Radical Confidence: The Truth Shall Set You Free

Radical Confidence: The Truth Shall Set You Free

In the New Testament, it is said, "the truth shall set you free."  But in today's contentious environment, everybody seems to have their own version of the truth. I sort of wish there were a corollary saying something to the effect of "and ignorance shall enslave you." If not enslave, ignorance certainly shall lead us to make bad decisions.

No doubt that the budget cuts at the Energy Information Administration -- a paltry $15 million -- will inspire at most indifference and even a stifled yawn or two from the vast majority of people in the country. Yet this relatively obscure -- yet deeply loved by those who know it -- agency within the Department of Energy is the only source of real data on the largest energy consuming sector in the country, indeed the world: buildings. Word has just been released that the 2007 commercial building energy consumption survey (CBECS) will not be released due to flaws in the  "cheaper but experimental survey frame and sampling method" chosen by EIA's prime contractor. And now, as GreenBiz.com's Tilde Hererra reports, EIA has to scuttle the 2011 CBECS survey as well as some key energy forecasting reports.

Frankly most people have never heard of CBECS, even in the green building community. But this dataset forms the basis of the Energy Star program for buildings, and by consequence LEED-EBOM certifications. Some might argue that the government should not be in business of providing data for private companies. But given the importance of energy use to so many aspects of our environment, economy and national security, one might think that maybe, just maybe, it might be a good idea to know something about how we use these resources at more than a fifth-grade level.

So after years of doing more with less, we have now entered the era of doing less with less and we will all be poorer for it. Far from being a tragedy for a tiny group of geeks, the defunding of EIA also impacts data gathered on oil production and consumption, as well as global energy forecasts. Dismantling the ability to gather and analyze good information is often a "for want of a nail" kind of thing: It seems like a small deal at the time -- sort of like substituting satellite intelligence gathering for covert assets -- but it can impact you in unfortunate ways.

Heaven only knows what's going to happen when people start dismantling the climate change information gathering infrastructure set up during the Bush Administration. Though many (including myself) felt that investing in simply "gathering information" was a cop-out on a problem that needed solving not more analysis, what we've learned in the last several years shows it to have been a valuable investment -- though one that should have been on top of, not instead of, investing in carbon pollution mitigation strategies.

As it turns out we are entering an era of profound non-linearities in how natural systems respond to the insults of the last 150 years and nowhere is that more clear than in the Arctic. According to Norway's Lund University and other recent research Arctic ice melt has accelerated almost 30 years and the now-anticipated sea level rise could be 3 to 5 feet, not the 1.5 feet that was the "average" prediction just a couple years ago.  As the permafrost warms and even melts, significant amounts of stored carbon and methane are being released, which could accelerate and amplify the warming trend. Last week's weather-related tragedy in Tuscaloosa could become a much more frequent occurrence. Now that we have more and better data on the problem, we should not defund information about the solution.

Clearly, the big guys are not going to be impacted by this. This week we report on TIAA-CREF's success in cutting energy use by 10 percent portfolio-wide, which has saved the portfolio almost $50 million in energy costs since 2007. Jones Lang LaSalle is saving almost $130 million each year as a result of its energy saving program.

Also this week, GreenBiz.com Managing Editor Matt Wheeland reports that Kaiser Permanente once again leads the way with its implementation of electronic medical records. Their use led not only to the expected elimination of 1,000 tons of paper records, with the attendant savings, but also to a significant reduction in toxics as a result of not using x-ray film. Also surprising is the estimated gasoline savings from avoided medical visits, which add up to approximately 1 million gallons of gas.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to the Warren County Public Schools for their net-zero energy school, which is their latest accomplishment in a concerted program that has saved the district over $6 million in energy costs in the last decade.

The latest of six schools built in the last five years, the net-zero facility only uses 18 kBtu/SF, which is pretty darn good for a 77,000-square-foot facility. This energy-sipping building easily has its needs met by installed solar arrays, whose power is sold to the grid.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user loop_oh.