The Modern History of Energy Conservation: An Overview for Information Professionals

By Wulfinghoff, Donald R. | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Modern History of Energy Conservation: An Overview for Information Professionals

Wulfinghoff, Donald R., Electronic Green Journal








Energy conservation is one of the critical issues facing society today. Our civilization runs on energy. However, energy resources are finite. Increasing demand is being made for diminishing supplies. The cost of energy is enormous, and the cost is rising. Utility bills account for much of the cost of housing, and they are a major cost of business. A large hotel or hospital spends millions of dollars for energy each year. Some steel mills pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually for energy. This consumption brings a host of environmental dangers. Fossil fuels dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating the greenhouse effect. Air conditioning systems release gases that destroy the earth's ozone layer. Discarded lamps contribute to mercury pollution. Energy consumption depletes not only the fuels themselves, but also a spectrum of other resources. A fundamental issue today is providing information about energy conservation. It is a special challenge for information professionals because:

Energy conservation relates to many areas of human activity, so the original information about efficiency is scattered throughout the literature of many fields.

By the same token, information about energy conservation is often subsidiary to other topics.

Energy conservation is still evolving as a distinct field of knowledge. Therefore, even modern information about it is scattered.

The best information often comes from sources that are unconventional for librarians.

Information about energy conservation varies widely in quality and credibility.

Attempts to create directories of information about energy conservation have failed to keep up with the quantity and variety of information.

The information client often has no clear idea of what he wants to learn.

There is a vast sea of information about energy conservation. From the standpoint of the information professional, this sea is still largely uncharted and full of strange hazards. The purpose of this article is to help everyone to navigate this sea and find needed information. The present organization of information about energy conservation has been shaped by the way that energy conservation has evolved. Therefore, the author discusses the historical currents of information about energy conservation and stresses the modern era, which began in 1973. Then he views the overall geography of energy conservation information, followed by field trips to the most important groups of information. Finally, to avoid giving misinformation to information clients, the author examines some of the strange customs and beliefs that exist in the lands of energy conservation. At the end of this guide he includes a selective list of Internet sites.


"Energy conservation" can mean a variety of things, and the most common meanings are:

using less energy in a particular application

finding ways to purchase particular forms of energy at lower cost. This is usually accomplished by negotiating with energy providers or by using energy under less costly conditions. (Paradoxically, the latter method may increase energy consumption considerably.)

shifting to different energy sources of lower price

using "free" or "renewable" energy sources (Paradoxically, this is often expensive.)

shifting to energy sources that are considered to be more desirable, or less undesirable, with regard to non-efficiency concerns such as availability and pollution. Such shifts typically involve serious compromises.

conserving water and materials, as well as energy sources

Information about energy conservation is not usually grouped in ways that distinguish between these meanings.

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The Modern History of Energy Conservation: An Overview for Information Professionals


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