Is it too much to ask Americans to take their foot off the gas and reset their thermostats? On March 18, the International Energy Agency released a 10-point plan for reducing oil use, arguing that advanced economies can readily cut demand by 2.7 million barrels a day in the next four months, an amount large enough to avoid major supply shortages as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roils the energy market.
The plan’s major prescriptions will look familiar to anyone who recalls the OPEC shocks of the 1970s: reducing speed limits to improve gas mileage, boosting transit use, and discouraging non-essential car and air travel. But its exclusive focus on the transportation sector overlooks the substantial efficiency gains to be had from the built environment: Buildings consume about 40% of the energy used in the U.S. every year.
Yet reducing energy use in buildings has been stigmatized by fossil-fuel interests as a lifestyle deprivation — an argument that’s been internalized by pundits and politicians even as geopolitical turmoil drive spikes in oil prices and climate change impacts upend millions of lives.