When The New York Times asked the question last Sunday “Where Did Global Warming Go?” it highlighted the disturbing disappearance of the world’s most pressing crisis from our national dialogue. Heck, it seems like Jon Huntsman is talking more about climate change than Pres. Obama these days.*
But if you know where to look, one can find climate progress being made in small but meaningful steps across America. In these tough economic times it should come as no surprise that a least-cost, job-creating strategy is being put to work: energy efficiency.
To make it easy for you, the folks at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently released their 2011 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. Of note, this year California lost its crown to Massachusetts. The Empire State came in third, and this week reauthorized its Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. This $510 million/ year initiative requires the state to make a 15% reduction in electricity and natural gas heating by 2015. If this target is met, enough energy to supply nearly 2 million homes will be saved.
But the good news doesn’t stop there. Out in Portland a major renovation of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building is proving that efficiency can put folks to work today while saving us money and prevent pollution tomorrow. From elevators that actually make electricity as they move downward to solar panels to external “reeds” that shield the building from excessive sunlight (which reduces AC bills!), this building will be tricked-out with the energy-saving gadgets and design features. In the process it will put money in about 150 wallets, considering the architects, engineers, project managers, and construction crews who are working to pull it all together. Then there are the energy, and thus economic, savings the building will continue to deliver for decades. Not a bad return on investment! And in Colorado, initiatives like the Energy Smart Program are educating and empowering homeowners to take advantage of EE tools and technologies.
If you like techy stuff, check out a new energy efficiency app developed by Facebook, Opower and NRDC that allows you to measure your energy usage, compare it to your friends, share it, and other cool tricks.
But one need not invest in the latest state-of-the-art iphone-controlled, smartgrid-connected LED lighting system to embrace energy efficiency. Going old-school and planting a tree can help too. A strategically placed tree can reduce the amount of heat your home absorbs during the summer (reducing the need for cranking the AC), cool the air via “evapotransporation,” and slow winds that can wick heat from your home during the winter. Want to figure out the annual value of the tree in your yard? Check out the Tree Benefit Calculator, which tallies up benefits including air quality, stormwater remediation and energy savings.
And don’t forget: saving energy saves land. How? When energy efficiency replaces the need to build a new powerplant we can save up to 23,500 acres from development, which includes the plant site, associated mining, waste disposal, transmission lines, and rail spurs. EE also creates jobs: roughly 16 jobs can be created for every $1million invested in efficiency projects—that’s over twice as many as from coal or oil & gas sectors.
So, unfortunately, global warming hasn’t gone anywhere. But homeowners, businesses, and communities across the country are proving– one energy efficiency project at a time– that the green economy can put people to work and help protect the planet today.
*One key exception to the “politicians not talking about climate change” thing is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island who recently spent over 20 minutes on the Senate floor delivering a thoughtful and compelling case for addressing the climate crisis. It’s worth a viewing, if only to see what real climate champ looks like.)