Relighting the Americas

Last week at a partnership meeting with the Organization of American States (OAS), NRDC launched a new initiative for energy conservation called Relighting the Americas. Working in concert with OAS is an important part of NRDC’s dedication to work with the Latino community here and abroad.  If you don’t know, NRDC has a Spanish language website called La Onda Verde which works to inform and involve the Latino community on environmental issues and to cultivate this powerful community into a voice for environmental protection worldwide.

Markets here and abroad often pressure shortsighted resource extraction projects that threaten biodiversity and worsen climate change. For these reasons, we have created our Center for Market Innovation. Transformar los mercados es esencial si queremos asegurar el desarrollo sostenible.

NRDC has a long and productive history of working with Latin America.  Our 1994 study on lead found that this dangerous fuel additive was still in use in countries around the world.  Lead is a powerful neurotoxin and was putting the health of children at risk. The U.S. was phasing it out, while, it should be noted, that both Colombia and Brazil had already phased it out entirely. That year in Miami, at the Summit of the Americas, leaders agreed to a hemispheric phase-out of lead in gasoline. NRDC, along with OAS and others, worked to move this initiative forward. Now leaded gasoline is almost entirely gone from this hemisphere and now we  — and, most importantly, our children — can breathe more easily.

Today we can apply that same model to tackle a part of global climate and energy policy. Let me offer one small way to start: the phase-out of the inefficient incandescent bulb. With compact fluorescents and other efficient lighting technology we can have the same amount of energy and quality of light, with only 20% of the electricity used, and consumers save energy as well.

NRDC organized a pilot project in Costa Rica, which is aiming to become carbon-neutral by 2021, where, in a village of about 1500 people, three bulbs in every home were replaced with CFLs. The results? Electricity use dropped an average of 18% per home. Think of the possibilities here!

In the U.S. we’re moving to an efficient lighting future and we want that to be a global goal, too. NRDC’s new initiative, Relighting the Americas, Reiluminando las Americas, can begin a phase-out of today's inefficient incandescent light bulbs via mandatory (but technologically neutral) energy efficiency standards and partnerships with manufacturers, importers, and distributors, that will save people and governments money and curb global warming. This simple action is so meaningful that a worldwide phase-out will cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 200 million tons per year and eliminate the need for 30 large coal burning power plants.

The great news is there has been significant work done already. After NRDC negotiated with bulb manufacturers to ensure it was feasible and economical, the U.S. set its standard for energy efficient light bulbs and the federal energy bill last year effectively banned incandescents by 2014. Canada is about to finalize their standard this fall to ban incandescents by 2012.  Cuba passed a ban and so far has distributed more than 116 million free compact fluorescent light bulbs. Argentina recently passed legislation banning incandescent bulbs by 2010. Brazil subsidizes the cost of CFLs and has a bill on the table that could ban incandescents by 2013. Under “Mission Energy Revolution,” Venezuela has distributed 50-70 million CFLs.

But we need to more than just giveaways and bans. We must have a market transformation.  That way when a CFL burns out at home, you can go to the store and choose from a wide variety of energy efficient bulbs. This requires transformation at every level – manufacturing, importing, and distribution.

As it is, countries around the world develop their own standards and develop only marginally different specifications for light bulbs. This tends to drive up cost to business without delivering meaningful performance improvements or incremental energy savings. So, we’re advocating for global performance-based and technology-neutral standards rather than an outright ban that will save business from unnecessary costs and let consumers choose from a wide range of products including energy saving halogens, CFLs, and LEDs.

Relighting the Americas is just a small step in what could be an important hemispheric action. Imagine: We can Reheat the Americas by bringing on widespread use of solar and geothermal heating; we can Recool the Americas by switching to efficient refrigerators and air conditioners; and we can Repower the Americas by switching to clean renewable electricity and fuel.  Podemos transformar las Americas, juntos.