We're leaving money on the table by not improving energy efficiency (image by pfala, CC 2.5 licensed)
Would you spend $520 to save $1,200? That's the choice McKinsey & Co is offering to the U.S. about energy efficiency. In their new report on energy efficiency, released last week, McKinsey shows how the U.S. can reduce its non-transportation energy use by 23%, eliminate the emissions of 1.1 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually, and save $1,200 billion, for a cost of about $520 billion.
They do recognize that achieving these results requires some new thinking on our parts:
Playing With Fire (image by charles chan, CC 2.0 license)
An article in Sunday's Science Daily reports on research showing that more than half of the Earth's warming since the dawn of the industrial age is due to the heat released from our energy use, not atmospheric warming due to the greenhouse effect.
While the greenhouse effect is still a significant contributor - and will become more so as GHG levels in the atmosphere rise - simply the heat released when burning fuels is also being stored in the atmosphere, as well as in the earth, sea, and arctic ice.
Some more roundup links. These pages have been hanging around in my browser for weeks, waiting for me to blog about them. As with the links I posted earlier this week, I consider these "go to" articles and sites - continuously interesting and relevant.
Honestly, the most interesting article I've read on the economic crisis, because it suggests the problem is structural and provides a prescription for addressing it. (From the New York Times a few weeks ago.)
The polar bears say "keep the innovations coming - it's getting warm out here!" (image by Just Being Myself, CC 2.0 licensed)
While I agree with Joseph Romm on Climate Progress that we can't count on a "Manhattan Project"-style endeavour to engineer our way out of the climate crisis in the short term, nonetheless, I think it's reasonable to have a certain expectation that technology will improve over the right timescale, so we can be ready to take advantage of it.
A few weeks ago Martin Brown had a great post on his Fairsnape blog on Recession Thoughts and Tips. One of his many excellent suggestions was
Clouds (original name: Nuages - image by luc.viatour, CC 2.0 licensed)
In their special issue on Earth 3.0, Scientific American explores the concept of "sustainability" and the myths surrounding it as we face an uncertain future. In Top 10 Myths about Sustainability, they observe:
When a word becomes so popular you begin hearing it everywhere ... it means one of two things. Either the word has devolved into a meaningless cliché, or it has real conceptual heft. "Green" (or, even worse, "going green") falls squarely into the first category. But "sustainable," which at first conjures up a similarly vague sense of environmental virtue, actually belongs in the second.
I'm a big fan of the New Yorker, and read most issues cover to cover. Their politics usually align with mine, and I always enjoyed Hendrik Hertzberg sticking it to the Cheney administration. But I have to take issue with some of their economic opinions. In particular, David Owen's Talk of Town, Economy Vs. Environment, in the March 20 issue got me hot and bothered.
Owen's basic position seems to be that to be sustainable we can't spend, and if we spend we're not sustainable. Therefore, the stimulus package and a long term goal for sustainability are incompatible. (With the subtext, apparently, that stimulus is more important.)
I have several issues with Owen's position. For example, Owens doesn't say much about spending on sustainability - there $15 billion of that. Much of that, because it's focused on energy efficiency, will result in improved productivity. It turns out you can get a lot of productivity from sustainability improvements. It's one of the magic tricks - called the "triple bottom line" - you spend less or the same up front, you save more, and you're healthier and more productive. In this case sustainability is actually directly improving the economy.
The kitchen of one unit in the first Passive House (photo by H.G. Esch)
I just ran across this delightful article about the first Passive House, built in Darmstadt Germany in 1992. The article describes the process the builders went through to model and design it, a four unit residential block, then to build this new type of building, even creating the new highly efficient windows and doors by hand.
The article follows the building through its first 15 years of operation (it's still occupied). The team led by Dr. Feist instrumented the house thoroughly and did extensive measurements throughout its first fifteen years to validate their models. When Amory Lovins saw the house and the measured results in in 1995, he said:
Someone entered this topic in an online forum to which I subscribe:
The main problem with lowering the carbon level is down to individuals, to behaviour, to good citizenship and that is the biggest challenge of all... how many times to you see careless behaviours? how do you change that?
I just had to respond. I think this attitude is the best way to make sure that end in the end, nothing good happens. I'm reprinting my comment on the topic below, unedited (even though you all know about passive houses already).