April 9, 2013 – Vol.18 No. 4

CUTTING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS, THE AMERICAN WAY.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

The United States doesn't have a national policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What it does have is a mishmash of initiatives, rules, regulations and laws the result of which do the same thing in select sectors of the economy. And, the mishmash is not just at the federal level. Some states, even localities, have their mandates and financial incentives as well.

What the US does to cut its emissions is like throwing out grass seed on barren soil. Some seeds take hold, grow and flourish. Others don't make it and die. So far our attention to greenhouse gas cuts has been the same as making the lawn grow. Where efforts are fed and watered with initiatives and mandates, greenhouse gases are shrinking. Where our lawn is ignored the sprouts of green grass have browned.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration announced this past week that energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions in 2012 declined to their lowest level since 1994. Other than 2010, which was a spike year, emissions have declined steadily since 2007. The EIA will have a more in-depth report later in the year, but it's easy to guess what they'll find:

--- The economy is only struggling along since crashing at the end of 2007. With stimulus money fully at work in 2010 economic growth was higher for the year. A slow economy has lower emissions. Emissions grow when things perk up.

--- Where natural gas has displaced coal there's been a reduction of carbon dioxide. Other than a slow-moving economy fracked-gas may be the biggest contributor to the decline of emissions. (We'll have to see what the EIA comes up with in this regard.)

--- Renewable, low or zero emission, energy continues to grow. Each new wind turbine planted and each solar panel installed, new clean energy incrementally displaces some dirty hydrocarbon energy. Though not at the breakneck pace of a few years ago, watt after watt of low or no emission energy is energizing homes, business and industry where hydrocarbons once reigned.

--- Car sales are up and with each new car sold less gasoline is burned. Fuel economy standards have been kicking in and will continue to do so for years, meaning that in the vehicular sector of the economy emissions will continue to drop.

--- Renewable fuels have made their contribution as well. The portion of gasoline, for instance, that is now ethanol, cuts carbon emissions by some degree. It may not seem much per tankful, but there's hundreds of millions of tanks out there.

--- While changing a light bulb may seem trivial, swapping out an incandescent bulb with an LED or CFL will reduce electricity consumption by what 75 percent per bulb? That's huge. Multiply that by millions of bulbs and the wattage reduction all adds up. The slow phase-out of incandescent bulbs was politically controversial at the time, but over the years will continue to cut emissions.

--- Each old furnace or air conditioning unit that's replaced with new one is reducing greenhouse gas emissions through mandated better efficiency. Since these machines last 20, 25 years or more, the change from new to old is a huge leap in both cutting emissions and cutting energy bills. Machines today are dramatically more efficient than those built more than a decade ago.

--- Appliances, particularly refrigerators, since they're off and on 24/7, are energy hogs. So each old fridge that dies and gets replaced translates into energy savings and lower carbon emissions.

 

There are some that want the strong arm of the Federal government to pass laws that will, in effect, enforce cutting emissions on a national scale to combat climate change. Given the backlash against Big Government this may be years away.

A better route for now may be to analyze what has already in place at the Federal, state and local level and find more very specific ways to cut emissions in every sector of the economy. What hasn't been done (at least as far as I've seen) is a compilation of all efforts; state, federal, local and private. Summed up, looking at all efforts combined, we may doing better than we think.

Still, emission cutting efforts here in the US are not enough to combat a global problem. While another Kyoto-type treaty seems a long way off, the effects of climate change at all corners of the Earth are encouraging nations to act on their own using the same American-like combination of government mandates and incentives, mixed with innovation and capitalism to do what they can. When the majority of nations feel that they'll benefit in some way from a global treaty, including economically, then they'll jump on board.

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