IN THE battle against global warming, the United States isn’t even doing all the easy stuff yet.
The effort to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions was supposed to start with people simply using less coal, oil and natural gas. Compared with the much tougher task of radically changing the way we produce energy, ending the needless waste of these carbon-heavy fossil fuels is relatively easy and affordable. There are many ways to do so that save people and companies money in lower energy bills. But it hasn’t happened, at least not to the extent it should. People still irrationally waste energy. This “efficiency gap” is a huge missed opportunity — potential electricity savings of 10, 20 or even 30 percent left on the table, depending on whom you ask and exactly what they’re measuring.
There are a variety of reasons why people use more energy than they ought. One is that people don’t always bear the costs of their inefficient decisions. Landlords buy appliances, but renters pay utility bills. Another is that people tend to underestimate how much energy they use in many cases, such as running big appliances. And the full social cost of fossil fuel-derived energy isn’t reflected in the price. Power companies burning carbon-heavy coal get to pump greenhouse gases into the air for free.