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Physicists: US Could Cut Oil Use With Better Houses, Cars

Renee Schoof

This is the San Francisco Sunset Idea House for 2007, and it's one of the first LEED Certified residential remodeled homes in the nation. Don't worry, it costs just over $1 million. Despite the outrageous price-tag of this model house, most efficiency improvements would see dramatic price shifts if the federal government would make technology research and green policies a priority.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. can reduce its dependence on foreign oil and
greenhouse-gas emissions by making cars and buildings much more energy
efficient, according to a study released Tuesday by a large national
association of physicists.

The 46,000-member American Physical Society argues the need for action
is urgent because the energy crisis is the worst in U.S. history. It
also says that the physics and chemistry behind the human causes of
climate change - such as heat-trapping pollution from the burning of
fossil fuels - is "well understood and beyond dispute."

report argues that the country can still go a long way to reduce energy
use in cost-effective ways that allow for continued comfort and
convenience. It recommends that the federal government adopt policies
and make investments to boost energy efficiency.

"The opportunities are huge and the costs are small," the report said.

report's authors noted that both Republican John McCain and Democrat
Barack Obama have called for improvements in energy efficiency and
reduced oil imports and emissions. They said that the public also wants
these changes because of worries about global warming, gasoline prices
and national security.

"The bottom line is that the quickest way
to do something about America's use of energy is through energy
efficiency," said Burton Richter, the chairman of the study panel and a
1976 Nobel Prize winner in physics. "Energy that you don't use is free.
It's not imported and it doesn't emit any greenhouse gases. Most of the
things we recommend don't cost anything to the economy. The economy
will save money."

The report concludes that the projected growth
of energy use in buildings - 30 percent by 2030 - could be cut to zero
using existing technology and what's likely to become available in the
next decade at the current level of research and development. It argues
that the federal government should encourage states to set standards
for residential buildings and make sure they're enforced.

"One of
the things we would love to see is all buildings have Energy Star
labels," Richter said. "Right now you don't know how much energy a
building is going to use that you're interested in moving into. We'd
like to see an energy audit required before a building is sold or even

Some of the report's suggestions included installing
roofs that reflect rather than absorb the sun's energy in hot climates,
more efficient heating, cooling, lighting and appliances, and more
government investment in research and development in building

Consumers would have to pay to install the technology, but they would save money in the long run, the report said.

transportation, a key recommendation is more federal government
investment in developing cheaper and more reliable batteries for
electric cars.

"If you look at magically converting the whole
fleet to plug-in hybrids" that get 40 miles per charge, greenhouse
gases would be reduced by 33 percent and gasoline use by 60 percent,
Richter said.

That would be the equivalent of cutting oil imports
by 6 million barrels a day, Richter said. That's the amount the U.S.
imports from OPEC (largely from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria),
out of a total of about 13.5 million barrels imported a day from all

"So if you're looking at energy security issues, which
is government's business, if you're looking at the overall economy,
which also ought to be government's business, to spend a bit more on
research and development to hasten the day when you're going to get all
these benefits is a good thing to do," Richter said.

Tuesday, a group that included Pacific Gas & Electric, The Real
Estate Roundtable, the Steel Manufacturers Association, AFL-CIO and
Ceres called on state governments and the next president and Congress
to make energy efficiency a priority.

Energy efficiency
investments generate attractive, low-risk returns for investors, said
Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, a network of investors and
environmental groups. And efficiency is "essential to reducing our
greenhouse-gas emissions to levels scientists say are absolutely
necessary at the lowest overall cost to our economy," she said.


warming: "The physics and chemistry of the greenhouse-gas effect are
well understood and beyond dispute. Science has also achieved an
overwhelming consensus that the increase in greenhouse gases is largely
of human origin, tracing back to the Industrial Revolution and
accelerating in recent years, as carbon dioxide and methane - the
products of fossil fuel use - have entered the atmosphere in increasing
quantities. Modeling the climate has proven to be a complex scientific
task. But although the models are far from perfect, many of their
predictions are so alarming that conservative, risk-averse policymaking
requires that they be considered with extraordinary gravity."

U.S. energy use:

  • 5 percent of the world's population, consumes 25 percent of the world's energy.
  • Transportation sector uses 70 percent of petroleum used for fuel and emits 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases.
  • Buildings account for 36 percent of emissions.


The complete APA energy efficiency report


Nitrogen emerges as the latest climate-change threat

Low levels of Arctic sea ice signal global warming's advance


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