photo by Craig Smith
Solving global warming isn't only about installing majestic wind turbines and glistening solar energy systems in the desert. One of the cheapest, most effective, and safest ways to reduce global warming pollution is to increase our energy efficiency. In fact, by using energy efficiency technologies and today's know-how, we could cut our global warming pollution by a third. So why aren't we? In the United States, we're off to a good start - innovation and improvements over the past 30 years have allowed our economy to grow faster than our energy consumption. Unfortunately, in the next 22 years our electricity consumption is expected to grow by 25%. That'll mean an extra 550 million tons of CO2 each year that we'll have to reduce to stop global warming. The good news is that by aggressively improving our energy efficiency now, we can nearly eliminate this increase. It'll take leadership, but there are plenty of examples of how energy efficiency has worked. For example, people using energy-efficient appliances in 2007 avoided global warming pollution equivalent to nearly 27 million cars. If everyone did likewise -- and we similarly improved America's buildings, industry, and transportation -- we could reduce annual emissions equivalent to nearly 400 million cars. That's 2 billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide (more than 6,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building!). Building for energy-efficiency: In the United States alone, buildings are responsible for 25-35% of greenhouse gas emissions. By making simple changes, like using the proper amount of insulation, we can save half of the energy it takes to heat, cool, light, and otherwise provide power to buildings. And, with buildings lasting for 40-50 years or more, efficiency choices we make now will last at least a generation. Cutting fuel costs on the road: CO2 emissions from cars and trucks account for about one-third of all energy-related global warming pollution in the United States. Cars bought in the United States last year averaged only 20 miles per gallon (mpg), which is less than half the gas mileage available on the most efficient cars today and about the same as a 1908 Model T. We can do better than a car introduced 100 years ago. With American innovation and technology, we can offer all cars with much better fuel economy and the same level of safety and features we expect. And the opportunities are not just available for cars: heavy-duty trucks, which transport about 60% of the goods we buy and use 39 billion gallons of fuel every year, can also become more efficient. Effective gas mileage standards and support for innovative technologies will keep our transportation system moving while greatly decreasing our environmental impact. Making new appliances more energy-efficient: By using energy-efficient products at home and at work, we can significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing function, style, or features. For the home and at work, we already have excellent federally rated EnergyStar appliances that are designed to use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than other appliances. In a nutshell -- buy the most efficient technologies available. Stop wasting energy at home, at work, and on the road. And importantly - ask your leaders to set new standards for efficiency for all sectors, so that from now on 'best practice' in energy efficiency becomes normal practice for everyone.