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Year End Inventory

by: Paul Kando

The year is ending, it's time to take stock. Let's begin with science. Heat, air and moisture interact to produce an ongoing series of hours and days with a range of temperatures, relative humidity, sunshine or precipitation, calm or wind, and so on. These comprise what we call weather. Longer term, weather trends add up to our climate. The two are not the same. The weather changes from day to day, hour to hour. However, like the stock market or the price of gasoline, over time weather events show patterns and trends. A comfortable house has a comfortable indoor climate. We can calculate what it takes to maintain it in terms of the energy we must purchase. Likewise, patterns and trends over years and decades of cold spells or warm, rain, snow, or sunshine, correlate with the amount of solar energy trapped by Earth's atmosphere, defining the climate. Florida and Texas are normally warmer than Maine and Ontario. Houston may get a foot of snow and Bangor may enjoy a balmy winter day, but such weather events do not change their climate: Houston's is warm and humid, Bangor's is cold. Once we understand the difference between weather and climate, we also realize that while a change in the weather is a normal everyday occurrence, climate change has serious implications.

The science is clear: climate change is happening and humans are the cause. We keep burning fossil fuels, and emit millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. As a result, the atmosphere traps more heat, warming the climate. The carbon we burn had been safely stored in fossils, away from the atmosphere for millions of years, which is why Earth has such a benign, life-friendly climate in the first place. None of this is hard to understand. Yet, to take inventory, 161 elected representatives from the 113th Congress and 30 members of the Senate refuse to accept what over 97 percent of climate scientists say is happening.

Their constituents pay the price. Across the nation there were 401 climate-related national disaster declarations since 2011. Last May atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million for the first time in over 2.5 million years. According to the International Energy Agency, the planet is on track for an increase of 9ºF if everyone maintains the status quo. Potentially disastrous implications include extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and their huge economic and social costs. From 2011 to last August, there were a 25 extreme weather events that caused at least $1 billion each in damage, including Superstorm Sandy and the devastating drought that has overwhelmed almost the entire western half of the United States. Together, these extreme weather events were responsible for 1,107 deaths and up to $188 billion in economic damages. Delaying action to curb emissions until 2020 will cost a staggering $3.5 trillion.

So why is it that despite the overwhelming scientific consensus and high costs to taxpayers, there are still some in Congress - including in the leadership and sitting on committees that make critical decisions on national energy policy and air pollution - who publicly question or reject that climate change is real, is happening, and is caused by human consumption of fossil fuels? I am not privy to people's personal motivations, but I can count: Over their senate careers, 30 climate deniers have taken $21,463,400 in fossil energy industry contributions while the remaining 70 Senators who haven't denied the science have taken $12,637,284. That's an average $715,447 each for Senate deniers vs. $180,532 for the others. The 131 climate deniers in the House took in $32,637,372 in fossil energy money, while the 302 members who haven't denied the science have taken $21,657,259 in career contributions. The average is $249,140 each for House deniers and $71,712 for other members. In total, Capitol Hill's 161 climate deniers have raked in $54,100,772 in fossil energy money so far, while the 372, other members have taken $34,294,543 over their careers - an average of $336,029 vs. $92,190 each.

So, campaigns of those who reject the reality of climate science receive larger contributions from the fossil fuel industry than those who accept the science. And products of this industry are responsible for the emissions that cause global warming. Coincidence? Causality? Corruption? - You decide, dear reader. As 2013 ends, I am merely taking inventory.

In contrast, during the same period, locally we conducted 79 energy audits on houses with a collective footprint of 1,970 tons of carbon per year. On average, these homes were shown to be able to reduce their energy consumption by 62% (counting only weatherization measures that pay for themselves in less than 7 years). Their collective annual carbon emission reduction of 761 tons corresponds to energy cost savings of $174,856. These annual savings derive mostly from air sealing ($96,330), basement ceiling insulation ($39,663), window inserts ($26,327), and additional attic insulation ($12,536). Annual energy cost savings and their specifics vary widely, since every house is different. The average works out to $2213 per house.

If this average were applied to Maine's 457,000-odd housing units, the total would come to $1,011,341,000. Let's keep this money circulating in Maine's economy, rather than see it help fatten the campaign coffers of climate deniers. We know how to reduce home energy consumption by as much as 90%. Let's explore the details week by week during the coming year.