Progressive Views: April 22: Earth Day time to think about conservation

by Kevin Henning, KCDP Chair
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, April 26, 2019

Plants of different shapes spelling out the letters E-A-R-T-H
“earth day” by Constanza is licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0

Another Earth Day has passed with little progress being made in the United States to address critical environmental issues like climate change. Climate change is real. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and the conversion of land for forestry and agriculture, have played a major role. These activities add enormous amounts of greenhouse gases to those naturally occurring in the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect and global warming. Ninety-seven percent of scientists who study the climate say humans are to blame for global warming.

We must completely stop using polluting fuels and rapidly shift the planet to energy provided entirely by the sunwind, and other clean, safe renewable sources as set out in the “Green New Deal.”

Prior to the EPA formation and the environmental movement of the 1970’s, our nation was in horrible shape. Rivers were polluted with industrial and sanitation waste. The air in our major cities was brown from auto exhaust. Lead from leaded gasoline was entering the bodies of our children. We tackled those problems and now it is time to tackle climate change. The White House and our congressional delegation are doing all they can to reverse the environmental progress made since the EPA came into existence. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords and undoing regulations that improve motor fuel mileage standards and limit hydrocarbon pollution are having profound effects.

We must get to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible. To have a lasting impact we’ll also need to do more with less. Conservation is all about intelligent use of energy, not doing without. Conserving energy saves money, helps the environment and improves health and safety. Also, fossil fuels are not renewable and they will be used up someday, so it just makes good sense to start conserving now.

The US uses more energy per capita than any other country in the world. We can do better. Americans make up only about 4% of the world’s population and yet consume nearly 18% of its energy. We use four times more energy per capita than China, seventeen times what India uses, and two times that of England, Germany, and Japan.

We can conserve by switching to high mileage vehicles, hybrids, and electric cars. We can install better insulation in our homes and convert to solar panels which actually has a payout. We can recycle, which conserves resources and reduces the size of our landfills. We can unplug electronics when not in use, buy energy efficient appliances, use programable thermostats and energy-efficient light bulbs. Planting trees to reduce your home’s exposure to the summer sun can cut summer electricity bill by up to 40 percent. Raising your thermostat in the summer could reduce energy costs between 7 and 10 percent.

Besides the positive impact on the environment, there are many other reasons to be energy- efficient. Less money spent on energy leaves more money for other pursuits. We become less dependent on imported resources. Innovation and manufacturing are accelerated which means more jobs. Boom and bust cycles that the extractive industries suffer are avoided.

So where does the nation stand? According to the U. S. Energy Information Agency, in 2018, 12% of our energy came from renewables, 37% oil, 31% natural gas, 13% coal and 8% nuclear.

We have a long way to go, and unfortunately the energy industry’s powerful lobby continues to stifle efforts to convert from fossil fuels. In response to shareholder criticism, some energy companies appear to talk honestly about climate science and claim to be pulling back from their historic all-out effort to spread climate disinformation. “But new research suggests that this change in stance is half-hearted at best. Research group Influence Map says that the five largest publicly-traded oil and gas groups (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total) have spent more than $1 billion since the Paris Agreement on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying.

“Influence Map’s research confirms a widely held suspicion that Big Oil’s glossy sustainability reports and shiny climate statements are all rhetoric and no action,” says Catherine Howarth, chief executive of pressure group ShareAction. “These companies have mastered the art of corporate doublespeak – by boasting about their climate credentials while quietly using their lobbying firepower to sabotage the implementation of sensible climate policy and pouring millions into groups that engage in dirty lobbying on their behalf.” Renewable energy is cost-competitive, and coupled with robust conservation efforts, we can move away from fossil fuels if politics will allow the transition.

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