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Thousand Home Challenge 

I have been immersed in the news about the recent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.  The information is sobering.  Here is a sample from John M. Broder of  the New York Times:

DURBAN, South Africa — For 17 years, officials from nearly 200 countries have gathered under the auspices of the United Nations to try to deal with one of the most vexing questions of our era — how to slow the heating of the planet.Every year they leave a trail of disillusion and discontent, particularly among the poorest nations and those most vulnerable to rising seas and spreading deserts. Every year they fail to significantly advance their own stated goal of keeping the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

Carbon dioxide needs no passport.  Unfettered by borders, it travels when and where it wants.   Scientists know this; the leaders in Durban knew it too, but provincial self-interest prevailed and the conference ended with dim flickers of hope.  Take the two-page Durban Platform that holds “the increase in global average temperature below 1.5 to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.”  Given that a 4-degree increase was enough to end an ice age, even a 2-degree C increase could bring more erratic and intense weather, like the foot of snow during leaf peeper season in New England that knocked out power to more than a million people.  The Durban negotiators will keep talking about climate risks versus the costs of change until 2015.   In the meantime, we can spew carbon with impunity until 2020.  By then there is a good chance that the global thermostat will be set irreversibly high.

The Durban deal to make a deal could make the most buoyant environmental crusader give up. Thankfully, there are glimmers of optimism, voices emphasizing a “social movement for energy progress…an Energy Party, not a Tea Party” (physics Nobelist Andrew Richter) and the creation of a new “energy menu” (Andrew Revkin) in which the main courses include a range of choices from government sponsored laws and incentives to individual initiatives.  In this bill of fare deep energy retrofits of existing buildings and net zero construction are entrees not mere cordials to sip at dessert.   The kilowatt diet menu includes The Thousand Home Challenge, a grassroots effort to “demonstrate the potential to reduce total annual site energy consumption of existing North American homes by 70-90%.”  Our family is a couple of months into the Challenge and we are adjusting to the tastes and serving size.  Over the next eight months I'll keep you posted on the savory, bitter, and sweet.

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