The ability to do work for man depends on the energy quality and quantity, and this is measureable by the amount of energy of a lower quality grade required to develop the higher grade. The scale of energy goes from dilute sunlight up to plant matter to coal, from coal to electricity and up to the high quality efforts of computer and human information processing. (Odum, 1973)
This quote by Odum shows how critical energy is to life. Why, then, is energy efficiency not a key goal of all industry and governments, regardless of the environmental arguments? The Brundtland Commission pointed out in 1987 that climate change is not principally an environmental problem, it is a symptom of a dysfunction energy economy. There are a number if key report linking energy efficiency, the green economy and a low carbon future (UNEP Green Economy Report, 2011, OECD’s Green Growth Strategy, 2010). Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute calculates that if the 40 least efficient states in the US were to achieve the electrical efficiency of the ten most efficient ones, national electricity use would be cut by one third (Mims et al. 2009). This would allow the equivalent of 62 percent of all American coal-fired plants to be closed.
G-20 leaders in Pittsburgh, September 2009, recognized that “inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, distort markets, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with climate change” and committed to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption” (IEA et al., 2009).
In a paper entitled Environment and Economy: Joined at the Hip or Just Strange Bedfellows, Runnalls (2011) asks a critical policy question, “In these days of austerity and cutbacks, why not begin by reducing or eliminating needless government subsidies and levelling the playing field through reduced government expenditures?” What is the magnitude of these incentives? The International Institute for Sustainable Development estimates the subsidies to fossil fuel producers, largely by energy producing countries at more than US$100 billion per annum (OECD, 2011).