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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Energy Conservation: More Action Needed?

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood talks with William Moomaw, an International Environmental Policy Professor at Tufts Unviersity and a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Moomaw believes many policies beneficial to the world's climate can be put in place without economic harm. Moomaw further believes more pro-active efforts at energy reduction should go forward because present volunteer actions are not enough to curb the current pace of ozone depletion.


CURWOOD: Vice President Gore has also chided the Republican Congress for cutting energy conservation measures that could save more oil than what lies beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Energy conservation would also help efforts to reduce the threat of global warming. Along with many other countries, the US is way behind in its efforts to meet the goals of the international climate change agreement. Some say the Clinton Administration's voluntary program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions simply doesn't go far enough. Among them is William Moomaw, Professor of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University and a member of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Moomaw helped write the part of the upcoming report that looks at the potential impact of global warming. He says stronger policies could reduce the threat of climate shifts without causing economic harm.

MOOMAW: This report does 2 things. It first of all suggests that we, there is a stronger consensus that human activity is leading to global warming. Secondly, it identifies strategies and opportunities which are low-risk and low-cost, and which would be effective in slowing the increase of greenhouse gases.

CURWOOD: So, in other words, there's a lot of room for improvement that wouldn't really cost us anything.

MOOMAW: That's right. Reductions of carbon dioxide, for example, of 25%, could be implemented just in the normal turnover of capital stock, of new factory equipment, of new power plants over the next few years. Also, the analysis shows that much to many people's surprise, the industrial sectors of the industrial countries, that is, Europe, Japan, and North America, US and Canada, have actually been relatively flat in carbon dioxide emissions for the last 20 years. So that as we're talking about can we slow the growth of industrial emissions, we have actually already slowed them without any policies. And so what that raises for many of us is the question: what sorts of policies might actually lead to reductions?

CURWOOD: Let me be clear about what we've accomplished so far and ask you: is this enough?

MOOMAW: Unfortunately, because we're still putting these gases into the atmosphere faster than they're being taken out by plants and the ocean, carbon dioxide, for example, will continue to grow even if we were to stabilize our emission. It's as though we're filling a bathtub faster than the water can drain out. If we wanted to keep things the way they are today, one of the other working groups has made estimates that we would probably have to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% or 70%.

CURWOOD: Otherwise the climate's going to change from what we today.

MOOMAW: Exactly.

CURWOOD: How effective is US policy in reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

MOOMAW: Well, the US has decided to try to do this on a voluntary basis. So there's some very interesting voluntary programs. The Environmental Protection Agency has its Green Lights program, where industries replace lighting with more efficient lighting, and basically what they get for it is a cost saving and a pat on the back. And a lot of companies, big corporations have done this. It's now pretty clear that those are not going to be enough to achieve the goal of stabilization, however.

CURWOOD: What should we be doing? How much should we be " should we be stabilizing or should we be reducing?

MOOMAW: Well, as I said, if we really want to prevent the effects of climate change, we're going to have to reduce. I think that one of the things that they need to do is not only to address voluntary programs at the large corporations. I think they also need to look at what municipalities can do to reduce energy, what states can do, and to provide information and opportunities for individuals to reduce their energy consumption.

CURWOOD: Give me some suggestions about what towns should be doing, what states should be doing, what individuals should be doing.

MOOMAW: Well, if you think about the number of vehicles that are owned by the state and municipalities, there's an enormous opportunity to reduce the fuel consumption, both in terms of purchasing more efficient automobiles and in terms of the way in which they're scheduled and used. Much of the gains that we've already achieved in terms of energy efficient municipal and state buildings, there's a lot of new technology since that was done back in the 70s that could provide additional gains. Working on more efficient ride share programs, public transportation commuter programs, there are a lot of things that could be done.

CURWOOD: And individuals?

MOOMAW: Again, there's been some major new technologies in windows, in lighting, in insulation. Many of these things are relatively inexpensive and also the next time one buys a new appliance, appliances are all labeled with energy-efficient labels. Look at the energy label. Get the most energy-efficient one. And even if each household were to simply reduce its energy use by 10%, it would show up in the national statistics.

CURWOOD: William Moomaw is Professor of International Environmental Policy and Director of the International Environmental and Resource Program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Thank you, sir.

MOOMAW: Thank you.



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