The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in June that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 419 parts per million, the highest level in four million years.
Why is this important? Carbon dioxide acts like a blanket in the atmosphere, holding in heat and warming Earth’s surface. More CO2 results in a thicker blanket and a warmer Earth. To prevent overheating, we must stop padding our atmospheric blanket with the CO2 we produce when we burn fossil fuels.
That’s why energy experts are touting the 2020s as the Decade of Decarbonization. We have just 10 to 15 years to reduce the flow of CO2 to a trickle. It sounds like a daunting task, but the good news is that we already have the technologies we need. We just need to implement them with lightning speed by electrifying everything.
We must replace devices that currently burn fossil fuels with alternative machines that are powered by electricity while simultaneously greening our electricity grid, ensuring that all those electrons are generated by clean, renewable sources that don’t emit polluting CO2 or other greenhouse gases. All told, this will mean replacing or installing a billion machines in the U.S.
We all have a role to play in this great transition. According to Rewiring America, 42 percent of our energy-related carbon emissions stem from decisions we make at our kitchen tables, such as when to replace our appliances or what car to buy. In addition to the energy we use directly to operate these machines, this figure factors in the energy used to mine the materials, manufacture and ship the product, and produce the fuel that runs them.
The bottom line is that the next time you need to replace any machine in your home with an expected lifespan of 10 years or more — your water heater, HVAC system, stove, clothes dryer, or automobile — you should replace it with an electric one, backed by the cleanest energy you have access to. Solar panels on your roof are ideal, but if you can’t do that, consider opting into Newark’s new Renewable Energy Program.
It helps to plan ahead for this transition. When your water heater suddenly breaks and all you want is to take a hot shower, that’s not the ideal time to make the decision to switch from natural gas to an electric heat pump water heater. You may need professionals to shut off your gas line and install the proper electrical outlet for your new appliance. To go fully electric throughout your household, you may need to upgrade your breaker box. These upfront costs can be barriers to making the switch at the point of sale if you haven’t done some planning and homework ahead of time.
Public policies that will help homeowners defray the upfront costs of electrification are in the works. But if you are moving, refinancing, or remodeling, it could be an ideal time to take advantage of historically low interest rates and add some emission-saving devices to your plans.
The best news, however, is that modern electrical appliances and vehicles are highly efficient, and a fully electrified home could save the average homeowner up to $2,000 per year in energy costs. They can also offer superior performance in many other ways. For instance, professional chefs are increasingly singing the praises of the latest induction cooktops that offer the instantaneous heat control of a natural gas stove but waste less heat and are easier to clean.
The good news doesn’t end there. Electric appliances are safer and healthier than gas-fired ones. We’ll no longer need to pipe toxic and explosive gases into our homes and burn them in ways that contribute to poor indoor air quality. When burned, natural gas releases a variety of contaminants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and fine particulate matter. A recent report by Australia’s Climate Council highlighted research that showed children living in houses with gas cooktops were 32 percent more likely to develop asthma than those who didn’t — a rate comparable to asthma rates for children living with a smoker.
We can also view the decade of decarbonization ahead of us as a unique opportunity that will create perhaps as many as 25 million new, good-paying jobs as we engineer, produce, install, maintain, and power the new machines we’ll need to make this transition. The effort will be worth it, and it’s reassuring to know that we won’t have to sacrifice comfort and convenience as we build a cleaner, healthier future.
The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.