If there’s something strange, in your neighborhood
We all learned in elementary school that the atmosphere is made up of many different gases; some are life supporting and others are directly and indirectly hazardous to the health of planet Earth. Greenhouse gases absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range. They form a radiation barrier to cold outer space keeping the planet warm. In fact, without greenhouse gases, our planet would be uninhabitable. For example, at cruising altitude, passenger jets are flying in -40F air, even in the middle of summer when it’s 80F on the ground – as a result of flying above most greenhouse gases.
If there’s something weird, and it don’t look good
All greenhouse gases consist of molecules with at least three atoms. These include water vapor (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Other abundant greenhouse gases include methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (O3), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Since 99% of our atmosphere consists of nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2), only one percent of the atmosphere produces the greenhouse effect. The dominant greenhouse gas is water vapor.
Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the Earth’s atmosphere, but human activities have increased the atmospheric levels since the industrial revolution. The addition of CO2, a non-condensable gas, increases the greenhouse effect and warms the atmosphere, all else equal. Warmer atmosphere (air) can hold more water vapor, and thus it might seem to spiral out of control. However, water vapor produces clouds which reflect solar radiation making for an extremely complex thermal system. Thirty percent of solar radiation is reflected without heating the planet/atmosphere.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Act is a regular hot topic in recent years. In simple terms, the Clean Air Act regulates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. What this means for the future of power plants and energy costs for the average energy user remains to be seen.
Who you gonna call? Gasbusters!
It has been demonstrated that energy efficiency is the most cost effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the EPA and state air quality regulations. Energy efficiency programs in Minnesota have avoided construction of 2,500 MW of new power plants since 1992 (Xcel Energy 2013), estimating an avoidance of over 11,000 tons of nitrogen oxides. Similarly, in 2010 and 2011, California energy efficiency programs saved 5,900 GWh of energy and avoided the construction of two power plants (Smart Energy Universe 2014).
I ain’t afraid of no ghost
Energy efficiency programs need to be an essential part of the mitigation plans for reducing greenhouse gases at both the state and national levels. If not, the high costs associated with the Clean Air Act compliance will be passed along to the end user… all of us.
 NRC (2010). Advancing the Science of Climate Change . National Research Council. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, USA.