In the time since talks in Kyoto, Japan, produced an international treaty to slow global warming, the news has been full of announcements of energy-efficient products that work better, save consumers money, and reduce the pollution that causes global warming.

From appliances to autos, lighting fixtures to a coat of heat-reflecting paint--new products and building techniques are proving that protecting our climate is not only the right thing to do, it's common sense. Following are five steps consumers can take today:

#1. Change a light bulb. Compact flourescent lights have caught up with the way we live: they come on without flickering and cast a warm light; they're smaller and cheaper than before, so you can use them in more sockets in your home; some new models can be used with dimmers; and some even look like the hot-burning light bulbs they replace. By replacing just three incandescent bulbs you'll save $170, avoid burning 1,500 pounds of coal to generate the extra electricity, and reduce global warming pollution by 3,900 pounds of carbon dioxide (which would otherwise be released in burning the coal).

#2. Replace an old appliance. A large household can do 450 loads of laundry in a year, for example, using lots of energy. Recently, Maytag gave 100 families in Bern, Kansas, its new high efficiency washers to try. They found they used 60% less electricity and nearly 40% less water--and got their clothes cleaner with less wear and tear.

#3. Paint a wall. New paint with tiny metal particles helps keep heat where it belongs: inside in the winter, and outside in the summer. In tests, it cuts radiant energy transfer by up to 40%, making homes more comfortable and lowering heating and cooling bills.

#4. Ask for cleaner energy. Old coal-fired plants currently generate 57% of America's electricity. Starting this month in California and possibly soon in all 50 states, deregulation of the electric industry will allow consumers to choose cleaner sources for their power. On the way: more sources of zero-pollution electricity, starting with solar and wind plants that are already making a significant contribution to America's energy needs.

#5. Pick out your next car. In recent months, automakers have outdone themselves in announcing new high-mileage, low-pollution cars and trucks that improve on the gasoline internal combustion engine--or switch to natural gas, electric and hybrid drive systems. Some are already on sale; many more are scheduled to follow in the next five years.

The question now is, how fast will consumers respond?

"The dollar bills are everywhere waiting to be picked up," says Steven Plotkin of Argonne National Laboratory, one of a team of national laboratory scientists who wrote a landmark study on global warming pollution reductions for the Department of Energy ( Their study, released last September, outlines how American homes and businesses can switch to money-saving, energy-efficient products that already exist. The sooner we switch, it says, the more likely we are to see net savings of up to $37 billion--rather than costs--in meeting the global warming treaty's goals for the year 2012.

"A typical home contributes twice as much to global warming as a car"

Many people assume that helping slow global warming would mean, if anything, that they'll be switching someday to an electric car. Maybe so--but what many consumers don't know is that they can save money and also cut global warming pollution by making some simple changes around the house.

According to the Alliance to Save Energy's new consumer booklet, "Power$Smarts: Easy Tips to Save Money and the Planet," your home probably contributes twice as much to global warming as your car. A typical household is responsible for 23,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year versus a car's 10,000 pounds. It's all in the energy--much of it wasted.

Following are more details on the five steps almost anyone can take in the next year to improve their quality of life and save money by saving energy, thereby helping protect the climate. They start indoors, where we use the most energy.

#1. Change a light bulb

The average American home has more than 30 light sources, which are turned on four to 12 hours a day and draw 25 to 150 watts.

Virtually all are incandescent bulbs--750 million of them nationwide--a technology which hasn't changed much since Thomas Edison invented in it 1879. These bulbs still use up 90% of their electricity giving off heat, and release just 10% as light.

The rest tend to be old-style flourescent fixtures with magnetic ballasts, or the recently popular halogen torchieres. According to Lights of America, a family-owned business in Los Angeles that makes compact flourescent replacements and improved electronic fixtures, these older lights are energy hogs too.

Incandescent bulbs are so inefficient, they use five times as much energy as a compact flourescent, and burn out 13 times faster. For each one replaced with a $9.99 long-life flourescent, the consumer gets a total return of $56.75: $47 in electricity (at 10 cents a kilowatt hour), and $9.75 on replacement bulbs (at 75 cents a bulb).

If only 1% of American homes replaced their bulbs with the latest compact flourescent lights, Lights of America calculates they would save $800 million a year, 5.5 billion pounds of coal, 18 billion pounds of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, and free up enough energy to light 300,000 homes.

About halogen torchieres, those upward-facing disc lamps available for as little as $20 in some hardware stores: At 300 to 500 watts, their bulbs burn so much energy that their temperature can reach 1200 degrees. Underwriters Laboratories has declared the 500-watt variety a fire hazard and they have been banned in many college dormitories. In August 1997 the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered a recall.

Yet there are still close to 40 million halogen torchieres in circulation in America, erasing all the energy efficiency gains from all the compact flourescent lights installed to date.

New on the market this year are 34-watt and 55-watt flourescent torchieres that cost as little as $70. Like the bulb replacements, they save four-fifths of the energy, stay cooler, last up to 12 times longer than halogen lights, and quickly repay their cost.

This advisory was mailed with a sample compact flourescent light made by Sylvania (Dick Dowhan, 978-750-2225) or Lights of America (Renee Darrow, 909-594-7883). If yours arrived damaged or is missing, please call Steve Arellano for a replacement at 202-887-8809.

#2. Replace an old appliance

If only 10% of new washers sold between now and 2012 bore the Energy Star label, Americans would save enough energy to light almost 2 million homes per year, and save an average of 40 billion gallons of water every year. There would be less wear and tear on their clothes, too. Instead of a central agitator, these new front-loading washers tumble clothes gently in and out of a reduced amount of water and detergent.

High-efficiency washers are now made by most major manufacturers: besides Maytag, they're available from Frigidaire, General Electric, Gibson, and Amana, as well as lesser-known Miele, Asko, Staber, and Creda.

"Energy Star" (slogan: "Saving the Earth, Saving Your Money") is the Environmental Protection Agency's label for such appliances that avoid the energy waste of the past through smarter design.

Your TV,VCR, stereo, microwave, cordless phone or burglar alarm, for example, are probably never really "off"--most models made in recent years have features such as instant-on and channel memory that drain power even when the appliciance is idle. According to the Alliance to Save Energy's new "Power$marts" consumer booklet, such energy "leakage" costs a typical household $30 a year, accounts for 5% of domestic energy use, and spews 36 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. Alternative TVs and VCRs are coming onto the market this year that will avoid 75% of this power leakage; again, look for the Energy Star label.

As much of one-fifth of a household's electric bill can be because of an old refrigerator--America's refrigerators together consume the power output of more than 20 large electric power plants. However, their efficiency has improved dramatically in the last two decades.

In 1973 a typical home refrigerator used about 2,000 kilowatts of electricity a year (which would cost $200, at 10 cents a kilowatt). A typical new one today uses 700 kilowatts a year, and "super-efficient" models such as Whirlpool's may use 460 kilowatts or less ($46 a year in electricity).

Since a refrigerator's expected lifespan is 14 years, shopping for a more efficient model makes plenty of economic sense. It will no doubt have more convenience features than that old box; and in comparison to the least efficient new models, it will account for 7,000 less pounds of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere, according to Consumer Reports Online.

#3. Paint a wall

Anyone who has ever stepped off a plane into a warm tropical breeze knows that artificial heating and cooling can't equal a pleasant climate for comfort. Energy-efficient homes are more comfortable to start with through such means as:

--"Warmer" paint. The Radiance line of "low-e" interior latex wall paint has microscopic metal particles in it that reflect about 40% of the radiant energy that would otherwise be transmitted through your walls. So in the winter, the paint helps the furnace by keeping more of its heat inside, and making a room feel warmer than the air temperature. In summer, it takes a load off the air conditioner by keeping about 40% of the sun's radiant energy from entering the room. Product testers found it could make several degrees of difference in temperature, substantially reducing heating and cooling costs.

--High-performance windows with three layers and special coatings. These can reduce your home's heating and cooling bills by 15-20% (an estimated $150 a year). Upgrading to the best available technology when your windows need replacing will cost about $600. So the initial investment will pay for itself in four years. And then, since windows last 20 years or more, they'll net you an additional $2,400 in savings. Windows are on the way that will even have solar electric generating ability built in.

--Solar roof shingles already on the market that actually make your electric meter spin backwards. They collect the sun's rays and turn them into electricity then fed back into the electric system. Imagine having the power company send you a check every month! Unlike unsightly older rooftop solar collectors, they resemble ordinary shingles. With President Clinton's recent proposal to subsidize a "million solar rooftops," their price will no doubt fall, says Amy Waddell of the Solar Energy Research and Education Foundation (202-383-2665).

--Putting a furnace air intake three feet below the surface, where it's always 50 degrees Fahrenheit. A home furnace needs outside air to supply it with oxygen to burn and fresh air to circulate. The usual practice of putting the intake at ground level--where the temperature may be below zero in cold climates--makes the furnace work harder to raise the air to room temperature.

--Routing incoming cold-water pipes under kitchen floor tiles. The kitchen is the source of much of a home's excess heat in the summertime, from cooking and dishwashing. The water supply offers free cooling, if pipes are installed in a pattern under the floor. In the summer, they keep the floor cooler, soaking up the excess heat of cooking and dishwashing before the air conditioner kicks in. A valve shuts this feature off in the winter.

Traditional energy-conservation techniques such as insulating, setting the hot water temperature to 120 degrees or less, and installing a whole-house fan to relieve the air conditioner still make sense, of course.

The combination of such techniques can produced startling savings. Builders who follow EPA's Energy Star program have saved an average of 30% of energy costs.

Renowned energy efficiency experts Amory and Hunter Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute live in a 4,000-square-foot Colorado home and office used by up to 30 people at a time, with only a $5-a-month residential electric bill and no central heating system (even though outside temperatures go to minus 47 degrees F).

#4. Ask for cleaner energy

The next time you pay your monthly electric bill, write the company a note saying that you want to know where your power comes from (today, 57% is generated by burning coal), and suggesting they disclose that information to customers right on the bill.

Add to your note that if you had a choice, you would chooseto buy clean power. Soon you probably will have a choice: deregulation of the electric industry to let consumers choose their own power company is under way in most states, and Congress is debating setting federal ground rules.

If enough customers demand it, one choice could be for cleaner power: A plan proposed this month by the Clinton administration calls for 5.5% of U.S. electricity by the year 2010 to come from "renewable" sources such as solar, wind, scrap wood, and underground hot spots. Already in some regions, electricity generated by wind-powered turbines, with huge blades resembling those on aircraft, is cost-competitive with that generated from natural gas (American Wind Energy Assn., 202-383-2500). And natural gas itself is far easier on the planet than coal.

So far in California, which began consumer choice last week, few electric customers are demanding a change. Six marketers of electric power joined together this month to change that. Their Renewable Energy Alliance has the goal of ensuring "that the restructuring of our nation's power markets ultimately leads to increased use of renewable power sources and a cleaner environment." They plan to work with the National Association of Attorneys General to develop advertising guidelines so that consumers will know that claims of "clean energy" really mean just that.

#5. Pick out your next car

A typical home may account for twice the greenhouse emissions as a typical auto, but there are still great gains to be made in our trusty cars: today's mass-marketed engines remain only 13-15% energy-efficient, and use only 1% of their gasoline's potential energy moving the weight of the riders down the road. The rest is lost to heat, friction, wind resistance, and pollution.

In fact, average gas mileage over the past decade has slowly declined with low gas prices and the increased popularity of sport utility vehicles and light trucks, after doubling from 1973 to 1986 because of the oil crisis of the 70s and the passage of federal standards.

Two auto industry titans from that era, Chrysler's Lee Iacocca and General Motors' Robert Stemple, are now partners in a venture called Unique Mobility, of Golden, Colo, whose aim is to offer Americans far more energy-efficient transportation.

"Fuel-cell" cars are in development, notably by Toyota, Mercedes Benz, and Mazda, but for now, more efficient generally means rechargeable electric cars and hybrids. Even though present-day electric generating plants mostly burn fossil fuels, the switch makes sense because today's electric plants are about 33% efficient compared with the internal combustion engine's 13-15%.

Getting consumers to take a test drive is the first step in selling electric cars, say proponents. They're almost noiseless, emit no tailpipe pollution, and have far fewer moving parts--so they're simpler to maintain. Now on the market or in final development: Hybrids that run on dual fuels, such as the 66 mile-per-gallon gasoline-and-electric Toyota Prius on sale in Japan for $16,000, or on advanced batteries that canrapidly recharge and capture energy from the brakes, such as General Motors' EV1, and the recently announced electric Ford Ranger and Chevy S-10 pickups (Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas, 415-249-2690; Electric Transportation Coalition, 202-508-5995).

For the curious, color photos and a 12-page listing of all available electric, gas, and hybrid vehicles can be found on this Internet page:

Meanwhile, drivers can greatly reduce their environmental impact simply by shopping for the highest-mileage gasoline-powered cars and trucks on the market, and driving them as efficiently as possible: tune them up, keep enough air in the tires, and avoid fast starts and unnecessary trips (Alliance to Save Energy, 202-857-0666).

For more information

As General Electric CEO Jack Walsh said recently of his company's research, "Our productivity is at the beginning stages. There's so much waste. There's so much more to get, it's unbelievable." Keep informed, and you'll be a smarter shopper--ready to save more, and add more convenience, by saving energy.

Within a few years, we may be able to install our own sources of electricity in office and apartment buildings, even private homes. Solar photovoltaic systems are already used in remote locations to supply homes and industrial needs (Solarex, Fuel cells extract hydrogen from fossil fuels and then use it to generate electricity more efficiently and cleanly; plain water is the byproduct. Furnace-sized fuel cells now cost about $300 per kilowatt of capacity versus $500 per kilowatt for full-scale power plants. As their cost approaches $100 per kilowatt (still three times the $30 per kilowatt goal for installing them in cars) it will be economical to install them as heating plants in larger buildings, according to Steve Plotkin, Argonne National Laboratory (

The study Plotkin worked on for the Department of Energy predicted that "a next generation of energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies [such as fuel cells] promises to enable the continuation of an aggressive pace of carbon reductions over the next quarter-century."

"Within a few years, we may be able to install our own sources of electricity in office and apartment buildings, even private homes."

To learn more about using energy more efficiently right now, you can order a new booklet called "Power$marts: Easy Tips to Save Money and the Planet," by sending $3 and a self-addressed #10 envelope to the Alliance to Save Energy, P.O. Box 33939, Washington DC 20033-0939. Or obtain it from ASE's Internet site at (click on "consumer").

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy offers its 267-page "Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings" for $13.96 postpaid; write ACEEE, 1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, #801, Washington DC 20036.

Other useful Internet sites include the Consumer Research Council's energy efficiency page (; a listing of alternative-fuel vehicles by CALSTART, a consortium of over 200 companies in the industry (; the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (, and its Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network (


According to a consensus of 102 Nobel prize-winning scientists and a United Nations panel of over 2,500 other scientists, human activity--particularly industrial processes--is overloading the earth's atmosphere with pollution that traps the sun's heat and raises the earth's temperature, thereby melting polar ice caps and glaciers and altering the water cycle.

The result? Weather patterns around the world are skewed to greater extremes, and sea levels rise. With hundreds of billions of dollars in agricultural production and $2 trillion of coastal property at risk, the U.S. has a lot to gain in developing an early solution.

We can and need to act early before the problem is irreversible. A $13 million ad campaign by polluters claims otherwise, but the reality is that existing technology can improve energy efficiency enough to cut global warming pollution while growing the U.S. economy, saving consumers money, and enhancing our productivity, competitiveness, and quality of life.

"In general, it's far cheaper to save fuel than to burn it," Amory and Hunter Lovins write in their book, "Climate: Making Sense and Making Money" (Rocky Mountain Institute, 970-927-3851).

Over half of the threat to the climate disappears if energy is used in a way that saves money, the Lovinses say. Another fourth of the threat can be abated through farming and forestry practices that return carbon to plants and the soil, they predict. The final fourth will vanish as CFCs (in air conditioners and refrigerators, for example) are replaced with new substitutes required by a previous international treaty. "These substitutes now work the same or better and typically cost about the same or less," they say.

The potential energy savings are far from exhausted. Americans still waste upwards of $300 billion a year worth of energy. That's more than the entire military budget, or enough to increase personal wealth by more than $1,000 per American per year--and greatly reduce our contribution to global warming.

Written by: National Environmental Trust


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