The cynics would have you believe modern society is making us fat, apathetic, superficial, and antisocial. In their gloomy projections, we’re marching ever-faster towards a future of being the bloated, screen-addicted humans of WALL-E, guzzling liquified food and whizzing around in hoverchairs.
Well, screw you, cynics, because science has something else to say about the matter. According to a new study, people are spending more time holed up at home, and that might be great news for the environment.
Recent years have seen an exponential rise in online shopping and consumption of streaming video, as well as an increase in the number of employees working from home. All those hours are giving an unexpected boost one of our strained planet’s most precious resources: energy.
As technology advances, the modern lifestyle changes. A decade of American Time Use Surveys revealed that Americans spent an average of eight extra days at home in 2012 compared to 2003. They also spent one less day travelling and one week less in non-residential buildings. The greatest change occurred amongst individuals aged 18-24, who spent 70% more time at home compared to the general population.
When researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the Rochester Institute of Technology mapped these behavioural changes to energy use, they discovered a surprising phenomenon. Though the homebody boom was increasing residential energy demand, it was decreasing energy usage for transportation and non-residential spaces. The shift resulted in a net 1,700 trillion bTU in energy savings for the United States in 2012, 1.8% of the national total.
“We did expect to see net energy decrease, but we had no idea of the magnitude,” said study author Ashok Sekar. “This work raises awareness of the connection between lifestyle and energy. Now that we know people are spending more time at home, more focus could be put on improving residential energy efficiency.”
While the authors did not identify a specific cause for these lifestyle changes, they believe it’s likely tied to advances in information and communication technology that have led to increased video watching and computer use, and more efficient work-from-home options.
Energy demand has steadily increased around the world over the last several decades. Despite substantial improvements in energy efficiency, overconsumption is a serious environmental and societal challenge that experts are frantic to solve.
So next time you feel guilty about spending a night ordering delivery food and binge-watching HBO, take comfort – you’re not lazy, you’re doing your part to save the planet.