Energy disconnect

We have had a turbulent relationship with energy conservation in the U.S. At different times in our country’s history, one could have been looked down on for using too much or too little energy. During times of war in the U.S., wasting oil has historically been perceived as harmful to the war effort. However, currently, wasting oil is seen by some as a protest against energy overregulation. What caused this shift in our attitude towards energy?    

An American president added a $2.08 per gallon tax to fuel in a time of war. President Lincoln signed an ethanol tax into law in 1861, partially to help pay for the Civil War. This tax forced citizens to transition to kerosene or methanol for lighting their homes. The corn that was being used to distill whiskey was also better allocated to feed Union soldiers. For better or worse, this may have been one of the earliest federal government pushes towards fossil fuels to power the American lifestyle.  

In 1906, Winston Churchill said, “We must become the owners or at any rate the controllers at the source of at least a proportion of the oil which we require.”  

Germany knew they had to find a steady supply of oil to grow as a world power. The Berlin-Baghdad railway was their path to oil. This railway would essentially mean the Germans would trade less with the British and French for energy.  When WWI broke out, the Germans were only 600 miles from completing their rail line. One of the biggest victories for the British and other Allies was the interruption of that supply in the Middle East. The loss of that new energy trade option hurt Germany, but was also seen as a nail in the coffin for another great empire.    

The 600-year-long reign of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East was dissolved during wars for modern day Iraq during WWI. wrote, “The defeated and dismembered Ottoman Empire and its defeated ally Germany lost all oil rights they might otherwise have claimed. At the same time, the three victors of the war – Britain, France and the United States – shared out Iraqi oil among themselves on a basis of relative power.”  

The U.S. thirst for oil in Iraq goes back further than 2003. Iraq has been hotly contested as an empire building oil source since then.  

WWII would also sway with oil supplies. At that time, more U.S. citizens had easy access to gasoline. However, oil was less useful in passenger cars and more desired for war machines. Unlike Federal fuel restrictions during the Civil War, curtailing our nation’s oil usage for war was more voluntary in WWII. 
An article on described what a German Field-Marshall, named Karl Gerd Von Rundstedt, attributed to their defeat in WWII.  He mentioned three key factors: 1.) Strategic and tactical Allied bombing sorties 2.) Allied naval gun bombardments and 3.) Germany’s lack of oil, specifically gasoline. Tactical control of energy supplies is a sound strategy for victory in war.

In researching this article, I visited and found an ad from 1943 that set out to warn U.S. citizens about their wasteful ways.  “Fuel Fights! Save Your Share,” the poster read.  

It had bullet points asking citizens to turn their thermostats to 65°F during the day and lower at night. It prompted readers to keep windows closed.  Interestingly, it also asked to keep your heating system in top condition. The flyer concludes, “Saving fuel also saves manpower, material, equipment. Conserve coal, oil, gas… for war.”

According to the Department of Energy, buildings use ~39 percent of all energy in the U.S.  Of that building energy, 50 to 70 percent is used for heating, cooling, and domestic hot water. Essentially, the readers of this magazine are responsible for a similar amount of energy as the entire transportation sector (~28 percent of total energy use). The machines that plumbing and hydronics contractors and engineers work with are directly related to our national energy policy.  In times of war and peace, saving energy makes us a stronger nation. Few people have a bigger role in saving national energy than plumbing and heating professionals, and the war flyers from WWII pointed that out.    

The way we tell time is even shaped by energy conservation for war. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 was an energy bill. The act officially established Daylight Savings Time as a yearly occurrence. Daylight Savings Time was first temporarily put into effect during WWI to save energy used by buildings. wrote, “In 2008, Energy Department experts studied the impact of the extended Daylight Saving Time on energy consumption in the U.S. and found that the extra four weeks of Daylight Saving Time saved about 0.5 percent in total electricity per day. While this might not sound like a lot, it adds up to electricity savings of 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours -- or the amount of electricity used by more than 100,000 households for an entire year.”

Since the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Iraq began, Americans haven’t sacrificed energy the same way we did in previous conflicts. The government, like in the previous World Wars, didn’t discourage home energy consumption.  The war in Iraq was more of an offensive move to control our oil future. Whether toppling Saddam Hussein's tyrannical reign was the objective or byproduct of war for oil is still a subject to debate.    

Where are we today? Even though we have been at war in Afghanistan for 14 years, we don’t incorporate any energy conservation into this modern war. If anything, our treatment of oil has shifted the other direction. As citizens, we don’t feel the daily effects of war like previous generations.

Energy conservation is seen by parts of our population as an annoyance. Oil conserving hybrid car drivers are seen by some as anti-industry or even anti-American. For fun, search the word ‘Prius’ on Twitter and look at how polarizing the opinions are.  

One of my favorite tweets was from @CloydRivers, “Nothin' says, 'I don't hunt, I can't fish, and I hate guns,' like a Hillary 2016 sticker on the back of a Prius terrormobile. 'Merica.”  

That tweet was favorited by 4,800 people. Part of the country that thinks driving a fuel-efficient car is an affront to Conservative values. I believe that not using oil wastefully should be an American priority, regardless of political affiliation.   

"Rollin’ Coal" is my personal least favorite current civil rights protest.  A sub-culture of people have decided to use their diesel trucks to show their distaste in conserving energy.  Specifically, one tunes their diesel truck from factory settings to alter the fuel to air mixture in a way that when you step on the gas pedal hard an enormous cloud of black sooty exhaust floods out the tailpipe.  It has nothing to do with actual coal, other than it looks like a coal powered locomotive when the exhaust pours out.  Go to YouTube and search “rollin’ coal” or “Prius repellent” for examples.  

In any other time in our history, specifically during wars, the general public would have frowned upon wasting oil. I find it obnoxious to purposefully waste energy in times of peace or war. During other times in U.S. history, every drop of oil conserved for war was seen as a way to protect our brave troops, as if it were body armor. Now, we have this giant disconnect where we have sent troops, 3,000 of them who lost their lives in Iraq, to stabilize our access to oil, yet treat oil with less respect than possibly any other time in U.S. history.  

Many Americans have died to protect oil and to keep oil out of the hands of tyrants.  As a limited resource in a rapidly growing world, we will likely fight and die for oil again in the future. We won’t need to fight for energy as much in the future if we use less of it. 

As contractors, designers, and engineers of hydonic systems, you are in a unique position to influence our international energy policy. Outside of the Pentagon, nobody has more opportunity to determine the future of our wars for energy like the readers of this magazine. You can save more energy than we will ever get from Iraq by effectively using the modern technologies and components that are already on the market. 

A modern version of the WWII energy savings flyer could read, “Double check that heat loss calculation, right size that ECM pump, and condense that boiler. Conserve energy… to avoid war.” 

Max Rohr has worked in the hydronics and solar industry for 15 years in the installation, sales and marketing sectors. Rohr is a LEED Green Associate and is Radiant Professional Alliance’s (RPA) Education Committee Chairman. He can be reached at and on Twitter at

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