Scientists now tell us that the crisis of global warming is even worse than their earlier projections. Daily front-page headlines of environmental disasters give an inkling of what we can expect in the future, multiplied many times over: droughts, floods, severe weather disturbances, loss of drinking water and farmland and conflicts over declining natural resources.
Yet the situation is by no means hopeless. Major advances and technological breakthroughs are being made in the United States and throughout the world that are giving us the tools to cut carbon emissions dramatically, break our dependency on fossil fuels and move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. In fact, the truth rarely uttered in Washington is that with strong governmental leadership the crisis of global warming is not only solvable; it can be done while improving the standard of living of the people of this country and others around the world. And it can be done with the knowledge and technology that we have today; future advances will only make the task easier.
What should we be doing now?
First, we need strong legislation that dramatically cuts back on carbon emissions. The Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act (S. 309), a bill that I introduced with Senator Barbara Boxer and that now has eighteen co-sponsors, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.
Second, if the federal government begins the process of transforming our energy system by investing heavily in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, we can accomplish the 80 percent carbon reduction level and, at the same time, create millions of high-paying jobs.
Energy efficiency is the easiest, quickest and least expensive path toward the lowering of carbon emissions. My hometown of Burlington, Vermont, despite strong economic growth, consumes no more electricity today than it did sixteen years ago because of a successful effort to make our homes, offices, schools and other buildings more energy-efficient. In California, which has a growing economy, electric consumption per person has remained steady over the past twenty years because of that state’s commitment to energy efficiency.
Numerous studies tell us that retrofitting older buildings and establishing strong efficiency standards for new construction can cut fuel and energy consumption by at least 40 percent. Those savings would increase with the adoption of new technologies such as LED light bulbs, which consume as little as 10 percent of the electricity that incandescent bulbs do and last twenty years.
Transportation must also be addressed in a serious manner. It is insane that we are driving cars today that get the same twenty-five miles per gallon that US cars did twenty years ago. If Europe and Japan can engineer their vehicles to average more than forty-four miles per gallon, we can do at least as well. Simply raising fuel-efficiency standards to forty miles per gallon would save roughly the same amount of oil as we import from Saudi Arabia and would dramatically lower carbon emissions. We should also rebuild and expand our decaying rail and subway systems and provide energy-efficient buses in rural America so that travelers have an alternative to the automobile.