Decarbonisation

By Emily Deanne, Communications Assistant at NRDC

Young people are extremely concerned about the climate crisis, and many feel powerless. But energy efficiency can be a strong weapon against climate catastrophe—and there are many easy energy-saving steps we all can take to lower our carbon footprints and help reduce the amount of carbon pollution warming the Earth.

The fourth annual national Energy Efficiency Day on 2 October 2019 (observed in the US and Canada) is a great time to remind everyone—especially my fellow youth—that smarter energy use can go a long way toward avoiding climate-warming pollution.

On 20 September, in what is being coined the biggest climate protest in history, I was among the millions of youths and activists who took to the streets around the world to demand transformative climate action. Standing before the US capitol, I read the clever signs and I was overwhelmed with emotion from hearing the impassioned chants from the students (not much younger than me) crying out for world leaders to stop ignoring the impending climate chaos.

Although they may feel angry and powerless, there are things they can do to fight the climate crisis, beginning with using energy efficiency to reduce the amount of power generated from fossil fuels that harm the climate and our health.  

We know, thanks to a new analysis, that energy efficiency can cut both energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next three decades. That makes efficiency a powerful tool for young people to wield to be an active participant in combating climate change.

Emily Deanne at a climate protest

What a bright idea

One of the easiest energy-saving actions, for someone of any age, is to swap out incandescent and halogen light bulbs for the most energy-efficient versions—LEDs. They use up to 90% less energy than old-fashioned bulbs and last longer. Also, make sure to turn off the lights when leaving a room. You can put lights on a timer for times you might forget.

When decorating for the holidays (or when investing in a string of Pinterest-worthy fairy lights for your room) confirm that you’re buying LEDs to save money and energy. This may seem like a small endeavour, but if every US household replaced just one old bulb with an LED, we’d avoid 2 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution—in just 10 years. That’s big.

Stream smart

If you like to binge-watch shows, don’t use a game console to stream them because consoles can be massive energy drainers. When all the settings and features are in use, game consoles can consume as much energy per year as the electricity delivered by four power plants. Instead, use apps already on your TV or a digital media player, which uses 15 times less energy.

If your family is buying a new TV, look for the ENERGY STAR label signifying it’s among the most efficient models. Then it’s best to keep the normal or standard picture setting and make sure the Automatic Brightness Control setting is enabled so the TV automatically adjusts the picture brightness level to the amount of light in the room.

These savings can really add up: If all televisions sold in the US were ENERGY STAR-certified, it would prevent 9 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the average annual energy use of more than 488,000 homes.

Relax efficiently

If you like to kick back by gaming, make sure all the energy-saving settings on your console are switched on. The “energy-saving” mode can dramatically reduce its energy consumption. Also, turn off controllers when not in use and keep the system’s software updated. While browsing the internet for fun or school, you can increase efficiency by setting your computer to the energy-saving or “eco-mode” that regulates the screen brightness and will put your computer into a low-power standby mode after long periods of disuse.

To make sure you don’t have to recharge it so often, consider flipping on your phone’s battery-saving mode or lower the screen brightness. To prevent your electronics from being energy “vampires” gobbling up electricity as they continue to draw power from electrical outlets when turned off or idle, use a power strip so you can turn them all off with one switch.

Other easy steps

  • Use window coverings (curtains, blinds, shades) to block sunlight or cold air that affects room temperature, requiring extra energy to cool or heat it. A ceiling fan also can make a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler—and uses just 10% of the energy of an air conditioner.
  • Turn off electronics and equipment when not in use. Almost one-fourth of the electricity consumed in US homes today vanishes as standby-power when they aren’t even being actively used.
  • Wait for full loads to run the dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer in order to save energy and water. Or use a clothesline or rack to dry clothing, avoiding the dryer that can use as much energy as a new refrigerator, dishwasher, and clothes washer combined.
  • Drive less. Carpool, bike, or take public transportation to commute more efficiently.

Take efficiency to the next level

Ask your parents to schedule an energy audit of your home, or if you live in an apartment, check with your landlord to see if there are ways to improve the energy efficiency of the building. A lot of energy can be wasted through leaky or broken windows. Heat gain and heat loss through windows, alone, is responsible for 25% to 30% of residential heating and cooling energy use.

If you’re passionate about creating change, become an energy efficiency warrior by speaking out at school or in a community meeting to raise awareness about energy efficiency. Use social media to follow groups like NRDC that care about energy efficiency. Retweet, repost and compose your own content to educate those in your network about how to use energy efficiency as a weapon in the fight against the climate crisis.

These are all easy steps anyone can take. We've learned from climate activist Greta Thunberg that one voice, regardless of age, can bring about global change. That next voice could be yours.