July 21st, 2012 | Shanghai Daily Planet needs more than voluntary energy-saving
NO more white papers, no more green-washing, no more ambitious slogans that sputter. Act now to clean up our planet and seriously cut carbon dioxide emissions.
As early as in 2007, the Nobel Prize-wining Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already warned of greenhouse gases and predicted that if there was no action before 2012, it would be too late.
Too late we are, indeed, as consumerism-driven economies and ideologies show little signs of abating or rethinking in many parts of the world.
Even in the depth of global recession today – in 2012 – you hear mainstream economists worldwide call for governments and individuals alike to spend more, and you see policy makers everywhere cobble together consumption stimulus packages like cash for clunkers.
Default to profit
As long as demand knows no end, neither will supply. “Business is always going to default to profit at the expense of the atmosphere because it costs nothing to pollute,” observes Auden Schendler, author of “Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution.” He is the executive director of sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Co. In 2006, Time magazine chose him as a “global warming innovator.”
Unlike many politicians or pundits who green-wash their businesses-as-usual with gimmicks like turning off lights for one hour, Auden Schendler has done something real towards effective cuts in energy consumption.
“It’s fine for people to buy a Prius and use canvas bags at the supermarket, but we can’t afford the delusion that such individual action is enough,” he writes. “Relying solely on corporate, or individual, voluntary emissions reduction measures to start this revolution is like asking everyone on a becalmed boat to blow toward the sail.”
The key, he says, lies in compulsory and concerted actions by governments and businesses to really reduce greenhouse gases. He gives an example.
When he became the Aspen Skiing Co’s sustainability director, Schendler focused on the Little Nell Hotel – where rooms cost US$500-US$5,000 nightly – for environmental improvement.
Schendler sought to retrofit all 90 of the hotel’s rooms with fluorescent light bulbs to save energy. The Nell’s manager opposed the move because he regarded fluorescent lighting as too blue-hued and downscale for the prestigious Nell.
Schendler then suggested replacing 110 inefficient, constantly burning 175-watt electric lights in the Nell’s garage with linear fluorescents. This would save US$10,000 annually after the initial US$20,000 purchase, cut greenhouse gas emissions, provide better light and cut maintenance time in half. Again, the manager said no. If he had to spend US$20,000, he’d rather buy fine bed sheets with high thread counts. Upper-level managers also scoffed at Schendler’s data.
The retrofit went ahead only after the Nell won a local green incentive grant and the company’s CEO intervened. It was a good example of how local government and business could join hands to make a real change.
Buildings are a prime focus in Schendler’s book, which says that buildings account for nearly half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and that the United States has more than 130 billion buildings, most of which are energy-inefficient. The average US home spews 26,000 pounds (almost 12,000 kg) of greenhouse gases annually.
Which brings me to my new home in suburban Shanghai. A thunderstorm caused a sudden blackout in my neighborhood on the night of July 2. I groped my way downstairs and went to the neighborhood’s information center to find out what happened.
When I returned, I could not get into my own building because no doors could be opened, however hard I swiped my electronic card at every entrance.
Later a security guard led me through an underground labyrinth before we found another entrance to my building and climbed up the steps to get home.
A building powered 24 hours by electricity is not just unsafe, but wasteful of energy as well. And if you look at many shopping malls in Shanghai and other prosperous cities in China, you often see pampered patrons using elevators everywhere.
Schendler’s efforts to reduce power consumption in buildings is laudable, but can we fix all the “sick” buildings in an era of urbanization and building power?
By Wang Yong