The high cost of willful ignorance

Posted Tuesday, February 25, 2014 in Sustainable Maine

The high cost of willful ignorance

by Paul Kando

The series of recent winter storms that dropped up to two feet of snow on the Eastern Seaboard, brings to mind  the 1988 testimony by NASA’s Jim Hansen that first alerted Congress to human-caused climate change. Over the quarter century elapsed since, both houses of Congress developed a cadre of climate change deniers, instead of acting to curb fossil fuel reliance on the  advice of a worldwide chorus of scientists. There are 127 deniers in the house and 30 in the senate at last count, and they routinely garner, on average, four times the campaign contributions from well financed fossil fuel-related interests than their colleagues who do recognize the climate problem. Climate change deniers often deny other science as well. They are not “conservative” – a once-honorable reference to thoughtful, frugal people who question change and are reluctant to throw out babies with bath-waters. In contrast, climate change and science deniers are just willfully ignorant – and anything but frugal.

Here is a tiny sampling of merely the estimated monetary damages caused by a few extreme weather-events (never mind lives lost) – costs that could well have been avoided, had the world’s willfully ignorant acted on scientific advice, in the wake of  Hansen’s quarter century old  warning to Congress. Hurricane Katrina cost $81.2 billion in 2005 dollars, nearly double the inflation adjusted cost of the previously most expensive storm, Hurricane Andrew. Hurricane Sandy racked up  $148 billion (2012 dollars) in damages so far. What about Super Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in 2013? The ongoing California super-drought? The current super-flooding in England and Wales?

It’s no rocket science: raise the surface temperature of land and ocean a few degrees by dumping carbon into the atmosphere and you get more evaporation. The air warms, rises, and  takes with it the evaporated moisture, only to drop it as more rain, snow, or ice – nearby or somewhere else – causing havoc, deaths, suffering, and huge economic losses.

What about household-scale climate deniers? They let their energy bills rise year after year, instead of spending  some of that money to  reduce those bills permanently. Here are examples of what we could all be doing to minimize that bill – not to mention our personal contribution to human-caused climate change. Only the numbers will vary; those shown apply to a specific house with a $ 441 monthly energy bill.

• Remove the bug screens from all windows for the heating season, increasing solar heat gain by over 30%, and thereby reduce heating costs by $13.20

• Reduce the water temperature at the water heater to 120ºF, saving $3.33

• Each electrical switch sealed by caulking around the junction box and installing a 10¢ foam rubber gasket will save 10¢; each double outlet so sealed  20¢ per month (not counting avoiding the cost of water damage inside exterior walls due to condensation).

• Replacing one incandescent light bulb with a light-equivalent compact fluorescent will save on the electric bill about 20¢ for every hour it is switched on.

• Save a penny per month for every foot of hot water pipe insulated in the basement.

• Save over 6¢ per month for every square foot of window equipped with a double-glazed interior storm window that can make for about $1 per square foot in materials

• Save 18¢ per month on the heating bill for each door weather-stripped, and its latch plate adjusted so the door closes tightly against the weather strip.

• Save $1 per month for every storm door installed.

• Save 4¢ a month for each square foot of basement or crawl space ceiling sealed and insulated.

• Save $13.34 per month by air sealing around a chimney

These amounts may seem small, but they add up to significant savings repeated month after month.

Take  your own measurements and do your own calculations.  Every house is different, but this 10 point to-do list for budget-minded households serious about energy savings applies to every house: 1. Become conscious about how your house uses energy; 2. Post the family’s energy bills for all to see; 3. Enlist the help of every member of the household; 4. Tour the house together every month to discover improvement opportunities; 5. Try your hand at simple home improvement tasks; 6. Begin with no cost, commonsense improvements and track the energy cost-savings that result; 7. Invest those savings in further improvements; 8. Energy savings derive from permanent improvements, therefore the savings will mount month after month. 9. Allow savings to accumulate between more major expenditures, such as insulating the basement ceiling; 10. Fill-in doing inexpensive tasks – or ones that can be spread out over time, like caulking and air sealing. The art is to stay within the original amount  you used to be  spending on heating fuel and electricity.

A word of caution: Heat air and moisture interact to create our climate – indoors or around the globe. In a house we must deal with all three or we can cause more problems than we solve. This is why the Midcoast Green Collaborative offers workshops, home energy clinics and independent professional energy audits for home owners. For more information check out www.midcoastgreencolaborative .org . While there, you may also access an archive of these weekly energy columns going back several years. There is no excuse for willful ignorance. Indeed it is unbecoming of citizens of a democracy.

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