A Barnes & Noble Booksellers store nearby sells a rapidly-growing number of books on energy and on the environment which I scanned. Some authors assumed that America’s big problem was running out of oil and gas within our grandchildren’s lifetimes, of losing the generous petroleum supplies that power today’s economy, and tried to predict what comes next. Other authors lamented human-caused global warming related to burning hydrocarbons, and prescribed what to do about it. All the books anticipated a future less dependent on fossil fuels, which reflects a healthy move away from assumptions that today’s energy-consumption patterns would continue and expand indefinitely.
The Union of Concerned Scientists began in 1969 at MIT as a non-profit group dedicated to publicizing what science has to offer on important public issues. The group’s 2012 book, “Cooler, Smarter – Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living,” stood out on the B&N bookshelves as a guide for “the steps you can take and the choices you can make to combat global warming” which the UCS rates as “one of the most enormous challenges humanity has ever faced.” Defining the problem, the UCS points out the “Developments in climate science have progressed swiftly over the past several decades. We now know that climate change is happening 100 to 1,000 times faster than at any time since humans first inhabited Earth.”
“Cooler, Smarter” begins with a chapter “Can One Person Make a Difference?” and Edmund Burke‘s axion that “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” Its 300+ pages highlight small initiatives one person took which were picked up and led to major changes. The UCS also quantifies carbon impacts of our day-to-day activities, while encouraging the environmentally-concerned “not to sweat the small stuff” and to focus instead on big-impact activities. I was surprised and happy to learn that traveling alone in my 2001 Prius emits more CO2 per 100 passenger miles than flying to East and West coasts; we’re intent on being with our children and grandchildren and now feel a little more environmentally-comfortable doing it.
There are detailed guides to increasing energy efficiency in our homes, and the UCS states as fact that America has technology readily available that could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from residential and commercial heating and cooling by 1 billion tons a year, “enough to close roughly 215 polluting coal-fired plants.” Most of the tips save money as well as environmental wear and tear, a good recipe in these times. Air conditioning worldwide adds to the climate change momentum by consuming energy and by releasing coolants that are thousands of times more potent as heat-trapping gasses than carbon dioxide, as sketched in a more recent New York Times video report.