I think I just became a Conservationist. There is much fervor about developing new sources and using renewable energy, but recently I read an interesting article about conservation. the most important thought being the title of this post. There is a theory referred to as the Jevon's Paradoxwhich is clearly evident once you think about it carefully. Both conservation and efficiency boost the net energy of the system. The difference is that unlike conservation, as efficiency goes up it also becomes economically feasible to apply the energy resource to new uses. People drive more when fuel is cheper and they turn the heat up instead of putting on a sweater. They have multiple televisions because a) they do not really notice a change in the electric bill, because we use energy more efficiently it cost less to produce each one so it costs less to buy nultiple sets. The essential argument is that efficiency encourages people to use more energy whatever the source whereas conservation forces them to become more aware of their consumption and to do more with less.
The larger issue in this discussion is that in order to build the infrastructure to support the new green economy, a huge amount of energy will be consumed. Yes, we can build windmills and solar panels and electric cars but we will consume tons of energy in the process, perhaps more than if we were just more conservative in the use of existing energy sources. Leave it to German engineeringto prove the point. In Germany they have gone from a standard house's consumption of fuel oil of up to 30 litres per square meter to "three litre houses" to "passive" (max 1.5 litres per square meter).
These are not high tech solutions. They are quite simple and quite available to pretty much anyone who chooses to use them. Government investment in these improvements - could make a huge difference in a lot of peoples lives not to mention provide skilled jobs and some quick economic stimulus.
I have always been an advocate of simple solutions. i believe they are often the most elegant as well. Properly sealing leaks and increasing insulation are arguably the simplest and most efficient energy improvements anyone can make to a home. They will definitely give the best return on investment. It will cost less in both time and money as well as embodied energy for the materials used than just about anything else you could do.