State editorial: Stimulus checks should make us think harder about conserving

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The following editorial first appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

The federal government's "economic stimulus checks" recently started hitting bank accounts and mailboxes.

Those who are eligible will get up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples); parents will get an extra $300 for each eligible child younger than 17.

Under normal circumstances, there might be a lot better uses for the money than a federal handout that may or may not be needed. But with the cost of a gallon of regular gas now hitting $4-plus, these aren't normal circumstances. The cost of just about everything, including staple products, has risen not just a few cents, but dramatically. Individuals can and should put that extra bit of cash to good use. While some may spend it frivolously, we suspect the majority of Americans will use it to pay bills or put gas in their vehicle or save it for harder times.

Considering it now costs about $60-plus to fill most tanks these days, and $100 barely buys a couple of bags of groceries, lots of those checks will be history in a heartbeat.

As much as those high prices might be cause for alarm, they also might carry that proverbial silver lining. They could be just the nudge that some of us need to start really practicing the three Rs of good stewardship: reducing, reusing and recycling. They could be the catalyst to step up efforts to make the Kenai Peninsula more "sustainable," which, in part, means making our community and those who live here better able to weather the hard times.

Our neighbors in Juneau provide a great example of how crisis can prompt changes. Residents of the capital have been conserving ever since avalanches on April 16 knocked out the transmission line from Juneau's low-cost hydroelectric power.

Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. has been operating on backup diesel generators since, at a much greater cost. Utility officials have said power rates, at the time of the avalanche about 11 cents per kilowatt hour for homeowners, could go five times that high for as long as three months while the transmission line from the Snettisham hydroelectric project is repaired.

A week after the avalanche overall electric use had dropped by 20-30 percent. Residents are sharing their energy-savings tips on the Web. They include watching little or no television; using a flashlight at night instead of turning on electric lights; turning off and unplugging computers or appliances when not in use; turning down the water heater; putting all electronics on power strips which are switched off unless needed; using battery-operated camping lanterns; turning thermostats way down; cooking quick meals (not all-day roasts); abandoning the electric dishwasher; taking far shorter showers; making sure laundry is truly dirty before washing it. And perhaps the most surprising, particularly coming from rain country, is the run on clothespins. Talk about changes.

How Juneau handles its crisis might provide inspiration for the rest of Alaska. Small changes over time can make a big difference and pretty soon we wonder why we didn't get on board sooner. It shouldn't have to take a crisis.

In the meantime, let's hope the economic stimulus checks provide everyone with a little economic cushion as we all search for more sustainable ways to live.

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