More than anything else, fear of economic fallout has blocked significant steps to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. That fear has led opponents of emissions reductions to disregard both scientific evidence and probable consequences when it comes to global warming.
I don’t believe that emissions cuts will bring economic disaster or drastic lifestyle changes. Consider that the European Union has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent since 1990. Closer to home, there are many energy gains to be had in buildings. Some steps can be taken for little or no cost. Others involve proven, energy-efficient technologies that are cost-effective today, though they may require longer payback periods than many organizations now accept. And alternative energy sources are moving closer to being cost-competitive with utility power — power that is not priced to reflect the future costs of undoing the harm caused by the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity.
What’s more, a serious national effort to drive down energy use in buildings would certainly spur technology development, just as the CFC phaseout led to more efficient chillers.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions won’t be painless. But, as this month’s cover story shows, the scientific evidence demands action. Saying that reductions will cause economic havoc is to underestimate our creativity and willingness to embrace change. And it is irresponsible to argue that economic risk is a reason for us not to take significant action, when we produce more greenhouse gases than any other nation and when, with our wealth and resources, we will be far less vulnerable to the effects of climate change than other nations.
We’ve taken on big challenges in the past. We can take on this one.