The good news is that by aggressively improving our energy efficiency now, we can nearly eliminate this increase. It'll take leadership, but there are plenty of examples of how energy efficiency has worked. For example, people using energy-efficient appliances in 2007 avoided global warming pollution equivalent to nearly 27 million cars. If everyone did likewise -- and we similarly improved America's buildings, industry, and transportation -- we could reduce annual emissions equivalent to nearly 400 million cars. That's 2 billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide (more than 6,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building!).
Building for energy-efficiency: In the United States alone, buildings are responsible for 25-35% of greenhouse gas emissions. By making simple changes, like using the proper amount of insulation, we can save half of the energy it takes to heat, cool, light, and otherwise provide power to buildings. And, with buildings lasting for 40-50 years or more, efficiency choices we make now will last at least a generation.
Cutting fuel costs on the road: CO2 emissions from cars and trucks account for about one-third of all energy-related global warming pollution in the United States. Cars bought in the United States last year averaged only 20 miles per gallon (mpg), which is less than half the gas mileage available on the most efficient cars today and about the same as a 1908 Model T. We can do better than a car introduced 100 years ago. With American innovation and technology, we can offer all cars with much better fuel economy and the same level of safety and features we expect. And the opportunities are not just available for cars: heavy-duty trucks, which transport about 60% of the goods we buy and use 39 billion gallons of fuel every year, can also become more efficient. Effective gas mileage standards and support for innovative technologies will keep our transportation system moving while greatly decreasing our environmental impact.
Making new appliances more energy-efficient: By using energy-efficient products at home and at work, we can significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing function, style, or features. For the home and at work, we already have excellent federally rated EnergyStar appliances that are designed to use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than other appliances.
Minimize your own impact-
Turn down the heat and air conditioning when you aren't home. Try using a programmable thermostat or setting your thermostat yourself to 68 degrees while you are awake and lower it to 60 degrees while you are asleep or away from home. In the summer, keep the thermostat at 78 degrees while you are at home, but give your air conditioning a rest when you are away. This will allow you to save about 10% a year on your home energy costs. If every house in America did this, our total greenhouse gas production would drop by about 35 million tons of CO2. This is about the same as taking 6 million cars off of the road.
Choose energy efficient appliances. Because they use less energy, EnergyStar appliances like refrigerators can reduce carbon pollution, and have a big impact on your energy bill. Plus, choosing energy efficient products is easy -- just look for the EnergyStar logo. EnergyStar products typically exceed the federal energy standards by at least fifteen percent. When buying appliances that use the most energy in your home, like heaters, air conditioners, water heaters and refrigerators, also use the Energy Guide card posted on the appliance to help you choose the one with the lowest annual energy consumption.
Warm up your home with insulation. Was your house constructed before 1980? If so, it could be one of the 80% of American homes built without enough insulation. This means your home heating costs could be going through the roof, literally. The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association has tips for both finding and getting the most out of a contractor to fix this problem and for doing it yourself.
Change your home's air filters. Heating and cooling uses about half of the energy in a typical home and can account for about $1,500 a year in annual costs. Click here to read about how you can conserve energy by doing some basic home maintenance like replacing air filters and insulating your heating ducts.
Make the switch to compact florescent bulbs. According to the government's EnergyStar program, if every American home replaced their five most-used light fixtures with EnergyStar rated compact fluorescent the savings would add up to $8 billion annually in energy costs. That's like taking almost ten million cars off the road. CFL's are widely available, affordable, and they last ten times longer than traditional bulbs.
Wash your clothes with cold water. If you usually use hot water for your laundry you can cut your energy consumption in half by choosing warm water, and up to ninety percent if you choose cold. Your current liquid laundry detergent should work fine. If not, special cold water detergents are available. Your shirts and pants should be just as clean, and you'll thank yourself when the electricity bill arrives.
Switch to green power. It is likely that most of the electricity you use comes from non-renewable sources like coal. However, there are some utilities that will sell you climate-friendly electricity like wind, biomass, or solar if you ask for it. More than 750 utilities in 37 states offer green power products and signing up can be very easy. To find out what your options are, check out the US Department of Energy map or contact your local energy company directly. And, when you sign up for green power, ask your utility when everyone will be getting clean energy, even those who don't request it. Read more about green power here. For more ways to save energy at home, visit EPA's Energy Star @ home tips.
On the Go
Take public transportation. One of the best ways to reduce your impact on the climate is to take a public bus, subway or train instead of driving. Since you don't have to keep your eyes on the road, you can read, talk with friends or listen to music while you travel. If just 10% of US passenger car travel were instead on mass transit, we would save 75 million tons of CO2. Give public transit a try for one trip a week to start. You may be surprised by how convenient reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be. If your community doesn't have many public transportation options, ask for it! Go to a city council meeting or write your city officials and tell them that good public transportation options are important to you, and good for the community.
Find a carpool buddy at least once a week. Sharing a ride to work is one of the most efficient ways to cut down on drive-time emissions. Ask around -- odds are someone else is heading in the same direction already. Click here for a step-by-step guide on finding a carpool group.
Pump up your tires. Eager to save money at the pump? According to AAA, driving with under-inflated tires can hurt your vehicle's gas mileage by two to three percent. Over a year, this could be like wasting an entire tank of gas. To check your tires' pressure:
Check the inside of the driver's side door or owner's manual and jot down the double-digit number followed by the letters "PSI," which stands for Pounds per Square Inch. This is how much air your tires were designed to hold.
Pick up a tire gauge (for about $5) and use it to measure the air in your tires.
If it turns out your tires are under-inflated, visit a gas station for an air touch-up and you'll enjoy an easier (and more energy-efficient) ride.
Go ride a bike -- or take a walk. Not only is riding a bike or walking a climate-friendly way to commute, it's good for your health, too. Ride your bike to work, or use it for short errands. Your local bike shop is an excellent resource for information on bicycle commuting, the latest bike gadgets and safety tools, and it can even help you fix up that old three-speeder for trips around town.
Use the sleep settings and the power switch for computers and monitors. These common pieces of home and office equipment consume a lot of electricity. The single most powerful climate change tool on these machines is the OFF switch. Forget what you've heard about how powering up equipment repeatedly wears it out. That's old information, dating back decades. Equipment can be safely switched off and powered back on when it's needed again. Also, make sure the hibernation and sleep settings are enabled .
Ask for motion sensors in low-traffic areas. In commercial buildings lighting accounts for more than 40% of electrical energy use, a huge cause of greenhouse gas production. Using motion and occupancy sensors can cut this use by 10%. Ask your employer to consider installing motion sensors in lesser traveled hallways, restrooms, conference rooms, and storage areas.
Use a power strip. Office equipment from faxes to toaster ovens draw energy just by being plugged in. Save energy by plugging all office equipment into a power strip. When you leave the office, just flip the off switch on the power strip. You can also use a power strip at home and save even more.
Call maintenance if it's cold. If it's too hot or too cold, call the maintenance department since this probably means that the system needs to be adjusted (and energy is being wasted).
Be creative -- anyone can be a climate champion at work. Don't work in an office? There is still plenty you can do to protect the climate at your workplace. Finding ways to save energy offers an opportunity for creativity and true American out-of-the-box thinking and innovation, and the rewards can be huge.
I hope you do as much as you can to reduce you impact.