With global carbon dioxide levels rising to dangerous heights, experts are predicting that climate change will wreak havoc with human lives in ensuing decades. But if the nation could reduce its energy use, particularly regarding burning fossil fuels, we might be able to delay or mitigate some of the damage. Plus, we’d all like to save a little money on our monthly utility bills.

Technology is one place that could help us avoid a dystopian future, as the world increases its reliance on wind, solar and other renewable energy sources and transitions away from oil, coal, and natural gas. However, the biggest factor in any energy revolution, the Washington Post argues, won’t be in technology but rather human behavior.

Change Your Habits

While we wait for viable clean fuel to arrive, we can make a big dent in energy consumption just by changing our habits. Among the energy savings the Post points out we could enjoy with small changes in human behavior:

  • Turning down the temperature settings of washing machines would reduce household energy use by about 1 percent.
  • Keeping household temperatures no higher than 68 during the day and 65 at night would cut back about 2.8 percent.
  • Plodding along the highway at 60 mph instead of 70 would slice another 2 percent of our energy usage.

Each change seems like small potatoes on its own, but aggregated over every U.S. household it would make a significant difference in the total amount of energy we burn, especially when used in combination with other efficiency measures.

In fact, a report by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if every family upgraded its appliances to new, efficient models, household energy use would be reduced by 20 percent. Of course every family can’t afford to buy new equipment overnight, but over time when those old furnaces and refrigerators are finally replaced, the country should eventually start enjoying the emission reductions.

Lacking Motivation

While new appliances are too expensive for some people, it can be discouraging to hear that families frequently don’t make easy, free decisions to cut back on their energy use, even when it saves them money. “You can have two families, demographically similar, living side by side, in similar apartments, and there will be something like two to four times difference between one family and the other in their consumption,” Susan Mazur-Stommen, an anthropologist and independent consultant on energy efficiency, told the Post. “And that will be attributable to behavioral differences.”

Besides the prospect of saving money, people could be motivated to change their behavior in order to protect the environment or to safeguard public health. Maybe real-time data about how much energy they are using in the house can help. Public outreach campaigns might be able to chip away at lackadaisical attitudes as well.

The point is, there’s a large gap between what we could be doing and what we are doing to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. On the plus side, that means that we don’t have to wait for miracle technology to save us — there are steps the country can take today to save energy. It’s all a matter of motivation.

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