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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By Melissa Hawkins
After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO<p>Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, <a href="https://www.refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton" target="_blank">$218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting</a> and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.</p><p>Since the pandemic took hold, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52267943" target="_blank">farmers are dumping 14 million liters</a> of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html" target="_blank">destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week</a>, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.</p>
Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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