Immanuel Kant and the Energy Imperative

Monday, September 9, 2013 10:33
Posted in category Uncategorized

BalanceDo you shut the light off when exiting a public restroom? What are the ramifications of not doing this? Did you ever think by shutting off that light you’d be sparing the earth’s atmosphere from a few more ounces of coal emissions? Or perhaps you may have thought an extra kilowatt of energy saved today can be used by my grandchildren in fifty years.


Though saving energy for future use is not directly connected with renewable energy distribution, it will play a deciding role in its future success. That is because renewable energy, at the moment, cannot provide the amount of energy required to run the world. However, with more efficient use of our energy in transportation, industry, and personal use, renewable energy could power the world.


At the moment this world runs very inefficiently and much of the predominating thinking, especially in the United States, is not in line with saving energy to promote renewable energy. It is just not something that is thought of and discussed daily. This is evident in the various buildings, homes, and public areas lighted up during all hours of the night. Upon first visitng Europe, one is hard pressed to find a restroom not equipped with motion senser lights that shut off when they are unoccupied. This adds to the incremental saving of energy for society, and leads to a more efficient country, which ultimately will add up to a richer nation.


The saving of one parcel of energy, or increment of energy with the intent to save it for future use was named a negwatt. It was coined by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute who, in thinking of the physiological characteristics of human energy use, presupposed that humans don’t actually want to buy electricity they want to buy services that use electricity. At present these services are our Ipads, 3-D televisions, Androids, and Tivos. Saving energy, Lovins theorized, “may be the biggest goldmine in the whole economy.” (The Negawatt Revolution)


The energy services provider (or ESCO) of the future will sufficiently capitalize on these needs. Many ESCOS in the US are primarily government-owned entities which could constrain their individual ability to create innovative energy solutions for customers. Such services need to decouple increasing energy from increasing revenue. A  re-coupling should be made with increasing revenue with increasing energy services provided. Consumers of energy need to be aware of the energy needs, and daily should connect these needs to future financial stability, for their families and the whole of society.


Climate ChangeA recent article by Mads Greaker, et al. (A Kantian approach to sustainable development indicators for climate change )  examined the perils of global climate change under the lens of Kantian ethics. Among the thousands of pages of Immanuel Kant’s philosophical arguments lies the categorical imperative. In essence the categorical imperative, according to Kant, means that each person should, in each individual action, act according to a law that could be at once beneficial to the whole of mankind (“Act as if the maxim of your action was to become through your will a universal law of nature”). Greaker et al. expound upon this idea in relation to climate change ideologies:

“In the case of climate change, we interpret Kantian ethics that each person should act  according to a “universal law.                However, since the imperative “do not emit GHG” is an imperfect duty, there is no such thing as one “ideal” and sufficient global treaty on climate change. Rather, the sufficient global treaty has to be defined by the nation state itself before it can start to act as if this  treaty were in place. ” (Greaker et al.)

Similarly, other writers have explored Kant’s philosophy as it pertains to the global resources and the environment.


If more people thought in line with the energy categorical imperative, the implementation of renewable energy will be much smoother. Of course it is a difficult undertaking to alter large masses of human consciousness. This is where media and advertising come in. This is also where ESCOs, many being tied to the government, can play a pivotal part.


Many have already set up programs to encourage energy conservation and renewable energy, but public knowledge and understanding of such programs is severely lacking. Furthermore, evidence of successful cases is difficult to find. However, some examples are provided by Joan Fitzgerald in her book, Emerald Cities. In this book, cities across the continental US are studied to discover unique and individual energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions. Yet it is also revealed that many energy efficiency programs are not promoted properly and often misunderstood by the public. The information packaged in such robust policy plans, such as the National Energy Efficiency Program, are not easily disseminated to customers.


This renders public energy efficiency programs underutilized and over-scrutinized. Because people do not understand such policy initiatives, and the ESCOs largely fail to convey this energetic information, programs that will incrementally decrease household energy use may fizzle out. Misunderstanding leads to non-acceptance—something which easily kills new and emerging technologies. This will preclude the large-scale implementation of renewable energy which can only happen through decreased energy use and more knowledge.


A highly innovative company, or a well-informed investor, might play both sides of the energy efficiency and renewable energy coin. It might provide renewable energy at first, for instance building large wind farms, then offer energy efficiency programs in order to better adapt the intermittent wind energy into the grid. This would benefit both sides of its core business: providing energy to power customer’s luxuries and industries’ profitable businesses. The well-timed investor might very quickly reverse the paucity of financing in the clean energy industry—an industry forecasted to garner anywhere from $200 billion to $1 trillion in investment through 2020.


Energy CertificatePerhaps it is a lot to ask for everyone to follow the categorical imperative when walking out of a public a restroom. I know I often fail to switch the light off because I simply forget—my mind is not trained to do that apparently mundane task. But maybe in several decades time, when renewable energy systems pervade the landscape, and utility bills are more directly tied to individualized productive energy services, individuals will begin to train their minds to conserve energy for economic benefit and future ancestor’s use.



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Kyle S Herman

Kyle gained a Masters in International Studies from the University of San Francisco and completed a traineeship at the International Network for Sustainable Energy in Aarhus, Denmark. He then created his own non-profit organization, the Coalition for Renewable Energy, to continue promoting renewable energy policy domestically and abroad. Currently he works for the Council on Global Security and Governance to advise ambassadors to the U.N. on socially responsible investments in developing countries.
  • dave

    kilawatt is cute, kilowatt is a unit of power, kilowatt-hour is a unit of energy.

  • Umesh

    Hi i totally agree with Danial Thomson’s comment below and really irrespective of other facts if we focus towards solar might be we can achieve practically 35 to 50% of power comsumption globally, as geographical & climate my obstacle for us, but if any such obstacles comes in our life how we plan & survive, in similar way we have to find out the way-out towards initiative too.

  • Clean_Edison

    Hi Umesh, thank you for sharing your insights with us. Developing solar energy as an alternative power source is one of the viable means to cut down the greenhouse gas emission in both local and global scale. However, before we get people to switch to solar energy, first we need to educate the public all the reasons and the benefits of switching to solar (or clean) energy. The main issue is simply that there has been not enough public awareness on this matter. Maybe we can start from adding clean energy education into the curriculum in our schools? Something to think about.