Carbon taxes or cap and trade seem to have been a foregone conclusion in our industry of energy efficiency. I’m not so sure. I, like many other engineers in the energy efficiency business have always been cynical about global warming, which for some reason is now known as climate change. I would argue that a relatively small portion of anti-carbon people are true believers, that carbon is having or will have a significant effect on the climate and I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the vast majority of people and organizations who portend to be doing the right thing and saving us all from ourselves when in actuality they are in it largely for the financial gain or political reasons.
The past year has seen one body blow after another to the climate change movement. In November, we were served with Climategate out of the University of East Anglia, “the worst scientific scandal of our generation” per the London Telegraph. Penn State’s leading climatologist Professor Michael Mann, Mr. Hockey Stick, is under investigation for falsification of data. Nothing significant came out of Copenhagen, except let’s party again sometime. The press had a field day reporting on the carbon spewed to put on that convention. Phil Jones, head of the Climate Research Unit, dropped some bombs in an interview with the BBC. Washington gets drubbed with a one-foot snowstorm it seems every week. Actually, all 50 states have had snow on the ground and all 50 states most likely had snow on the ground at the same time – last Friday! Wow! Has that ever happened before? And last but not least, this is subterranean on the average person’s list of concerns so who has the political will to push this?
Most people who want climate regulation do so as long as they can either make money on it or have somebody else pay. Not even eco-friendly (supposedly) Boulder, in a league with Berkeley, Caracas, and Havana is willing to put money and action where their mouths are. And this is a college town, so you know they are well cushioned from the lousy economy. These people aren’t even willing to shell out what is the equivalent of one night out for dinner for an energy audit of their home – a heavily subsidized audit at that. The art dealer drives a Prius and uses compact fluorescent bulbs but refuses to close his door during the heating and cooling seasons – “the most basic of conservation measures”. I can see it now. Auditor: “Uh, close that door.” There’s probably a picket line on the street right now. One UC professor says Boulder deserves credit for trying. No. Credit for trying ends when seven-year-olds graduate from tee-ball.
Furthermore, last fall Boulder voted into the city council people who plan to moderate the environmental initiatives. At the same time they voted down a simple public low-interest loan program for low-interest loans. Now to meet their objectives, they plan a take a sharp marketing turn from environmental benefits to saving money. Touché.
So let’s get honest. Energy efficiency and being green is probably 80% financial benefit and 20% hobby for individuals, and for most businesses and institutions it is 99% financial benefit. Wal-Mart isn’t reducing energy costs and holding its suppliers to green standards to save the world. Certain utilities aren’t promoting cap and trade to save future generations from catastrophe. People don’t pay for LEED® and put their plaque in the closet. I would say that only a very small percentage of the public and a larger portion of our tiny energy efficiency industry are passionate about reducing waste, preserving natural resources, and minimizing environmental impacts – AND willing to live accordingly. The rest is pure financial gain, but there’s nothing wrong with that, unless crises are manufactured and lying is involved.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP