Cars, Electricity and Forests: Forward Thinking Solutions

Fuel-efficient vehicles. Clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. Protecting threatened forests. These common sense solutions won’t only reduce global warming, they will save us money and create new business opportunities. Best of all, these solutions exist now. We just need to insist that business and government take the necessary steps to make them available and affordable.


Build better cars and SUVs

The technology exists to build cars, minivans, and SUVs that are just as powerful and safe as vehicles on the road today, but get 40 miles per gallon or more. Studies from both the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Academy of Sciences agree that these levels are achievable. Better transmissions and engines, more aerodynamic designs, and stronger yet lighter material for chassis and bodies can cost-effectively increase the average mpg of today’s automotive fleet from 24 to 40 mpg by 2012. This would be equivalent to taking 44 million cars off the road — and it would save individual drivers thousands of dollars in fuel costs over the life of a vehicle.

Because transportation accounts for over 30 percent of US annual C02 emissions, raising fuel economy is one of the most important things we can do to slow climate change.

The first step is to require Detroit to offer consumers more fuel-efficient vehicles by raising the average gas mileage — the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) — of their fleets. It is especially important to bring SUVs up to the same standards as cars.

The government can also help by offering tax credits to consumers who buy advanced technology vehicles like today’s hybrids (a combination of gasoline and self-charging electric battery engine) and new fuel cell vehicles that will hit the market within the next decade. This will give millions of people the incentive to do the right thing and help automakers create a market for clean technologies. Honda and Toyota already have highly fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles on the market that get more than 50 mpg.


Clean Electricity

More than half of America’s electricity is produced from outdated, coal-burning power plants that dump pollutants and heat-trapping gases into our atmosphere. In fact, power plants are the single largest source of C02 — 40 percent of the US total.

However, cost-effective, clean energy sources do exist. By increasing our use of clean renewable energy, investing in energy efficiency, and reducing pollution from fossil fuel plants we can save money for consumers, reduce heat-trapping emissions, and lessen the need for new coal or gas power plants.

A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that we could reduce power plant C02 emissions by 60 percent compared to government forecasts for 2020. Consumers could save a total of $440 billion — reaching $350 annually per family by 2020.

Twenty Percent Renewables by 2020

A national standard requiring 20 percent of our electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020 is an attainable goal. We are already using clean, safe, renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass (fuel from plant matter) to produce clean energy. Costs for these technologies have dropped dramatically since they were first introduced decades ago.

Twelve states have already adopted standards requiring utilities to offer more renewable energy to consumers. One of the most successful to date is Texas, the heart of the nation’s fossil fuel industry and now the biggest market for new renewable energy plants in the United States. If Texas can do it, so can the rest of the nation.

To be most effective, a national renewable standard should be implemented in concert with measures to reduce the pollution from coal, oil, and gas power plants. The current mix of pollutants pouring from power plants causes smog, acid rain, and mercury poisoning as well as global warming. Addressing all four major pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and C02) at once allows utilities to take an integrated approach to pollution control, reducing industry costs and greatly increasing the public health benefits


Increase Energy Efficiency

Like better technology for transportation and power generation, the technology for more efficient motors, appliances, windows, homes, and manufacturing processes is here today. These simple solutions save consumers money and can have an enormous impact on climate change at the same time. For instance, in the past two decades, energy-efficiency standards for household appliances kept 53 million tons of heat-trapping gases out of the air each year.

New or updated standards are now in place for many major appliances, including clothes washers, dishwashers, water heaters, furnaces, and boilers. Standards for air conditioners should be increased by 30 percent. Efficiency standards for commercial equipment like refrigerators, heaters, furnaces and public lighting also have significant room for improvement

Many states and utilities have energy efficiency programs. They typically save consumers about $2 in lower energy bills for every $1 invested in efficiency. A federal matching fund created by a $1 per household surcharge on monthly electric bills could provide over $7 billion per year in funding for state energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.


Protect Forests

In addition to sheltering more than half of the planet’s species and providing benefits such as clean drinking water, forests play a critical role in climate change: they store carbon — the base of C02. When forests are burned, cleared, or otherwise degraded, their stored carbon is released into the atmosphere. Tropical deforestation now accounts for about 20 percent of all human-caused C02 emissions each year.

Here in the United States, we should manage our forests in a way that helps our climate. For instance, the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Southeast could double their storage of carbon if timber managers lengthened the time between harvests and allowed older trees to remain standing. Looking beyond our borders, we should develop partnerships with developing countries to help them better conserve their forests. We should also set up a system that allows private companies to get credit for reducing carbon when they acquire and permanently set aside natural forests for conservation.