From plug-in cars to carbon capture to wind farms linked to “intelligent” power grids, many of the solutions pitched to restructure the country’s energy system and confront global warming rely on a faith in high tech: we expect, or at least hope, that an Apollo project, the energy equivalent of the dot.com revolution or some other burst of creative genius will engineer the problem away.
Obviously, game-changing technologies will play a big role in cutting America’s consumption of fossil fuels. They will also be essential to achieving the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that most scientists think will be necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. But as it frames its strategy to deal with both problems, the Obama administration cannot overlook the low-hanging fruit — the gains to be had from making existing technologies more efficient.
The plain truth is that the United States is an inefficient user of energy. For each dollar of economic product, the United States spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than 75 of 107 countries tracked in the indicators of the International Energy Agency. Those doing better include not only cutting-edge nations like Japan but low-tech countries like Thailand and Mexico.
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