The fearsome bout of record-breaking heat and humidity that held the East Coast in its grip last week instilled some local residents with two separate but related worries. The first had to do with the immediate future — i.e., what kind of July and August could we expect if such grueling weather could descend upon us even before the official kick-off of summer?
And that worry led directly to the next one. If, in fact, the hotter months turned out to be like the bulk of last week, how would we get through it without our beloved technological antidotes, like air-conditioning set at full-blast, and swimming pools cooled and chlorinated to perfection? Would PECO be able to meet our demands for comfort? Would there be shortages and blackouts? And could we bear such added woes once they joined the despair we now feel each time we pull up to the pump?
The bottom line here — as almost everywhere in our overly technologized lives — is our dependence on all forms of energy, whether that means crude oil that runs our oversized automobiles and heats our homes, or the coal that has to burn incessantly to light these same abodes and cool them down appreciably — to say nothing of allowing us to check our PDAs whenever we want and text message our friends at the exact moment the desire hits us.
The question no one appears willing to face is when will our concern tip over into fear? Because it seems, in matters of the environment, that only when we're gripped by a more tenacious sort of anxiety do we spring into action. Does the calendar have to be turned back to 1973, when the first oil crisis hit, and rationing became a way of life? Then will we wake up? Will long lines of SUVs and Hummers at gas stations be the dose of reality Americans need?
Perhaps the recent intense heat will be enough to get people to trim their behavior a bit, since all the studies have shown that one of the most effective ways of conserving fuel is to use what's available more wisely. For example, if drivers didn't exceed 55 miles per hour, the savings would be considerable. If people biked to work or walked to a nearby store, the wasteful kind of start-and-stop driving would be cut appreciably. And if homeowners kept their shades drawn and didn't use their air-conditioners between 8 a.m. until after sundown, we'd be well ahead of the game.
None of this is said to minimize the problems facing us. We have a lot of concerted work to do. But if masses of people adopted some of these practices and slowed down now, then maybe all of us wouldn't have to face a future where shortages would be inevitable.