Kristin Riott is the executive director of Bridging the Gap, a nonprofit in Kansas City, Missouri that works on climate change and other environmental issues.
Keep an eye on
There are the perennial challenges of litter and recycling in the city, the ongoing effort to persuade the business community to adopt better practices, and the planting of thousands of trees.
However, when it comes to the world’s most pressing environmental crisis, climate change, the organization’s primary tools are surprisingly straightforward. They do not necessitate spending billions of dollars or even tens of thousands of dollars on electric cars and rooftop solar panels to transform the city’s energy economy.
Instead, staff members mostly just screw in new light bulbs and plug holes in basements across the city. They eliminate one draft, reduce one energy bill, and prevent a small amount of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere, one home at a time.
The transition to a clean energy economy has generated consistent news coverage and social media chatter about innovations such as Teslas, electric Ford Mustangs, and renewables such as wind and solar, which now provide about 20% of the nation’s electricity. However, while such technologies are critical for accelerating the transition to cleaner energy sources, studies show that Riott’s approach to reducing our overall energy consumption is equally important for avoiding the worst-case climate scenarios.
Buildings that are fully energy efficient could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 14 percent, according to Riott, citing research from McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm. The International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, assigns roughly equal weight to energy efficiency and renewables, noting that in order to meet international climate goals, the world will need to achieve an 11 percent decrease in overall energy use by 2050 – while also supporting billions of new population growth.
According to Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that ranks the importance of climate solutions, efficiency is critical.
According to Foley, it is “not at all” possible to achieve the greenhouse gas reductions required to avoid the worst climate disasters using only wind, solar, and electric vehicles. Along with reducing energy consumption in homes and businesses, the world must improve efficiency in other sectors such as food and transportation.
However, significant obstacles stand in the way. Increasing efficiency, like other climate solutions, can require significant upfront investment. While sealing leaky HVAC systems and installing home insulation are less expensive than purchasing an electric vehicle, hiring a team of home energy auditors to determine the best option for each home is not. Commercial building renovations are also more costly.
The fact that, unlike a new Tesla or solar panel, there is no shiny object to show off to friends and neighbors adds to the difficulty. That can be difficult for societies built around the consumption of new products, according to Dolf Gielen, director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre in Bonn, Germany.
As demand for electric vehicles and renewable energy grows in the United States, so do the technologies’ hidden drawbacks, which necessitate the mining of minerals and metals as well as a large amount of land. According to experts, increasing efficiency and lowering demand should go hand in hand.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, electric and hybrid vehicles accounted for less than 4% of new car sales in the country as recently as 2018. According to Statista, a market data provider based in Hamburg, Germany, the figure had reached nearly 11 percent by the end of 2021 and is expected to rise to 45 percent by 2035.
The number of applications for commercial-scale wind and solar projects has grown so quickly that the electric grid operators tasked with reviewing them are struggling to keep up. Earlier this year, the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest grid operator proposed a two-year moratorium on new proposals until it could clear an application backlog.
Over the last two years, automobile production has been hampered by a global shortage of microchips used in modern vehicles. Some experts warn that electric vehicles, which rely on materials such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel, may face similar challenges in the coming years. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated that the price of lithium in particular has already reached “insane levels.”