Efficiency: The Global Warming Solution Hiding in Plain Sight

 Winston Churchill wrote that “All great things are simple.” Yet in their simplicity, they are often overlooked. I have been thinking about this common blind spot since the Senate began considering the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act recently.

When we talk about opportunities to cut global warming emissions, most of us think about wind turbines, solar panels, and hybrid cars. But according to a study done by the financial analysts at McKinsey & Company, the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to reduce global warming pollution is energy savings.

Investing in energy efficiency is our best defense against global warming. A recent study commissioned by NRDC found that it could bring us almost 20 percent of the emissions cuts required by Lieberman-Warner.

But America hasn’t had enough incentive to pick this low-hanging fruit. (See my colleague Dave Hawkins’ take on what incentives work in a Forbes piece on CNN.com.) If we enact firm limits on global warming pollution--through the Lieberman-Warner Act--we will create an enormous and profitable market for energy efficiency. And the energy savings will be sweeping.

 How Small Efficiency Improvements Save Billions of Dollars

Consider the humble computer monitor. There are more than 100 million monitors in use in U.S. homes and businesses, and together, they consume almost 1 percent of our nation’s electricity use. A few years ago, NRDC asked monitor manufacturers to set a more stringent performance standard for the popular flat panel LCD monitors. Thanks to these changes, the EPA estimates that by 2010, the nation will save approximately 5 million tons of carbon dioxide--the equivalent of taking 3 million cars off the road. It will also save consumers billions of dollars in lower electricity bills.

Computer monitors are just the beginning. Flat-screen TVs, cable boxes, dish washers, home furnaces, office heating systems, big-box-store air conditioning; all of these can become more energy efficient.

 Efficiency Fuels Economic Growth

Making products and buildings more efficient can generate high-paying jobs on American soil not only for engineers and software designers, but also “green collar” jobs that provide a pathway out of poverty for people who become trained as lighting and insulation installers and weatherizing specialists. Department of Energy studies show that energy efficiency measures can create up to four times as many jobs as constructing and operating large central power stations.

When businesses and consumers save money on their utility bills, they have more money to invest in other parts of the economy--a development that has been shown to generate jobs.


Efficiency & Economic Growth Go Together: The California Example

Over the past two decades, NRDC has helped California enact a suite of energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings. Now the average California resident uses 40 percent less electricity than the typical American. And still California’s gross state product more than doubled since the efficiency programs were created.

At a time when the nation’s economy appears to be in recession, it is especially critical that we seize the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency--and all the economic and environmental benefits that come with it.

I am proud to say that NRDC leads the pack on this issue. NRDC has been a leader for 35 years in crafting the strongest efficiency standards. We recently concentrated our expertise in our newly opened Center for Energy Efficiency Standards.

But we can’t win this fight alone. While NRDC works on the policy side, I encourage you to bring the simplicity and greatness of the energy efficiency solution to your own homes and offices.