Green Factoids would like to recognize BLOG ACTION DAY and thank its organizers. Not only will this effort help us to reach a wide and potentially receptive audience, but the incredible diversity of the blogs represented should also yield lessons on how to tailor the message of sustainability for different audiences.
Article 6 in a series that looks Princeton's Carbon Mitigation Initiative, which has proposed 15 carbon reduction strategies, in 4 broad categories, each of which could be scaled up to provide 1/7th the CO2 reduction necessary to stabilize the atmosphere.
Category 1: Efficiency and Conservation
Discussion of U.S. Programs:
Despite some impressive accomplishments, it is hard not to have regrets about our failings in this area, especially that of efficiency standards. The Department of Energy, which has responsibility over standards, has truly fiddled while Rome burned, slowing down the process so much that they are more than 15 years behind schedule setting standards on many items. According to a report issued this January by the GAO:
DOE has missed all 34 congressional deadlines for setting energy efficient standards for the 20 product categories with statutory deadlines that have passed. DOE's delays ranged from less than a year to 15 years. Rulemakings were completed for only (1) refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers and freezers; (2) small furnaces; and (3) clothes washers. The DOE has yet to finish 17 categories of such consumer products as kitchen ranges and ovens, dishwashers and water heaters and such industrial equipment as distribution transformers. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that delays in setting standards for the four consumer product categories that consume the most energy - refrigerators and freezers, central air conditioners and heat pumps, water heaters and clothes washers - will cost at least $28B in forgone energy savings by 2030.
According to some analyses, DOE has been so late that the final standards were largely meaningless, offering no efficiency gains over the current performance of the product. In the meantime states have been blocked from setting their own standards. In comparison, Energy Star has been a model of efficiency, expanding its program to cover some 44,000 separate products.
While regrets here are inevitable, they are also pretty much useless, and do not help us devise any plan for reducing emissions from appliances. Green Factoids will restrict itself to a few observations about this complex topic.
The flip side of the DOE’s failure to enact mandatory standards is that we have barely begun to achieve the savings possible in this area.
CMI's numbers on efficiency vindicate the "little steps" approach; in fact, household and building efficiency could provide one seventh the reduction needed to stabilize carbon levels.
The challenge is that this category represents dozens of different products and appliances, and consequently billions of purchasing decisions by virtually every consumer in this country.
From a policy standpoint, mandatory standards are much more effective than voluntary ones. Despite all of the outreach, only a small percentage of all purchases are Energy Star. For example, according to recent estimates, last year CFLs still only represented 6% of all bulbs in the U.S.
Of all of the different areas explored by CMI, efficiency is the only one where any initial expenses are consistently dwarfed by money saved on energy costs. Many mitigation proposals require enormous investments and are far more expensive than more polluting alternatives.
This wedge cannot be achieved without either consumer awareness and action or much more aggressive government regulatory action. Given the current highly polarized political climate, and the anti-regulatory dogmas of influential segments of the political and economic community, we cannot be certain that the government will move to adopt the necessary standards.
In the absence of effective government leadership, it becomes doubly important that Green activists, bloggers, marketers, and concerned citizens push Energy Star every chance we get and are religious about choosing its products for our own purchases.
Perception of public opinion is important—the government is much more likely to adopt regulations that are demanded by voters, or that already represent the bulk of all purchases. Manufacturers will stop trying to block regulations if consumers already strongly favor efficient and “green” models. We should not forget that after millions of consumers moved away from aerosols out of concern for the ozone layer, it became much easier to ban fluorocarbons in consumer products.
In recent years, corporations have proven more receptive to change or susceptible to public pressure than our elected officials, especially at the federal level. Likewise, the government as it currently constituted is much more likely to adopt changes if they are demanded by the business community.
Major Point: Efficiency represents the single biggest source of emissions reduction that is under control of the average consumer. Indeed, of CMI's four categories, efficiency is the only one that is directly affected by our actual behavior and purchases, rather than just our opinions: our appliances, windows, insulation, and water heaters determine the energy use and thus greenhouse emissions of our homes, often for a decade or more.