An Economic Perspective on Energy Efficiency

The term “energy efficient” is common enough, used to describe everything from dishwashers to windows. A Freakonomics Radio podcast episode titled How Efficient Is Energy Efficiency? explores the complicated relationship between energy efficiency standards and their real world outcomes. Arik Levinson, an environmental economist and professor at Georgetown University, discusses the 1974 California Energy Commission whose regulations were the first of their kind in the nation. Levinson’s paper on energy consumption as affected by these regulations asserts,

“There is no evidence that homes constructed since California instituted its building energy codes use less electricity today than homes built before the codes came into effect.”

This conclusion, based on Levinson’s research leads the host, Stephen Dubner, to question the validity of his statement and to explore the reasons why energy efficiency regulations are still such a major part of the United States’ climate policy.

Climate Change Denial – How Did We Get Here?

As we gear up for the 2017 Buffalo Humanities Festival, we’ve been thinking a lot about why the topic of “Environments” carries with it such an immediate and vehement reaction. The debate over global warming is exasperating to many people who, in light of the evidence that our climate is indeed changing, wonder why we are still struggling to come to a consensus over scientific facts.

The United States of Anxiety, a podcast produced by WNYC Studios tackled the history of climate change denial in their second episode this past May. The Birth of Climate Denial explores the beginnings of climate change awareness in the 1980’s, when NASA climatologist, James Hansen, presented the issue to Congress.

Something has changed between the initial bi-partisan acceptance of climate change and the moment we find ourselves in now. This episode by the United States of Anxiety presents a compelling explanation of the social and cultural factors that contributed to the development of climate change denial.

image above: UN Photo. April 30, 1992. The environmental group Greenpeace protesting against the Government of the United States for the reluctance to accept goals to reduce green-house gases. 

Why “Environments”?

These are difficult times for educational and cultural institutions increasingly impaired by an epidemic of public disinvestment. Moreover, the last few years have seen the global rise of media markets that traffic in fanciful simplifications, fake news, bigotry and denialism, while dismissing evidence-based knowledge and basic human empathy. But this is also why we see a renewed urgency for the Arts and Humanities to reclaim a position of centrality in public discourse; to weigh in on the big issues of our time, from climate change denial to the rise of fundamentalism and authoritarianism around the world. The Public Humanities provide crucial spaces to help us reimagine, transform, and regenerate our world.

This year’s 3-day Festival will feature talks, music, performances, community debates, and other activities on the theme of “Environments,” focusing on issues of environmental justice and economic sustainability, local and regional activism and planning, and the global climate change crisis.

We hope you will join us for what is guaranteed to be a dynamic conversation between authors, scholars, activists, artists, and the Western New York community – pushing forward our visions for the future through this festival of ideas.

Stay tuned for the announcement of all of this year’s participants!



image: Global Action Day in Copenhagen. December 2009. america.gov Transferred from da.wikipedia to Commons by Thomas81 using CommonsHelper. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.