Cheers to 2019 Energy Efficiency Progress
Reflecting on 2019, it is hard to grapple with the extent of this year's climate tragedies like massive wildfires and flooding. Yet even when things seem as dire as ever, there is continual news of progress, perseverance, and hope. And energy efficiency — the cheapest way to cut our energy waste and stave off climate change — is at the forefront of that progress and continues to be our planet's superhero, improving our health, creating high-quality jobs, and making our energy bills more affordable.
What's more, even as the U.S. builds more homes and commercial space, the amount of electricity needed to power those spaces (and the related pollution) is set to decline thanks to steady gains in efficiency.
States Led (And Continue to Lead) the Way
State Scorecard / ACEEE
With a Trump administration bent on stalling or dismantling efficiency efforts at every turn, states filled an important gap on setting efficiency standards (so our gadgets use less energy) and in delivering building upgrades (to cut energy waste and improve our comfort and health). The annual American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) scorecard shows where states are making progress and where more work is needed.
Here Are Just a Few State Examples:
- Washington, Colorado, and Hawaii adopted expanded energy and water efficiency standards, including for faucets, commercial kitchen equipment, computers, and more.
- Illinois is moving forward with the Clean Energy Jobs Act to require 100 percent clean energy by 2050, including a significant increase in gas efficiency, while ensuring that programs help the most vulnerable communities while creating good jobs.
- Missouri recently approved an improved set of efficiency programs that will help renters and owners of affordable multifamily housing cut costs and energy waste while protecting the health of residents.
- Michigan now has its first long-term outlook for how Consumers Energy will serve its customers with clean energy through its "clean and lean" plan, which includes an impressive increase of energy efficiency.
- New Jersey began implementing groundbreaking efficiency legislation to ensure its utilities invest in all cost-effective energy efficiency, positioning itself to become a national leader.
- New York adopted the nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act setting a path to net-zero emissions (efficiency playing a major role) while helping to advance equity for disadvantaged communities.
- California adopted a new framework to launch innovative market transformation ideas to get even more efficient products onto store shelves, helping cut energy waste in the state and beyond as those improved technologies become the norm nationally.
Job and Emissions Benefits Were Made Crystal Clear
Denis Schroeder / NREL
There is no doubt that with strong policies to ensure high-quality jobs (e.g., those with family-sustaining wages, good benefits, a safe work environment, and a path for advancement), efficiency can help spur significant work for all Americans.
An analysis from the group E2 identified 2.3 million energy efficiency jobs based on 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report data. Energy efficiency accounted for half of the energy industry's overall net new jobs in 2018 and employs twice as many U.S. workers as the entire fossil fuel industry. The workers who make buildings and equipment more efficient are earning good salaries in jobs that can't be outsourced. Many are military veterans, just another reason why this summer's passage of the appalling HB 6 bill gutting Ohio energy efficiency programs was such a terrible move for the state and its workers.
National Standards Despite Trump
Several new efficiency standards approved by previous administrations took effect this year. And while the Trump administration's DOE missed more legal deadlines for review of product standards, NRDC and others are holding them to account. A federal appeals court recently ordered the agency to take the final step on four standards, ensuring upward of $8.4 billion in utility bill savings and substantial reductions in carbon pollution.
Even with this great progress, we're still fighting over the rules for setting standards. The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) proposed new process would make it far more difficult to advance products that give us the same (or even better) service but use far less energy, which would mean lower energy bills.
We are far from where we need to be in terms of cutting greenhouse gases and serving all communities. As we reflect on 2019, we can learn from our successes and build upon our challenges to make even more progress in 2020.
- Make sure everyone has access to clean energy. Getting sufficient funding to serve the most vulnerable communities has been difficult, but the opportunities are enormous, including cutting energy waste, improving health, and reducing the energy burden. Focusing efforts on these communities will not only help stave off climate change, it will improve their well-being, stimulate investment in their neighborhoods, and ensure that everyone is part of the clean energy transition.
- Fight for our lighting rights. The Trump administration continues its crusade to turn back time on light bulbs. In its latest proposal, DOE would illegally permit energy-wasting versions of the regular pear-shaped bulbs to remain on store shelves indefinitely. California, however, is again leading the way on efficiency by prohibiting the sale of inefficient light bulbs in the state as of January 1, but the federal attacks on energy efficiency must end.
- Keep up the state level work. Given the administration's denial of climate change and focus on advancing industry interests at the expense of everyday Americans, states MUST continue their leadership. Many states have great efficiency policies in place and are poised for exciting progress, such as Virginia's opportunity to adopt an ambitious energy efficiency resource standard, but other states require more work. Governors across the country have stepped up on climate action. It's time to do even more.
There is no doubt that the climate crisis is real. But as we come to the end of a harrowing year for the earth, we have much to look forward to in 2020. Working in collaboration with equity and workforce advocates, industry, and governments, we can create scalable, comprehensive, and effective energy efficiency actions to cut pollution, make energy more affordable for everyone, clean our air, and create high-quality jobs.
Lara Ettenson coordinates NRDC's energy efficiency policy and clean energy workforce activities.
This story is part of NRDC's year-end series reviewing 2019 climate & clean energy developments.
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This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim
If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
<p>Why environmental refugees flee their homes is a complicated mixture of environmental degradation and desperate socioeconomic conditions. People leave their homes when their livelihoods and safety are jeopardized. What effects of climate change put them in jeopardy? Climate change triggers, among other problems, desertification and drought, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/deforestation.htm" target="_blank">deforestation</a>, land degradation, rising sea levels, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/flood.htm" target="_blank">floods</a>, more frequent and more extreme storms, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/earthquake.htm" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/volcano.htm" target="_blank">volcanoes</a>, food insecurity and famine.</p><p>The September <a href="http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/09/ETR_2020_web-1.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Ecological Threat Register Report</a>, by the Institute for Economics & Peace, predicts the hardest hit populations will be:</p><ul><li>Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa</li><li>Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan (which are among the world's least peaceful countries)</li><li>Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran are most at risk for mass displacements</li><li>Haiti faces the highest risk of all countries in Central America and the Caribbean</li><li>India and China will be among countries experiencing high or extreme water stress</li></ul>
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