Well, it’s finally November here in Wisconsin and if my years of living in the North have taught me anything, it may be this: It will get very, very cold soon. Definitely “put an extra blanket on the couch” cold, and not something to be taken lightly. Now, there’s an old American adage that I’ve always been fond of: “waste not, want not.” The ethic expressed in the phrase is simple: If we use less energy at the start, we’ll have more energy left over for later when we need it. Although this fine axiom can be applied to many fields of life, I’d like to think about it in terms of just that – energy.

When it gets cold, as Wisconsin winters are apt to do, we look for easy ways to get warm. Unfortunately, the easiest method, turning up the thermostat, is also the most expensive. Electric heating, the type homes in the United States use, relies on coal and natural gas to operate. These energies are mined, processed and deployed to keep our food refrigerated, heat our homes and turn our lights on. The byproducts of this production, fossil fuel excrement and other teratogens, are released into the atmosphere where they erode the ozone layer and eat away at our planet’s natural heat shield.

Now, contrary to myths America has become a 1984-style police state, the government has very little interest in setting each family’s thermostat for them. But the government does have an interest in conserving its resources – wasting less – because resources are finite and citizens always want more of them. So when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as the Stimulus Bill, was passed early in Barack Obama’s presidency, many were excited at the proponents of the bill designed to spread clean energy technologies known to be more efficient and cost effective than those currently being used.

The bill was supposed to do more than just deploy new technologies. Sub-commissions like the State Energy Program were designed to provide property owners with rebates for energy inspections. Want to get expert advice on ways to get the most heat into your building for the cheapest price? The government will help pay for that. Interested in energy-saving improvements? Elected officials can financially assist that too. Recovery and Reinvestment meant just that – reinvesting in the infrastructure America needed to carry it through the coming decades. The returns on these investments – substantially cheaper energy bills – would help America recover from the deficits caused by two wars and a trillion dollar tax cut.

Unfortunately, a large portion of the stimulus money dedicated to Wisconsin’s major cities has been squandered. Channel 3000 reported Sunday millions of dollars in green energy grants designed to be used by property owners in Madison, Milwaukee and Racine have gone unused, wasting several years of potential energy savings via inaction.

This money, grants with no requirement of repayment, was doled out to the states with the expectation that they would use it. As any Econ 101 student will tell you, money that sits in a pile collecting dust is worth a lot less than money used to hire contractors, build energy-friendly infrastructure and decrease energy costs in the long run. Home and business owners alike should use this money before they waste the chance, and their energy, yet again.

Nathaniel Olson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and psychology.