by Jaymi Heimbuch, San Francisco, California 10.27.09

light-switches-on-redPhoto via Robert S Donovan

It doesn’t take inventing a whole lot of new technology to save a whole lot of GHGs. It just take a whole lot of people utilizing the simple, inexpensive technologies we already have rolling out that help cut down on energy consumption. If US consumers used existing technology to its fullest, we’d save a whole France-worth of carbon emissions, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. And to get more people to be savvy about what options are already on the table, scientists say social networking will play a role.

Ars Technica reports, “The authors make a compelling case that behavioral changes [such as getting people to use simple, inexpensive technologies and low-tech solutions to energy efficiency], which can be amplified by social networks, are probably easier to generate and produce quicker results than the actual deployment of high-tech hardware. And they cite a variety of studies to indicate that, in a lot of ways, we probably understand how to produce behavioral changes better than we know how to deploy unproven tech.”

Some of the low tech solutions with the highest adoption rates are home weatherization, with 90% adoption, more energy efficient appliances, with an 80% adoption, and fuel-efficient vehicles, with a 50% adoption. These now-tech solutions, when calculated over a 10-year adoption rate, would cut US carbon emission by about 7.4% of total national emissions – an amount just a touch higher than what France spits out. On top of that, about 60% of the total financial savings of reduced energy use would come within the first five years, making the payoff for behavioral changes readily apparent.

So what will get people to make the behavioral changes? The authors point out programs that offer money for efficiency, such as with the cash for clunkers program, or with rebates for purchasing energy efficient appliances. However, we’ve also seen that making energy usage information available to people will also help reduce energy consumption or improve driving practices. A financial incentive to save more on monthly energy and fuel bills will likely spur more consumers into improvements like weatherization, and better driving (or carpooling) practices.

The idea of social networking factoring in is interesting as well. Several energy dashboard companies mention elements to their products that allow users to compete with people in their area, using that competitive spirit to boost energy efficient behavior. We’ve also seen the idea of World of Warcraft-like games as a way of getting people to put the environment first, and of course there’s the example of Tweet-A-Watt as a way to blast your energy usage data out to followers and having to publicly walk the talk. All of these are behavioral incentives that use existing technology.

While cutting carbon emissions by 7.4% won’t get us nearly to our goal – we need to cut our emissions by 80%, like, now – it is a big chunk that helps us get to the goal, and it’s all changes based on tools we already have at our disposal.

Will we actually make the changes that would cut a whole country’s worth of GHGs from our output? Well, let’s hope so. With’s Day of Action just passed and COP15 rapidly approaching, carbon emissions are at the top of people’s minds, and ways to reduce them have never seemed so important. The fact that we don’t need to wait on futuristic technologies to make some big changes is encouraging.

More on Cutting Carbon Emissions
Contraception Five Times Less Expensive Than Low-Carbon Technology in Combating Climate Change
7 Overrated Technologies and Their Underrated Low-Tech Alternatives
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Half in Three Steps