Energy efficiency can help slow the pace of climate disruption, but only if it takes on a new “cool factor” and heralds a “radical shift in our way of thinking,” environmental icon David Suzuki suggests in a recent blog post.
“Making buildings more energy efficient is good,” Suzuki writes. “But people in those buildings still have to use energy wisely. Consuming, flying, and driving less doesn’t necessarily mean living a poorer life. Focusing on relationships with family, friends, and community and spending time in nature rather than accumulating stuff and constantly being on the move bring greater well-being and happiness.”
Suzuki and co-author Ian Hanington point to a recent study in the journal Nature Energy, which cited energy efficiency as the cornerstone of a strategy to keep average global warming below the 1.5°C threshold—without relying on exotic and unproven solutions like biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
In building energy efficiency, “just implementing today’s best practices could cut global energy demand by one-third by 2050,” wrote Jennifer Layke, global director of the World Resources Institute’s energy program, one of the authors of the Nature Energy study. “Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is a fast, cost-effective way to manage carbon pollution, spur economic development, and enhance local air quality.”
“It seems simple,” Suzuki and Hanington add. “So what’s holding us back? The desire of people to go on consuming as we’ve been encouraged to do since at least the end of the Second World War is one factor,” leading Layke to make the case for increasing efficiency’s “cool factor”.
The post cites energy specialist Andrew Nikiforuk’s argument for The Tyee that “the only way to reduce total energy consumption levels, say, in the aviation industry or any other sector, is to limit the number of planes, travellers, and airports. Higher energy prices and higher taxes will do that. But that means a shrinking economy and a radical rethink about the dominant role of technology in our decision-making.”
But those arguments and decisions will play out against the backdrop of the massive job creation potential that energy efficiency can bring to any economy that takes it seriously. In May, a modelling study for Efficiency Canada and Clean Energy Canada found that efficiency measures in the pan-Canadian climate framework will create 118,000 jobs, boost GDP by C$356 billion between 2017 and 2030, and generate average annual savings of $114 per household and $3.2 billion for businesses. In the United States, energy efficiency already employed 2.18 million people in 2016, more than double the total for fossil production and fossil-based electricity production combined, the Columbia Missourian reported earlier this month, in a post reprinted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
“These energy efficiency jobs are much cheaper to create,” the Missourian noted. “According to an academic study, every US$1 million invested in energy efficiency creates 12 jobs, compared to just four or five for fossil fuel jobs”—and that’s before those fossil jobs get hit with the industry’s “de-manning” trend.
Efficiency jobs “are growing at a much faster rate, too,” the paper stated. And “these are good, well-paying jobs. For example, electricians have a median hourly pay of $26, and the corresponding numbers for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) workers and carpenters are $22.64 and $21.71, respectively,” compared to a median hourly rate of $18.12 for all U.S. workers.