Energy Efficiency The Distributed Power of Democracy

When Enron's managers declared bankruptcy in 2001, they left 20,000 employees short $1.3 billion in pension funds. Employees' entire life savings were liquidated as stock plans were frozen, and nearly 5,000 people were immediately out of work. Individual and institutional investors were soaked for another estimated $60 billion—money that vanished from the retirement savings and pension funds of countless citizens.

In the end, this spiral into bankruptcy brought down not only Enron but also many others. Manufacturing workers in northwestern industrial firms lost their jobs by the thousands as the result of the unpredictable explosion in energy prices. It is estimated that during that lawless period, Enron managers and their co-conspirators rigged energy supplies and pricing with such ruthless efficiency that they destroyed 100,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest and sucked a staggering $1.1 billion out of the economy of the western states.1 These were not hypothetical dollars but the deferred earnings of workers and pensioners, real pennies saved for a rainy day by a generation of hardworking Americans.

Vice President Cheney, the author of a number of painful lessons in democratic governance, taught us another in his handling of Enron: Energy and political power go hand in hand. He also tried to stop progress by teaching this lesson: "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."2 Not a sound policy for him and his friends, at any rate. But for the rest of us, energy conservation may hold the key to taking back our democracy.

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