Energy Efficiency as a Climate Solution: A Goal for 2020
By David B. Goldstein
Energy efficiency is the cornerstone of any country's plan to fight the climate crisis. It is the cheapest option available, and one that as often as not comes along with other benefits, such as job creation, comfort and compatibility with other key solutions such as renewable energy. This has been recognized by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for at least a decade.
Unfortunately, though, the benefits of energy efficiency have been slow to rise to the consciousness of the government (and business) leaders that need to take bold actions to make it happen. Thus the need for IEA's new Energy Efficiency Report to be published and read.
The IEA Energy Efficiency Report 2019 shows we are falling behind our goals, worldwide, while pointing out that efficiency continues to present exceptional opportunities.
The opportunities range across the whole global economy, from constructing or repairing buildings to use much less (or even zero) energy while improving comfort, to allowing the construction of compact new development near existing and new transit stations (such walkable neighborhoods are where younger Americans prefer to live), to electrifying cars, buses, trucks and heating, to re-thinking industrial processes.
The IEA report tracks the level of improvement in efficiency worldwide, both in terms of inputs (investments) and outputs (energy saved). The 2019 report finds some discouraging trends — year upon year reductions in the rate of efficiency improvement and investment at the very time that the world most need increases. But at the same time, the IEA identifies targets that will allow the world to meet ambitious climate goals, and urges policymakers to take advantage of currently unexploited potentials to do far more.
This is exactly what is needed to make progress. The world has to, on one hand, look optimistically at what we COULD do, if we tried, and on the other hand, face the facts that we are not on track to prevent climate disaster.
This sober recognition of reality is not intended to provoke despair, but rather resolve to do better. The report casts the issue as follows: "That the primary energy intensity improvement rate remains so far below this suggests that significant potential remains untapped."
It is not surprising to me that the world is falling behind on our energy efficiency goals. The concept of efficiency is too new to have met with universal acceptance as something we need to do. (No one even mentioned the word in the context of energy planning until the 1970s).
Worse, the fact that markets do not naturally deliver efficiency – and therefore that policy interventions are needed to make markets work – stands in opposition to naïve but widely believed ideologies that posit that unregulated markets always work best. This problem is compounded by the fact that no one has been able to get rich quick on efficiency, so we don't hear the level of self-promotion paid for by vendors of resources that sometimes DO allow their developers to get rich.
The details of the 2018 and earlier energy efficiency outcomes are complicated: some countries are doing better than others in some years, but not in others; some countries have more effective efficiency programs but none is exemplary. I will not try to summarize the factual aspects here: Read the report!
Unlike so many energy forecasting reports, and the models that underlie them, the IEA analysis is more thoughtful: it looks separately at individual countries, and separates out the influence of weather and of changes in the mix of energy end uses (such as shifts from lower energy intensity industries like electronics to higher intensity industries such as steel production). It is adept at explaining how energy use per GDP, a common but flawed metric for efficiency, can include structural shifts in the economy or in people's choices, that confuse the question of how much progress we are making on efficiency, while noting that this metric works reasonably well at assessing how we are meeting our climate goals. It shows that much of the disappointing results for 2018 are due to abnormally bad weather and to increases in steel production, especially in China. As a consequence, the results are unusually helpful when thinking of policy solutions.
Here are three key solutions from the longer list suggested in the IEA report – along with a few observations:
- We need to do more to restrain industrial energy use. This is not a new idea – I pointed it out here – but it has not yet resulted in many policy consequences. This can be done by making individual plants more efficient, ideally approaching zero-net energy.
- There are additional unexploited (and generally not even analyzed [!]) opportunities for households, companies and governments to reduce emissions by changing their decisions on what to buy and considering energy and carbon impacts. This is an action that households and companies can choose on their own, as well as be encouraged by government policy. Saving energy in the supply chain has yet to show up in IEA's analysis (or anyone else's that I have seen) so it is an opportunity to save even more than the most optimistic efficiency scenarios suggest.
- We need to take more aggressive action at the governmental level, and by NGOs (non-governmental organizations), to expand programs that are known to work, such a minimum energy performance standards for appliances, lighting and motor vehicles, and "energy efficiency obligations," or mandatory targets for utilities and comparable entities. These targets are usually realized by financial incentives, information provisions, and hand-holding for end use customers in all sectors.
- Unusually harsh weather superficially seems like a good explanation for rising energy use and associated climate pollution emissions, but climate change itself is largely responsible for the anomalous weather. We can expect even harsher weather in the future, and efficiency efforts need to be ramped up to deal with it. Increasing the levels of building energy efficiency to ride out heat waves and cold spells is not that hard to do, because harsher weather makes greater efficiency levels more cost effective, not only for the end user but for the energy suppliers.
We in the NGO world have been urging our colleagues in government and business to become more vocal in supporting policies that improve energy efficiency. The IEA report offers one more pillar on which to support this advocacy. We can do this if we try! Energy efficiency offers even greater opportunities than the IEA report dares to say.
David B. Goldstein is the energy co-director for the Climate & Clean Energy program at the NRDC.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.
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By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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