I’ve heard that, despite U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement

I’ve heard that, despite U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement, a number of global warming reduction efforts are underway nonetheless. What are some of them?

—Michaele Goodman, Port Chester, NY

Indeed, the Kyoto Protocol—an international accord signed by 141 countries agreeing to scale back carbon dioxide (CO2) and other “greenhouse” gas emissions—has gone into effect now despite non-involvement by the U.S., the world”s largest polluter. But despite lack of official participation, many carbon-saving programs are being launched around the U.S., achieving real emission reductions while saving money.

The state of Wisconsin has undertaken numerous upgrades and retrofits to water heaters, air conditioning, cleaning systems and lighting in government buildings throughout the state. It retrofitted lighting in 53 million square feet of office space and realized annual savings of more than 15.6 million kilowatt hours (kWh), which translates to 33,900 tons of CO2 emissions and $7.5 million saved. The other building upgrades saved Wisconsin 108 million kWh and more than 42,000 tons of CO2 and $11 million per year.

In Iowa, a program that helps schools, hospitals and local governments install energy improvements has saved more than $23 million yearly on energy bills, and avoids the emission of 796,000 tons of carbon and 360 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per year. In Missouri, the Gas Recovery Project created a system enabling Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights to burn methane from a landfill to fuel its boilers. The project saves the school $40,000 per year, and each year prevents the emission of 2,000 tons of CO2.

Seattle is developing a public transportation network that includes free downtown buses, a monorail, waterfront trolleys and the West Seattle Water Taxi. The monorail system, known as the Green! Line, is expected to offer, by 2020, a car-free transportation choice to 20 million riders per year. And San Francisco counts many climate-friendly initiatives including light rail, ferries, buses and cable cars, widespread use of solar arrays (the city recently put 60,000 feet of solar panels on Moscone Convention Center), and agreements by 273 regional employers to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency.

Portland, Oregon began plying its CO2 reduction strategy a decade ago, and now has one of the nation”s best public transit systems. The city also requires companies that offer employee parking to also subsidize bus riders. Some other initiatives include: purchase of renewable energy for over 10 percent of municipal electricity use; the planting of 750,000 trees and shrubs to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere; and the weatherization of nearly 11,000 single- and multi-family homes. The city has also replaced all of its traditional traffic lights with energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), at a $500,000 annual savings.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls Portland a model city for climate change reduction, rebutting claims that the Kyoto accords would “wreck” the economy. “Portland, America”s environmental laboratory, has achieved stunning reductions in carbon emissions,” he wrote. “It has reduced emissions below the level of 1990, the benchmark for the Kyoto accord, while booming economically.”

CONTACTS: Kyoto Protocol http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.html; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/aw/air/ED/fallwin982.htm; Portland Office of Sustainable Development, www.sustainableportland.org/.lineine