Did you know that World Environment Day was this week, on June 5? Yeah, it kind of snuck up on me, too.
I’m not too crazy about these token appreciation days, as I view them. Consider Earth Day. Earth Day was once great for cleaning streams and parks of litter and debris back when our open spaces were treated as public landfills and sewers. These days, I can’t help but feel that these singled-out days do more to tokenize the environmental and green movements—including green technology—than they help them.
The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is the green economy, which I also believe is worth far more thought than for one lousy day. (But hey, if that’s what it takes to get people to think about it …)
Two big parts of the green economy are energy efficiency and electronics recycling, which has been pointed out by the Consumer Electronics Association. And it’s not just a tiny, token green economy that’s affected. Our national and global economies are tied to these as well. Energy efficiency and electronic recycling has an affect on our very well-being. And I don’t know about you, but I prefer being well
Riches in Efficiency
By being more energy-efficient, we can save money at home and spur growth in a part of the economy that will likely be a need for decades. This true whether you believe energy efficiency is needed to curb global warming—or not.
How’s that? If you believe we should curb global warming, or that it’s a problem at all, saving energy puts less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air, mostly from coal-fired electric plants. (The United States still uses coal for about nearly half of its electricity, and burning coal is a leading cause of greenhouse gases.)
And if you’re still of the mind that global warming is a bunch of hooey, consider that we need to save money in the face of rising energy costs, save energy to conserve our natural resources (include coal if you like), become less dependent on foreign sources of energy like oil, and spur innovation in our economy. Sure, coal was responsible for fueling the Industrial Revolution, back in the 18th and 19th centuries. But picture the filthy, sooty conditions in early industrialized England at the time, along with the squalor and health issues. Don’t you think it’s time we moved on from such a dirty, inefficient technology? It’s the equivalent today of using an early room-size computer or watching an analog black-and-white TV. We’ve moved so far beyond so much else.
Yes, I’m a big proponent of clean, alternative energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, solar thermal, tidal energy, algae energy (being worked on), you name it. But I’m also a realist. Even with dramatic growth in these energy sources, it will be decades before we can free ourselves of oil, coal and gas. Natural gas produces about half the greenhouse gases of other fossil fuels, and can be a godsend of a transitional energy source, but it’s still not 100 percent clean, and the way it’s captured via hydraulic fracturing of rock can leach harmful chemicals into the groundwater, effectively destroying the very environment we should be trying to protect—for our own good. And that could require even more expensive remediation, paid for by taxpayer dollars. Natural gas that’s mined cleanly could be great for our economy—proving us cleaner, cheaper energy—and disastrous if it isn’t.
These are some of the reasons energy efficiency has been called a fifth fuel. It produces “negawatts”instead of megawatts. It doesn’t rely on clean, alternative energies that are still expensive and won’t displace fossil fuels for decades. It’s a clean “energy” that helps us save energy, save money, protect our environment and conserve our resource. And with the magnificent proliferation of electronics in our lives, such efficiency is sorely needed. The average home already has about 25 electronic devices—and I bet you, like me, have your eyes on even more.
The GreenTech is Here
Even better, we have much of the technology to do this right now. Any device with a computer chip can be programmed save energy by shutting off automatically. Devices can even harvest energy kinetically from a button press, ambient light or thermal (temperature) differences. And these should become commonplace in the next few years. Sensors that detect motion or occupancy have become reliable and inexpensive and can be put into nearly anything. Energy monitors and housewide energy management systems are available and can be paired with home control systems and affordable home networks to save energy automatically. New breeds of smart and connected thermostats can do the same. Energy efficiency is being built into TVs, Blu-ray players, appliances, you name it. And not just because it’s a green and environmental thing, but it’s something that makes a ton of sense on so many different levels.
Growth for Decades
On a larger scale, making our homes and buildings more energy efficient—whether through adding insulation, plugging leaks, repairing or replacing heating and cooling systems and appliances, or adding energy management devices—can spur growth in our economy for decades. Think about it: How many homes and buildings in your area do you think are built to high energy-efficient standards today? Very few. Imagine if we retrofitted all of our homes and buildings to be more efficient? Imagine the jobs that would create. Imagine the money and energy we would save. We’d be putting more money in our pockets and those of workers. Imagine the vibrant economy that would create? The innovation it would stimulate? And it would take us decades to do this.
The next big, big thing in our economy could be energy efficiency—and it’s a bubble that won’t burst for a long while. That’s because it’s actually sustainable—and not just in a green sense, but in an economic sense.
Ecycling for Growth
Electronics recycling, too, is important to our economy. With the accelerating pace of technology, we use more and more electronics today and discard more and more electronics. Only they contain precious metals and hazardous substances. The precious metals need to be collected and processed so they can be recycled and reused in other products—less expensively. The hazardous substances need to be processed and discarded responsibly as well, or you’re looking at environmental contamination and serious health issues that again, will require more expensive remediation down the line. What’s the point of that?
Electronics can also be resold, refurbished and reused—especially by those in developing countries who want, and will someday have, the same cool stuff we all use. And that will place an even greater demand on energy globally. Energy efficiency and electronics recycling can actually work hand-in-hand to make our world not only a better place, but a more prosperous one.
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