It was a sell out last week at the Behavior, Energy, & Climate Change Conference in Sacramento. The full house in Sacramento marked an emerging consensus that energy efficiency and demand-response are economical planning menu options for meeting the energy needs of a growing population and economy while achieving environmental objectives. Proponents of this behavioral approach argue you can trim peak power demand anywhere from 15 to 40 percent. If people buy enough energy efficient technology, they say, you can shrink power and natural gas use in the future, even as population grows. Utility planners and managers packed the halls at the Hyatt Regency to hear professors, government economists, and consultants discourse on topics like community-based social marketing, social norms, guilt and identity, and the behavior of people in buildings. The aim is to get people to use less energy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and avoid continually expanding the power and natural gas infrastructure. There\u2019s little doubt these strategies can help, but policy makers and utility managers should approach them with healthy skepticism instead of allowing themselves to become converted into true believers. Like rumors of Mark Twain\u2019s death, claims by purveyors of LED lighting, demand-response technologies, and zero energy buildings that we have died and gone to an energy efficient heaven may be premature. Here are some leading questions about the new approaches: -Just how much can utilities really count on these strategies in meeting long-range system reliability and environmental imperatives? -How much can ratepayers afford to spend on the new technologies and systems ultimately aimed at changing their very own behavior? -Will ratepayers see the helping hand of mother- and father-like government and utilities or the unwelcome long arm of big brother intruding into the privacy of their homes and businesses? These are some of the very questions that were pondered in Sacramento Proponents say the new strategies can change behavior with the right positioning, language, and incentives. Find the early adapters and parade them before the media to make saving energy fashionable. Run a clever commercial on NFL games to make demand-response just as popular as Miller Light. It all sounds fun, but there\u2019s an eerie ring to this discussion from a page in California history. It began with the glory of the 1984 Olympics in car-clogged and smog-choked Los Angeles. To prevent poisoning the athletes and allow spectators to move among the various event venues in a timely way, the city established a carpooling program. The idea was that if you could use the existing infrastructure of roads and freeways more efficiently by getting more people in each car, you could reduce the demand on the infrastructure, particularly during the peak of rush hour. This would save gasoline and cut smog-forming emissions. Sound familiar? Amid the euphoria of hosting the Olympics, and bolstered by a massive publicity campaign and carpool matching program known as Commuter Computer, the so-called L.A. Olympic plan worked splendidly. The highways ran freely and the air was clear enough to show off the mountains to the world\u2019s TV cameras. The success so inspired transportation planners and air quality regulators that the local air pollution control district, The South Coast Air Quality Management District, began laying plans to require carpooling. By 1988, the district adopted Regulation XV, which first required large employers to offer their employees incentives--namely cash or gifts--if they carpooled or rode the bus to work. The goal was to ratchet up the average number of riders per vehicle at rush hour in the sprawling region from about 1.1 to 1.5. Eventually, the rule called for smaller and smaller companies to offer the incentives and for the ridership level to go up to 1.75 people a car. The district even envisioned expanding the carpooling requirement to schools and colleges, regional shopping malls, and \u201centertainment\u201d venues, like sports stadiums and concert halls. Employers were required each year to report on the ridership levels of their employees by monitoring how they got to and from work. If they did not meet the target, the district required them to increase incentives. All the while, district regulators talked up the program, promising it not only would meet its clean air and traffic relief goals, but save everybody time and money. Employees would save wear and tear on their cars, as well as gas. Employers would see employees become more productive--adding to their bottom line--because not as many people would arrive stressed out at work after fighting traffic. Taxpayers would save money because they wouldn\u2019t have to continue to pay for expanding freeways. And so on. Meanwhile, a revolt grew among businesses and commuters who viewed the program as increasingly expensive and intrusive. They were unable to perceive the benefits touted by air quality regulators. Freeways remained as jammed as ever. Gasoline sales continued to grow. Taxes did not decline even as an increasing number of employers spent more and more time and money on incentives and swag--like gift cards and TVs--to get employees to carpool. Soon the ground shook in Sacramento, causing lawmakers to downsize the carpooling program. After eight years of concerted effort, it moved the ridership level from 1.1 to 1.3 people per vehicle and proved to be one of the most expensive air pollution control measures the air district pursued during the 1980s and 1990s. It fell short of its emissions reduction goals, even by the district\u2019s own calculations, which were based on overly optimistic assumptions. Car pooling was a great social theory, but real life got in the way. It ignored those who could not predict when they would leave work or didn\u2019t live close to anybody they could ride with. It didn\u2019t work for those who had to do errands like dropping off children at school or picking up groceries on the way home from work. It didn\u2019t fit the lifestyle of single people who went out with friends to socialize after work. Then there were the people who dropped out of van pools due to arguments over politics or which radio station to listen to on the way home. It also added to commute times for many, instead of reducing them. So when policy makers and utilities weigh changing human behavior through demand response and energy efficiency programs, here\u2019s my value proposition: Restudy the South Coast Air Quality Management District\u2019s carpooling program and remember that life intervenes when it comes to being a perfect person. Settle for a single instead of swinging for a home run. I know. I worked for the district and had to argue the case for carpooling. I even tried carpooling myself with the district carpool manager. One day he forgot to tell me he was going directly from home to a meeting and left me standing on a street corner. That ended my carpooling career.