Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

January 26, 2009

Global Warming is the Core “Green” Issue

Category: Big Things,Climate Change,Editorial,Energy Independence,Policy – Tom Harrison – 8:54 pm

A lot of issues have arisen around “green” things having various different names: energy independence, gas prices, cap and trade, green jobs, economic meltdown, clean coal, conservation, polar bears, glacial melting, water shortages, food shortages and prices, and on, and on. Each affects various groups of citizens of the world in different ways. But they are not really different issues, they are facets of the same issue: global warming.

A lot of talk during the US election process centered around energy independence. Ok, good enough for me, because addressing energy independence in many ways results in solutions we need, such as higher fuel efficiency in cars, significant investment in alternative energy and conservation. Sort of.

As our economy bit the big one, talk moved towards jobs, and rightly towards green jobs. Ok, good enough for me, because addressing economic issues through investments in important infrastructure like a smart electrical grid, wind, solar and geothermal, that’s a good thing. Sort of.

But now we’re seeing reality, which is that if people only really understand and care about things like gas prices and jobs, the political pressure for change will be directed at gas prices (ok, well, that one’s “solved”) and jobs.

But jobs is an issue, but it’s not the the issue. The issue is global warming. We were reminded of this today in a rather stark report suggesting that CO2 doesn’t just “go away”. In fact, the thinking is that CO2 released is kind of there for a loooooong time, effectively forever.

My first thought on hearing this report is that global warming skeptics will conclude that we were already unsure of whether human efforts to mitigate global warming would do any good; now we know it’s pointless. This is not the right conclusion: Susan Solomon, the scientist reporting this finding asserts

I guess if it’s irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it, because committing to something that you can’t back out of seems to me like a step that you’d want to take even more carefully than something you thought you could reverse.

Clearly Dr. Solomon has never been to a casino. This just ain’t the way normal people respond to disaster. When you’re losing chips, double-down! When the Titanic is sinking, have a drink and a dance! When your business is in jeopardy and getting bailed out by the government, renovate your office for $1.2M! And so on. We sometimes tend to deny crisis, especially when put in hopeless terms, rather than confront it.

But like it or not, there’s only one problem we must face, and we must face it squarely, resolutely, and quickly. It’s global warming. Yes, energy independence is important, but if you focus on that alone, you end up with the Pickens Plan, which is as much about switching to natural gas as it is about wind or solar. If it’s gas prices you’re worried about, then yes, let’s build some energy-efficient cars, but that doesn’t deal with our issues with coal. Yes, those nasty coal coal ash disasters notwithstanding, “clean coal” is still and option, right? Wrong.

Do we know all of the impacts of global warming? No. Is it as immediately painful as unemployment, health insurance or war? No. Do people care about global warming? No.

But if we knew some flu spread by birds could have a huge impact on human life would we act? Yes. If we saw gas prices rising fast would we respond? Yes. If there were a financial crisis would we act? Yes.

What’s different about global warming is just that it’s not so … immediate. It’s a little more abstract. And gee, isn’t there still some debate about global warming?

The facts are clear and (yes) uncontested. It is real, and caused by people. It is happening even faster than predicted. Its effects are clear and present, right now. It’s not something we can reverse. And we can reduce the impact.

Our (awesome) new US President is making the right moves as fast as he can, spending his political capital as smartly as he can. His actions are truly wonderful and laudable.

Our job: let’s make sure that everyone knows that green jobs, smart grids, efficient cars and weatherized buildings are merely a good first step toward a solution for the real issue: global warming. Our President seems to understand this, but he’s going to need a great deal of political capital to actually do something about it. Let’s help him.


  1. Tom,

    I have been trying to get the following message out regarding global warming. During Earth Hour 2008 in one hour, the Chicago metropolitan area dropped it’s electrical demand by 818 megawatts of electricity or 7% of the load. That’s the same as taking 2 coal plants or one nuclear power plant off line, or taking one million cars off the road, or 1.3 million tons of CO2 not produced for one hour. That is amazing! All from turning off non-essential lighting. Think of what we can do if we turned off non-essential lighting permanently.

    So here is one way to help our new president.
    We need to raise awareness of light pollution and how much CO2 is produced from non-essential or “vanity” lighting – inside and out. Citizens need to get after their local governments to get them to regulate outdoor lighting. Promote lighting fixtures that put the right amount of light on the ground where it is needed using the most efficient fixture possible. Ask your local government to dim or shut off street lights between midnight and 5 am on non-arterial roads. Require curfews for commercial/industrial businesses and parking lots so that the outdoor lights are shut off one hour after closing.

    These are things that anyone can do and they do not require a rocket scientist background. They are simple but political fixes and they take some initiative to get accomplished. But if more people take up the challenge, the rewards for this planet are immense.

    Comment by Debra — January 29, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  2. Debra —

    If you haven’t already, read Lester Brown’s “Plan B 3.0”, which describes how important getting more efficient and less polluting electricity generation in place is to the the planet.

    I am writing posts occasionally for a site called WattzOn, and this was along the lines of something I had in mind. I’ll make sure to mention outdoor and vanity lighting.

    As an aside, I have had a great victory — after asking for almost a year, we finally got the pointless streetlight that happened to be outside my bedroom window turned off.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — January 30, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.