A Bright Idea: Keeping Things Dim
July 30, 2010
Since most of us aren’t ready to pack up our belongings and pitch a tent in the middle of the wilderness, the steps we take to reduce our environmental impact tend to be small ones. Government websites like the Office of Energy Efficiency provide a host of energy-saving tips like choosing low-energy lighting fixtures and checking the insulation on our windows, but these tips are still part of a recognizable pattern of energy consumption.
Even carbon offsets, those “get out of jail free” cards of the greenhouse gas world, aren’t 100 per cent effective in reducing emissions — The Christian Science Monitor published a damning six-part series in April 2010 that outlined many of the failings outlined in a similar report by The Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute.
But if the steps we’re taking are small, there’s at least some hope that they’re at least larger than we’d thought before. According to a study published in this month’s Energy Policy, the US government (and, therefore, likely the Canadian government as well) may have underestimated the CO2 emission savings of reducing electricity use by as much as 60 per cent. Because plants that burn fossil fuels are generally more able to respond to changes in use than their lower-emission counterparts (nuclear and renewable), lumping the two categories together skews the data. The authors recommend dividing electricity generation between low and emission-free sources and more variable, higher carbon sources, to give a more accurate picture of exactly what volume of emissions are being released.
Precisely estimating the volume of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continues to be one of the largest problems when trying to estimate the environmental fallout from human activity. The environment is still an incredibly complex system that has both surprised us with its ability to process our emissions, and shocked us with the rapid effects of climate change, such as ocean acidification. It’s hard to get a firm grasp of the large picture, which might explain why we tend to want small changes that we can make in our daily lives. So, knowing that the small might not be so small after all is definitely good news.