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Cut energy use to cut emissions

There is much talk these days about reducing CO2 emissions. Numerous proposals are put forth, usually with timelines of 30 or 40 years and generally only addressing electrical power generation. Electricity represents about one-third of the energy use in the U.S.

In 2017, of the 97.7 quadrillion BTUs consumed by the U.S., 11% was generated by renewables, of which wind contributed 2.3% and solar 0.7%.

After many years of buildout, this rate of progress is pathetic. Hydro and biomass are still the largest renewable contributors, at 2.8% and 5% respectively. Nuclear (9%) is, by far, the largest non-greenhouse-gas producing energy source and has been for four decades. All figures (are) from the U.S. Energy Information Administration website.

It is a simple fact that CO2 emissions result from burning fuels, including propane, gasoline, diesel, natural gas – methane – coal and wood. Therefore, it is axiomatic that such emissions would be reduced by actions each and every one of us takes to curtail their use.

In my experience, such reductions can be dramatic. The simplest one to make is in daily transportation. Our three children either walked or bicycled to school from first grade through college. I used a bicycle to commute to work for 33 years. Prior to that, I was in a four-person carpool. Carpools are easy. They don’t require any new products or infrastructure. They are less expensive than practically any conceivable alternative. If widely adopted, they would save a gargantuan amount of emissions and traffic congestion. You don’t need to buy anything; you could start tomorrow.

We live in an average-size three-bedroom home. Over the last five years, our household electricity consumption has averaged 3,250 kilowatt hours annually. That is 271 kwh per month or about $1 per day. We lead a normal, 21st-century life but use 68% less electricity than the average U.S. home – 867 kwh per month. Our annual natural gas consumption, which is used for winter heating, hot water and cooking, averages less than 200 therms. This costs about $60 per year at current prices. Sure, building new renewable infrastructure is a worthy long-term goal. Without a doubt, however, widespread conservation could have a much larger impact, in a much, much shorter period of time, and costs essentially nothing.

We are not unique. I am sure there are others in Albuquerque who burn even less fuel. But these numbers do show that the average person can make tremendous strides in reducing CO2 emissions. Some things are easy, some are harder, but the collective room for improvement is huge. If you really care about CO2 emissions, don’t wait decades for someone else to build expensive new infrastructure or hand you a subsidy. Instead, set an example and slash your personal energy use. Start today. You could make a world of difference.