Stimulus: Your Chance to Act Locally

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Our story on architect Ed Mazria’s “14x” plan noted that the building sector guzzles about three-quarters of the nation’s electricity and half of our overall energy—and is responsible for almost half of America’s carbon emissions.

Not only that, CO2 emissions have also risen fastest (details below) in that sector, which consumes energy not just for construction but also to light, heat, and cool buildings, heat water, cook food, recharge your iPod, and all that good stuff. To break it down, about 8 percent of the nation’s power goes toward construction and building materials—what Mazria called “embodied energy”—while 42 percent is consumed by the aforementioned activities. (Also see our May/June 2008 package, “The Future of Energy.”)

According to the Energy Information Administration, CO2 emissions related to residential energy use rose 28 percent from 1998 to 2008. Commercial emissions did even worse, with a 37 percent jump. Transportation fared slightly better, with a 21 percent increase. Industry—woo hoo!—managed to actually reduce energy-related carbon emissions by 6 percent over the decade.

The take-home message is that swapping your old car for a Prius isn’t nearly enough. Indeed, the tax incentives President Obama mentioned in this morning’s GM speech, which encourage you to trade in your current ride for a more fuel-efficient type, are a mixed bag. Your math has to take into account the carbon cost of producing that new vehicle and the one you’re getting rid of. (See “Prius Envy,” from our Jan/Feb issue.)

What is crystal clear, however, is that we need to radically reduce the energy wasted in our homes and commercial buildings. Mazria’s plan, implemented widely, seems like a pretty smart way to go about it. In a nutshell, he proposes using stimulus money to pay down people’s mortgage-interest rates—so long as they remodel their home or building to boost energy efficiency. The result, Mazria says, is that we would slash CO2 emissions, put people to work, and raise local tax revenues by reviving a robust building market.

So here’s a challenge for readers: Go back and read the story. If you think Mazria has indeed come up with something your local and state officials should know about, then send the link to those policy makers. Because, bottom line, if the people in charge don’t hear from constituents about stuff like this, more than a few American cities are going to end up blowing their energy efficiency stimulus money on federally funded parking lots.

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