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Conserving hydrocarbons would save $438 billion


Just as low-carbohydrate diets are trimming the American waistline, more judicious use of hydrocarbon-based fossil fuels would reduce U.S. energy consumption by 33 percent and save consumers $438 billion a year by 2014, according to an analysis by Cornell University ecologists.

David Pimentel, Cornell professor of ecology, and 11 student ecologists found the most fat for trimming -- with the best potential for major energy savings -- in the transportation, residential heating and cooling, industrial and food-production sectors. Energy conservation and implementation of energy-efficient technologies also would allow significant savings in the production and use of chemicals, paper and lumber, household appliances, lighting and metals, the analysis showed. Their report on "U.S. Energy Conservation and Efficiency: Benefits and Costs" is in the latest issue of the journal Environment, Development, and Sustainability (Vol. #6, Issue 3-4).

American taxpayers could save an estimated $39 billion a year by insisting that the government end subsidies to the energy industries, according to Pimentel. He adds: "The next time you’re pumping gas or paying the heating bill, ponder this: As high as fuel prices are in this country, they would be even higher without government subsidies to prop up the industry. Instead of paying at the pump, every American family is paying about $410 in taxes each year for subsidies that keep gasoline prices and other energy product prices artificially low. This policy encourages greater consumption and importation of more oil and natural gas. Ending subsidies and pricing energy at its true cost would stimulate the use of conservation and energy-efficient technologies, and result in net savings."

The analysis was performed in a yearlong, graduate-level class called Environmental Policy in which students, under Pimentel’s direction, investigate complex environmental issues by compiling previously published studies and drawing conclusions. Cornell students in the energy-efficiency project were Andrew Pleasant, Jason Barron, Jen Gaudioso, Noah Pollock, Elisa Chae, Yoonji Kim, Allison Lassiter, Christina Shiavoni, Alex Jackson, Melinda Lee and Andrea Eaton. When the analysis was conducted, during the 2001-02 school year, gasoline averaged $1.50 a gallon and natural gas prices were just beginning to rise. Elevated energy prices in 2004 make the case for conservation even more compelling, the students say, and further boost the potential payback for implementation of energy-efficient technologies.

Concluding their analysis, Pimentel and his students write: "We are confident that the president and the U.S. Congress, working with the people, could reduce our energy consumption in approximately a decade by 32 quads (32,000,000,000,000,000 BTUs) per year, about 33 percent of present energy use. Saving fossil energy is fully justified because it would help reduce American dependence on foreign sources of energy and improve national security, improve the environment, reduce the threat of global climate change and save approximately $438 billion per year, which would help support the U.S. economy."

Roger Segelken | Cornell news
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