By Alexandra Straub
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
As we reflect on the accomplishments of our personal lives over the last year, let’s also revisit energy efficiency’s year, which, by the way, was pretty busy.
Energy Efficiency’s Doppelganger Took Center-Stage
Enter ‘energy productivity.’ Technically, it has been around all along, but energy productivity rose to acclaim thanks to political advocacy by the Alliance and groups around the nation. We began to pay attention to the economic jump-starter that it can be—because who doesn’t want to get twice as much GDP for each national energy “dollar?”
It’s the foundation of Energy 2030, a set of landmark policy recommendations introduced this year by the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy that would double the nation’s energy productivity by 2030. And it also became a goal for the president when he challenged the country to “cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years” during the State of the Union, included doubling energy productivity as a key strategy in his Climate Action Plan, and when he announced the energy efficiency Race to the Top challenge for states in his 2014 budget (an Energy 2030 recommendation).
But it didn’t stop there.
Energy Efficiency Was Made a Game-Winning Strategy
The Administration embraced energy efficiency throughout the year by:
- Featuring energy efficiency prominently in the President’s Climate Action Plan, which details establishing power plant carbon standards, building a 21st-century transportation sector, reducing energy bills for families and businesses, investing in RD&D, reducing emissions, modernizing the grid, and more.
- Expanding the Better Buildings Challenge to include multifamily housing, and incorporate new accelerator programs for building data, performance contracting, and energy performance certification.
- Pledging that federal agencies will continue to expand their use of energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), to increase efficiency in federal buildings at no cost to taxpayers.
- And by launching the Energy Efficiency and Loan Conservation Program, providing $250 million for energy efficiency retrofitting projects in rural communities.
We also gained two staunch energy efficiency champions in the Administration, with the naming of Dr. Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy and Gina McCarthy as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Department of Energy (DOE) kept busy, publishing methods for estimating energy efficiency savings, creating protocols that will offer consistency and increase the credibility of the reported savings from energy efficiency programs. And in his very first speech as Energy Secretary (which took place at the Alliance’s EE Global), Secretary Moniz pledged to address the backlog of delayed appliance and equipment standards. Most recently, the agency initiated the rulemaking process for establishing efficiency standards for electric motors. DOE estimates that the new rules, once implemented, will save up to $23 billion in avoided energy costs over 30 years.
Benchmarking Got Put in the Game
Cities across the country stepped up to the plate, putting in place rules that require large commercial buildings to benchmark and report on their energy use.
- Minneapolis unveiled its own building Benchmarking and Disclosure Ordinance in February. With estimates that it will affect over 600 large commercial buildings, the new ordinance will greatly impact the city’s goals to reduce GHG emissions by 15 percent by 2015 and by 30 percent by 2025 compared to 2006 levels.
- In September, Chicago’s City Council voted 32 to 17 to approve the Building Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance. Building energy use represents 71 percent of Chicago’s GHG emissions, so the ordinance will also help the Windy City achieve its Climate Action Plan goal of reducing emissions 25 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
- The City of Boston introduced its Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance in May. The ordinance is expected to affect approximately 1,600 commercial and residential buildings.
While we’re on the subject of buildings …
What do Atlantic City, Dallas, and California have in common? Building codes, that’s what!
Local and state governmental officials rejected dozens of builder-sponsored home efficiency rollback proposals in meetings convened by the International Code Council (ICC) in Atlantic City to develop the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Energy Efficiency Codes Coalition Executive Director Bill Fay explained the enormity of this feat:
“By dismissing efforts to roll back the historic 30 percent efficiency gains we won three years ago in the 2012 IECC, ICC governmental members avoided what would have been the single biggest step backward in energy efficiency ever adopted into the model energy code.”
And, Dallas implemented mandatory green building standards for all residential and commercial buildings, becoming one of the first U.S. cities to do so. Looking ahead to 2014, California (that’s right, the entire state) will implement its green building standards code beginning January 1st.
Capitol Hill Raised the Stakes … Sort of.
Over the course of the year, a bevy of energy efficiency bills and amendments were offered in Congress.
Of acute importance is the bipartisan, comprehensive energy efficiency bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S.1392, and also known as the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill) introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). In September, the Senate began consideration of Shaheen-Portman but the bill stalled on the floor due to the health care-related debate, government shutdown, and debt ceiling deadline. Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) are sponsoring companion legislation(H.R. 1616) in the House.
This year also saw more than 40 pieces of energy efficiency legislation, many of which were introduced as potential amendments to Shaheen-Portman, including the:
- Energy Productivity Innovation Challenge, previously known as the State Energy Race to the Top Initiative (and one of the key recommendations from Energy 2030)
- SAVE Act
- Better Buildings Act (TENANT STAR)
- All Of-The-Above Federal Building Energy Conservation Act (Hoeven-Manchin)
- Streamlining Energy Efficiency for Schools Act
- WAP/SEP reauthorization
- HOMES Act
- MLP Parity Act
However, because of a gridlocked Congress none of these bills or amendments were enacted into law. The Alliance will continue to work with the bill’s principals and other stakeholders to include the most effective amendments in next year’s iteration of the Shaheen-Portman bill.
Till Next Year
This year energy efficiency made strides in a myriad sectors and levels of government, but I’m looking forward to a 2014 with even more action.
I would need a much longer blog post to encompass the entirety of action on energy efficiency this year. What efficiency efforts are missing from this review and what EE efforts are you hopeful to see happen in 2014? Offer your thoughts and ideas in the comments and don’t forget to add your voice to the debate by demanding Congress take action on energy efficiency!
Visit EcoWatch’s GREEN BUILDING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>