How can societies reduce emissions now? What are some longer-term strategies to help us cut emissions even as our world becomes more developed and our population increases?
Retrofitting Buildings for Efficiency
Increasing the heating and cooling efficiency of buildings helps save energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. New York’s Empire State Building was recently retrofitted for energy efficiency, reducing the building’s expected energy use by 38%.
Policies can help individuals and communities reduce their carbon footprints by making low-emission development and modes of transportation more convenient. For example, enhanced public transportation, bike paths, and walkability can promote smart growth while reducing urban sprawl and traffic congestion.
Maximizing Distribution of Renewable Energy
Although renewable energy sources generally provide power with vastly reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil-fuel based energy sources, many renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, are intermittent. “Smart” grids can help solve this problem by rerouting power from other sources when clouds roll in.
Researching New Fuels
New fuels could provide needed energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, scientists are studying how to generate biofuel from non-edible plant material such as switchgrass and algae. It is important to study both the benefits and the potential unintended consequences of these innovations.
Implementing Small-Scale Innovations
Small-scale innovations can make a big difference. For example, compact biogas plants produce usable energy from materials such as manure or garbage, offering an affordable, sustainable, and reliable renewable fuel source that can be implemented locally.
Streamlining Industrial Processes
Industries are finding ways to optimize their use of energy. For example, the heat generated by steel furnaces was once simply wasted. Now this “waste” heat is being recycled and put to use in other manufacturing processes, thus reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
The materials in the Koshland Science Museum’s Earth Lab exhibit are based on reports of the National Research Council and works of the U.S. government and have been vetted for scientific accuracy by a panel of expert advisors.