demand is still increasing as industrialization increases and the number of automobiles in use around the world increase. In the time since our son first made us aware of the problem, there has been a good deal of public discussion about the economic, political and societal consequences that are likely to occur as demand for oil exceeds the available supply. Even the President of the United States has now called attention to our dependence on fossil fuels. Prices of other energy sources are also likely to go up as the cost of oil rises. In the past while, we have seen power shortages. Stretched budgets have had to stretch even more as we all contend with rising prices at the gas station and on our utility bills.

For awhile, our family was personally overwhelmed by the situation. After all, what could we do about it anyway? We went back and forth between feeling helpless and fearful, and wanting to ignore what we had learned so we could go on doing what we have always done. But we recognized that that would not be following the principles of provident living. D&C 104 reminds us that the Lord has given us our agency and made us agents unto ourselves: that is, He has given us the power and responsibility to act in ways that make a difference in what happens. Agency means that what we do or don’t do matters.

Our actions not only affect us, they affect the people around us and those who come after us. The law of consecration requires us to be concerned about meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world, as well as our own needs. And as members of a church committed to family, we should be especially concerned about making sure there are sufficient resources to meet the needs of our children and grandchildren. Our hope lies in making the transition to use of the other energy sources with which the Lord has also provided us such as the energy the earth receives daily from the sun; in finding new sources of energy and alternatives for all the important ways we use plastic, synthetics, and petrochemicals. That is going to be a huge undertaking for all of us.

There is a major international effort to develop renewable energy sources, especially solar power and wind generated power; but it is going to require existing energy to create the infrastructure needed to use alternative energy sources. Provident living has taken on a new dimension for our family as we have made the commitment to reduce our own energy consumption to help conserve remaining oil reserves for making the transition to other sources of energy.

We hope you will make the same commitment. Please do your own research to understand the nature and extent of the problem we face. Conserve oil and other finite resources in every way you can. This is in keeping with our pioneer tradition of thrift. Talk to others about the situation. Share ideas. Share scarce resources. Ask your local, state, and national leaders to respond responsibly to the situation. Investigate and support alternative energy sources and businesses using renewable resources. Think about all the ways we use oil. Start finding ways to meet your family’s needs if oil and oil-based products are too expensive to afford. Begin making preparations as you can afford to do so. . Use your own professional expertise to begin finding solutions to the problems we face with oil depletion. Pray for the help of the Lord as we work together to find new ways to meet the energy needs of all the people of the earth.

Our willingness to turn our attention to this situation now and cooperate in solving the problems we face will determine what occurs as we make the transition from dependence on oil. The Lord has told us that if we are prepared, we shall not fear. (D&C 38: 30)


Conserve oil and other finite resources in every way you can.

When possible, buy local products that do not require expensive transportation over long distances.

Minimize automobile use. Live as close to your work as possible to reduce commute time. Walk anywhere that is less than a mile or two away. Use a wagon or a fold-up shopping cart to haul groceries and other needed items. Ride a bike. Use public transit. Car pool. Plan errands to minimize driving. Reduce long distance travel as you can. Reduce your speed. Travel at the speed limit.

When your car needs to be replaced, consider buying a hybrid or other energy saving model.

The chief energy user in a house is the heating and cooling system. To minimize expense, seal and insulate your house. Keep furnaces and air conditioners serviced and change filters regularly. Replace old units with high efficiency models. Use insulated shades or curtains and close them at night to stop heat loss through windows.

During the winter, put more blankets on the beds, wear thermal underwear, warm house-slippers and sweaters around the house and keep the thermostat set at 65 degrees. A programmable thermostat will automatically turn down the temperature at night and when you are at work during the day.

In the summer, turn the thermostat up as high as you can stand to. Plant trees, bushes and vines around your house to provide natural cooling. Use fans or an evaporative cooler for as much of the year as possible, to save on the higher energy costs of central air conditioning. Using spray bottles to mist off several times a day can help people stay more comfortable in very hot conditions.

If building or remodeling a house, incorporate passive solar design and find a builder who is committed to building energy efficient homes. In the United States, you can consult your local Energy Star office for suggestions. Governments in other countries also provide information on energy conservation.

The next biggest energy user in a house is the water heater. Insulate hot water pipes. Reduce your use of hot water. Put water-saving nozzles on your showers. Take short showers when you really need a shower. Only launder clothes when it is really necessary. Wash laundry in warm or cold water rather than hot. Only turn on a hot water tap when it makes a difference and when the water will be on long enough for the hot water to actually reach the faucet. When your water heater needs to be replaced, consider an on-demand water heater.

Hang clothes to dry. If you can’t hang clothes outside on a line, you can get a small drying rack to use indoors. Tumble permanent press clothes in a dryer for a few minutes to remove wrinkles before hanging them on a hanger to finish drying. Iron only as really necessary.

Stop obvious energy waste. Turn off radios and TVs and turn out lights when you leave the room. Shut refrigerator doors as quickly as possible. Unplug electronic devices that draw electricity whether or not they are in use. Replace worn out items with energy saving replacements such as screw-in florescent light bulbs. Check the energy ratings on furnaces, refrigerators, freezers, and other appliances. In the United States, look for Energy Star rated items.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” everything you can. “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without.” Follow Brigham Young’s counsel to consume less. Take reusable shopping bags to the store so you don’t have their plastic ones piling up around the house.

Support businesses using or selling products made with recycled or renewable resources. Look for second-hand items at thrift shops and garage sales before buying new items. Find ways to give new life to things others are discarding.

Buy organic foods or grow your own. Regular fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are petroleum based products.

Avoid buying products made with plastic, synthetics or petrochemicals. Replace standard detergents and cleaning products with non petroleum based products.
Think about all the ways we use oil. Start finding ways to meet your family’s needs if oil and oil-based products are too expensive to afford. Begin making preparations as you can afford to do so.

Consider a high efficiency, non-polluting wood-burning stove to provide backup heat for your home.

Focus gift giving on things such as warm clothing which will meet basic needs. Get bicycles, carts, wagons, etc.

Replace power tools with hand tools. Push lawnmowers work well and provide good exercise.

Invest in technology that uses clean alternative energy sources such as solar power, wind power, or geothermal energy. For instance, there are solar reflector ovens available which were designed for cooking in African villages that have no access to power. Geothermal heat pumps collect and condense the heat that is always found a few feet below the surface of the earth and use it to run commercial or household heating and cooling systems.

Use your own professional expertise to help with finding solutions to the problems that will result from oil depletion.

You will know best how you can contribute as you begin to think about the problem.

Individuals can only do so much alone. Encourage and participate in cooperative efforts to conserve energy and create new ways to meet our needs.

Share ideas with others.

Ask your local, state, and national leaders to study all the implications of oil depletion and plan and coordinate the necessary responses. We need public policies that encourage oil conservation, communities planned for walking, viable public transit systems. Our public facilities must switch to the use of alternative energy sources. We need to protect clean air and water. We could create major health hazards as we increase the use of other energy sources such as coal and wood. We need funding for the development of alternative energy sources and technologies.

Please add your own suggestions to the list.

Carol Walters

[1] “Three World Oil Forecasts Predict Peak Oil Production” by Richard C. Duncan published in the Oil and Gas Journal; May 26 2003; 101, 21; Research Library Core pg 18.