“Switch that light off! Electricity is expensive and money doesn't grow on trees.”
“Shut the door! Were you born in a barn? Where do you think all the heat goes?”
If these two sentences have a ring of familiarity about them, then it wouldn't be surprising. How many parents have used phrases like these to their children without actually explaining why switching off unnecessary lighting or keeping doors closed is a sensible way to save energy?
But, one might argue, why worry about saving energy when it's in plentiful supply? It's only a few cents or dollars here and there if lights are left on, and the rooms don’t feel as warm as they could be.
There are very good reasons for saving energy, and it's important that children learn about where it comes from at an early stage and how energy sustainability is not only a crucial part of how society operates today, but that it will also be even more vital in the future.
Why save energy?
Fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – have been an enormous boon to the world. Coal was initially used to heat homes and keep people warm. It eventually enabled the Industrial Revolution in the UK, which then rapidly spread to other countries such as the US and Canada as well as Europe. But there are downsides.
These fuels are highly polluting to the atmosphere, and with the majority of climate scientists believing that the carbon emitted by these fuels is a major contribution to climate change, alternatives are being researched and used.
Another downside is that fossil fuels are finite. At some stage in the future, they will run out or be too difficult and expensive to extract even though there may still be some deposits left in the earth. This will not happen next year, and probably not for several decades depending on fuel demands, particularly from developing countries. Therefore it is a good idea to get children involved in understanding the issues around energy sustainability and why it is important for their own futures.
Encouraging children to be involved
Parents have a responsibility to encourage their children to be aware of the issues around energy sustainability and to influence the way they think about those issues and what they can do themselves.
Leading by example is the best way, so parents who are in the habit of leaving lights on or computers and other devices on standby overnight should address their own behavior first. Children tend to mimic the actions of their parents and other adults, so setting a good example is a good start.
Kids love to be trusted to take responsibility in the household. Parents can teach their children about recycling, and young ones can help with separating out items such as glass and plastic bottles, paper and even food waste, if the option is available. Giving them the job of switching all the lights off in the house involves them in the energy saving process, and even suggesting they turn off the tap when brushing their teeth will teach them about the importance of saving water.
Above all, it's important to make things fun while also getting across the message that thinking about and acting on energy sustainability is the right thing to do. It's their future that is at stake.
Taking the expert's view on energy
There are many books and articles about energy, and one of the world's foremost experts on energy, Daniel Yergin, has written copiously about energy security. Yergin is an economic researcher and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author from California. As an example, his book The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Modern World opens a window to the world of energy, tracing a number of stories that demonstrate how energy is the true engine of global economic and political change.
As well as examining the histories of fossil fuels and nuclear power, he focuses on alternative energy sources that, though not always competitive and profitable, will be crucial as the world economy grows and requires more and more options for its sources of energy. These alternatives include biofuels, solar and wind energy, are becoming more and more well known to consumers both in the domestic field and in industry.
Parents who want to understand the issues surrounding energy sustainability for themselves, so that they can pass the knowledge on to their children, may find the words of Daniel Yergin a good starting point. Teaching children the importance of energy efficiency will help create a better world for everyone.