A Call to Action

Darrel Bostow, Ph.D.



In the recent publication of The Behavior Analyst (Volume 34 (2) Fall 2011), CCBS Trustee Darrel Bostow writes about current predicaments facing us from increasing global climate changes to decreasing fossil fuel resources.  “The Personal Life of the Behavior Analyst” also discusses how “effective steps toward a lifestyle of reduced consumption can be taken without wrestling with politics, struggling to change behavior of others that is supported by contingencies out of reach, and enduring the dilution of personal effect that results from the participation in social movements.”


In other words, Darrel asks us to each take action individually now to better the environment through reduction of consumption and to better our chances of survival and sustainability through other life-style modifications we can make now.


About Dr. Darrel Bostow


Darrel Bostow received his B.A. in psychology from the University of Cincinnati in 1966, his M.A. in experimental psychology from Western Michigan University in 1968, and his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Southern Illinois University in 1970.  He recently retired from 37 years of teaching at the University of South Florida where he worked extensively in public schools while supervising the research of his master’s and doctoral students.  He specialized in college instructional techniques.  During the second half of his career, he specialized in computer interactive programmed instruction and participated in the early development of the USF Behavior Analysis Masters Program.   Darrel, with partner June, is creating a small farm in eastern Maine where he hopes to develop organic food and firewood production for local community consumption as well as create instructional material about moving to more sustainable living patterns.


Darrel gives a challenge we can all accept


We can be ahead of the wave that will eventually force us to conserve more and consume less and in doing so live more interesting lives.   A good place to start conserving is where the energy consumption is particularly great.  Two of these areas are your home climate control (heating or air conditioning) and your gasoline consumption through the vehicle miles you drive.


We don't change habits unless we focus upon them.  Here we can borrow from techniques emphasized by behavior analysis.  We focus on behavior we are trying to change by measuring it as accurately as possible.  We do this repeatedly--monthly, weekly, or even daily.  Because it is difficult to see what is happening over a period of time by simply looking at numbers, behavior analysts recommend plotting progress on a graph. 


As is so true of most reminders in our lives, “Out of sight, out of mind”.  The helpful plotting of data isn’t likely to happen unless you put the graph where you run into it daily.  The graph should be obvious and a little bit in the way to get the necessary daily attention.  The refrigerator door or the bathroom mirror are good places to put graphs.  If a housemate objects, urge him or her to participate.  It is also a good idea to make your graphs visible to visitors, inviting conversation, participation, and maybe even a little healthy competition.


Plotting is easily done when you have a good graph to start with.  So, we have provided them for you through various links below.  You can click on the links and print them off at your computer.  Choose the ones that apply to you. 



If you use electricity to heat or to cool your living space, the kilowatts per month graph is for you.  If you consume natural gas, fuel oil, or propane to heat with, we’ve provided appropriate graphs as well.   You will want to plot current and future consumption.  However, if you have kept old utility bills, you can go back into your records and plot data from previous months.  These data give you a baseline.  The data will fluctuate up and down depending upon the weather conditions and season, but a general picture will arise.  Your “target” will be to use less energy for the similar month in the previous year.  (It is best to plot the units of fuel you use, not the cost in dollars, because the cost of fuel fluctuates and will not give you the most accurate indication of consumption over time.  This is why the graphs we have provided for you are calibrated in units other than dollars.)


Tips for reducing consumption:


·        Turn your household thermostat down one degree every so often and wear more layers of clothes.

·        Use local heaters in your house where you go and close vents in rooms you are not using.

·        Connect appliances that continuously use energy even when shut off to a strip power cord and shut it off when not using them.

·        Lower your water heater’s temperature to 120 degrees.

·        Close window treatments at night.

·        Turn lights out where you are not using them.

·        Turn off appliances like the television and DVR when you are not watching or listening to them. Cell phone chargers also use energy when not actively recharging.

·        Check house-wide for air leakage and take measures to stop them.

·        Take efficient low flow showers rather than baths and avoid a spa unless absolutely necessary.

·        Consider using an electric blanket, allowing the house to cool down to 60 degrees at night.

·        Install a set-back household thermostat.


The second significant source of fossil fuel use is your vehicle.  You could keep records of the gallons of fuel you use per day, week, or month, but that requires more effort than simply plotting your odometer mileage reading.  Since your odometer accumulates miles rather than showing you how many you drive per unit of time, we have provided a cumulative graph for you.  You simply plot your miles accumulated as time goes by.  If you connect the points on your graph, the line will progressively go up from month to month.  If you have kept records of your odometer mileage, perhaps via your service slips, you can go back in time and plot those points.  If you do that, you can draw an average line from the first of these historical points the last historical one.  This average slant will be your baseline.  Your goal is to get the slant of your newly plotted odometer miles to be less steep than your baseline slant of points.  Rather than your bathroom mirror or refrigerator door, a better place to put your mileage graph is on your dashboard because you will look at it when you get into your vehicle.  That makes it more likely to exert a continuing effect upon your driving.  You will discover many ways to make your cumulative miles taper off to a lower level.  Reminder cut-outs are also provided to tape to your dash, to encourage you to take less trips.


Join Darrel’s online Facebook community, committing to work to change our fossil fuel consumption right now, where it counts most---in our personal lives.  We will share inventive ways of achieving a more sustainable world together as a cyber community. Your ideas about encouraging similar efforts are welcome as we seek to widen our reach and impact.


Graphs & Reminders

Fuel oil use per month

Kilowatt/Electric use per month

Natural gas use per month

Propane use per month

Mileage per month

Gas mileage reminder cut-outs