The word on everyone’s lips in France these days is sobriété–sobriety. Not regarding consumption of alcoholic beverages but regarding consumption of energy. It all just makes sense, but as usual, it takes a crisis to kick people into action.

Some beautiful gas guzzlers in front of la Cité of Carcassonne last year.

It’s a perfect storm of the end of Russian gas, which accounted for 17% of France’s imports before Russia invaded Ukraine; 26 of the 56 nuclear reactors out of service because of cracks; and a drought which impacts the working nuclear stations (they need water for cooling) and also has reduced hydroelectric output. So sobriety is on the table.

Cities are turning off street lights between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. (This is also good for nature, especially for birds.) Everybody has been asked to keep indoor temperatures to 19 Celsius, or 66 Fahrenheit. The turtleneck sweater is the hot new look for government officials, to show they are team players. There’s no checking of people’s thermostats, but government buildings are turning down the heat, and also cutting off hot water for administrative buildings, though not for showers in them. Public indoor pools are shaving a degree off the temperature of water. The idea is to cut the country’s energy consumption by 10% in two years.

This summer, I started taking showers while standing in a basin I used for pedicures, to catch the water. I used it to water plants, since watering was discouraged because of the drought. I’ve kept it up and now use the water to flush the toilet. One of the stupidest things in modern homes is the use of drinking water to flush toilets. One shower is only one flush, though, so it’s really too bad there isn’t a way to capture and reuse other gray water, such as from the washing machine. It takes a lot of energy to treat water to drinking standards.

I’ve noticed signs of sobriety around town. The stores are displaying lots of cozy sweaters and warm underlayers and wool socks, even though we still have T-shirt weather down here in the south. Billboards suggest how to save energy or encourage people to run appliances at night, to put less stress on the system. People are making an effort–France cut its electricity consumption almost 6% in October.

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A few weeks ago, there was a gas shortage as a result of a strike by refinery workers. The big oil and gas companies, including France-based Total, are raking in huge profits because the global price of oil has skyrocketed since the Russian invasion. It doesn’t cost them any more to produce a barrel of oil or a cubic meter of gas. They haven’t made any big innovations. They just get to profit from the panic over energy supplies. The CEO of Total got a 52% raise, to €6 million, and his refinery workers said, “Um, us, too!” So they went on strike. As one does in France. It had mixed success–on the one hand, the French are pretty unanimous in their desire to “screw the rich,” but on the other hand, the refinery workers already earn a lot more than the average, so sympathy toward them was thin, especially as people had to wait in long lines to fill their tanks, and as some gas stations went dry.

I reacted to this situation by not driving, and I’m sticking with it even now that the strike is over. It’s so much nicer to relax on the train, listen to a podcast and search for châteaux out the window, rather than white-knuckle driving on the autoroute. Sometimes it’s far cheaper, too. There were tickets for 1€ for a while. Usually I don’t have much luggage, but once I even hauled a small table on the train.

In other action, I decided to take my granny shopping cart that I use for the market and to walk to the supermarket on the outskirts of town. Half an hour each way. Not bad. I usually walk/run an hour every day for exercise; might as well do it to get somewhere. There are sidewalks all the way. It was fine, even with lots of heavy cans and milk (because what else do you buy at the grocery store? Everything fresh comes from the market).

The French Senat recently voted in a law the requires parking lots with more than 80 parking spaces to cover them with solar panels, and parking lots with more than 400 places have to install the panels within three years. In Carcassonne, the hospital, the airport and a supermarket have already done this and it’s great–your car is in the shade in the summer and in winter, when it sometimes rains cats and dogs, you can get in and out of your car and fumble with your umbrella without getting drenched. These solar-paneled parking lots are expected to generate as much electricity as 10 nuclear reactors, and will be online much faster–it takes decades to build a nuclear reactor.

The point here isn’t to give tips on saving energy; there are better sources for that. (Although I heard a news talk show mock the government’s advice about saving energy, especially the suggestion to cover pots when cooking on the stove. “Who doesn’t know that!” one commentator spat. Well, I remember explaining it some time back to the kid, who was quite surprised. As people spend less time in the kitchen, they lose track of those homemaking tips.) It’s just to share what’s going on here in France, and to admire how most people seem to be making an effort to cut back. Waste not.

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22 thoughts on “Sobriety

    1. Honestly, the thing that sticks in my craw are the big vehicles that have gained market share in the past 10-15 years. Before, French cars were small. But SUVs gained traction (Why? We don’t get lots of snow. Even little back roads are paved. I don’t think most people ever use the 4WD) and, even worse, the pickup trucks. Pickups recently got added to a list that professionals could declare as work vehicles. OK for farmers, ranchers, wine growers, etc. But what you see behind the wheel are guys in suits–lawyers, etc. I hate that they get a write-off for polluting. Plus they’re imported. Lose-lose-lose.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The husband is English and we have been going to England for 25 years and I’ve seen the same thing there. Back when we first met I rarely saw a pickup truck but I see them more and more every time we visit. Ditto for cars getting larger and larger. It’s depressing. It’s also impractical because the roads over there are so much narrower.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Although I’ve seen EV charging stations in parking lots in our Pacific NW town, our city code requires a percentage of parking area to be planted with all manner of leafy trees. I love this initiative because we can park in shade, but it’s also beautiful. We have a long and colorful autumns, so I’m particularly relishing the denouement of deciduous tree season now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some people make fun of tree planting, but it really makes a difference in the summer–the shade lowers temperatures. Lots more EVs here, too. Have you seen Citroën’s Ami? or the Twizy by Renault? They also have the Zoé, which is more of a normal, small car.

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  2. Viva La France! Lovely to read about all the measures that we ALL should be taking anyway, and the results racking up. I’m imagining a costumed drama in my head with all those lovely old cars, too…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. GOOD TO HEAR!
    I recall living in Italy that all their energy was imported from FRANCE?
    We were always turning lights off when we left a room.As it was so expensive!
    WHY ARE WE SO SLOW TO REACT?It amazes me we here in California still donot bring our own baskets and bags for groceries!I DO and get compliments every time!I use those AFRICAN baskets for food shopping and so much easier to pick up and transport!Then a plastic or paper bag……….
    Sorry off track a bit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, it all comes to the same thing. Aside from the fact that plastic bags don’t get recycled (actually almost no plastic gets recycled), it takes energy and oil to keep producing them. And that’s not even getting started on the microplastics that get into everything (including us–we ingest a credit card’s worth of plastic every week).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We have alot of solar panel fields here in North Carolina. Also solar panels on houses. I agree keep lights off if really don’t need. Don’t flush toilet when urinating each time. Keep shutters/blinds close on house to keep out cold. We recycle plastic and cardboard. Any thing helps. And plant trees.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. With all the complaints and blame surrounding high fuel costs here in the US, sadly I have not noticed any unified efforts to conserve energy like the EU is doing. God forbid anyone ask us Americans to give up anything. I don’t mind putting on a cozy sweater indoors. After all when else can I wear them all? I like the idea of solar panels covering those heat baking parking lots, benefiting both customers and powering the community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gas here is about 2€ per liter, which is around $8 per gallon.
      A few years ago I was in the US in the winter and the houses were stifling hot. Everyone in shorts. In the summer they cover up with blankets because the A/C is so cold. Just switching that would save a lot.

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  6. Bravo, France! America has its priorities twisted as well as the government’s ideas for how we should consume less fuel and electricity. There’s no logic behind their declarations. Solar panels in parking lots!!! Love that idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love your vintage car photos! We took a bunch on our trip to NZ but none so atmospheric with medieval backdrops – cramped tin sheds were the order of the day for us 🙂

    Good idea to shower in a bucket. We’ve lived through droughts in this dusty land and are dab hands at this sort of thing. Golly, isn’t flushing drinking water down the loo one of the Western world’s dumbest innovations? We had an official campaign for drought-ignorant city-dwellers about twenty years ago: If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wish our self-deluding (among many other negatives) UK government would follow the lead of France. Street lights on all night, illuminated shop windows, illuminated advertising boards – they are all so wasteful. And even tho our devolved administration in Scotland is more towards the green end of the spectrum we still don’t have measures such as obliging all new build housing to incorporate solar panels. We installed panels on our last house and loved the energy savings. Now in our new house we miss them, and they’re next on the list for improvements.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Supposedly all new houses here have to meet much higher standards for insulation, but driving by new “lotissements”–subdivisions–I see the same construction. Maybe it’s hidden inside.
      France is doing better than a lot of countries, and the war in Ukraine has motivated a lot of people to finally make an effort. But France is still pretty far behind northern Europe. It has been extremely low on emissions thanks to getting most of its power from nuclear plants. But people still drive too much, waste energy in a multitude of little ways (consumerism of stupid plastic junk, heat on too high, taking lots of long showers, etc.). So while acknowledging the progress made, there is much yet to change.

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  9. I live in Florida near the AAA HQ and their parking lot has the solar panels and I thought how cool is that?! I’m all for that and what a smart idea.
    What irritates me is people think lithium for lithium batteries in cars falls out of the sky magically. Nope, we tear up a lot of earth to get that.
    There is research on using humidity in the air as a power source and I hope it works.
    I believe we are making strides and pointed in the right direction. The results aren’t instant but we all keep hearing of new ways to be more green.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. France is about to open a huge new lithium mine. I talked to a CEO who predicts that there will be “libraries” of used battery packs, because if too many cells in your battery die or malfunction, the pack suffers. But you can’t put new cells in with ones that are several years old. So your garage/dealership would order cells of the correct age to replace in your pack. And after the batteries are no longer responsive enough for driving, they’re still good. This CEO said they would be perfect for storing electricity from rooftop solar panels on homes. All this would greatly lengthen the utility of each battery, and hopefully the truly dead ones would be recycled.

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