A Sensible Idea on Greenhouse Gases

Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA) actually has an idea that isn’t half bad (WSJ–subscription required).

Ms. Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, suggested last week that a first step in reducing greenhouse gases would be to require that federal buildings use more efficient light bulbs, and ask federal bureaucrats to turn off their computers at night.

“Don’t you think it’s time the federal government were a model of energy efficiency?” she asks. We warmly agree, not least since the United States Government is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States.

The reason this is actually a pretty good idea is that it could be a place for some pretty good savings in terms of money as well. Also the government is not a very efficient user of electricity.

According to a 1999 report by the Alliance to Save Energy, the “federal government, consumes about 32% more energy per square foot than the nation’s building stock at large.” This inefficiency costs taxpayers an estimated $1 billion a year. In Al Gore’s phrase, Uncle Sam’s leaving one giant “carbon footprint.”


Start, needless to say, with the Department of Energy, operating at an annual cost of $22 billion. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that from 1980 to 1996 Energy frittered away more than $10 billion on programs that were “terminated before completion.” On behalf of combating climate change, America could live without DOE’s Energy Hog Webgame for kids, which cost taxpayers $325,000.

Works for me. Increasing energy efficiency is probably always a good thing irrespective of whether one thinks global warming is a problem or not.

Update: Interestingly, in comments there seems to be no interest or lots of complaints that government IT departments wont be able to do their evening updates. So, the bottom line appears to be:

  • De-industrialization to combat Global Warming: Fine.
  • Exorbinant taxes to combat Global Warming: Fine.
  • Turn of my computer at night?!?!!? Are you a flaming moron?!??!?!

Oh well, guess we’ll just have to get around on bicycles so that Al Gore can live in a big a$$ house and Gwyneth Paltrow can fly a private jet.

FILED UNDER: Climate Change, Environment, US Politics, , , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. A good idea. Hopefully, the government will implement it.

  2. Anderson says:

    We warmly agree

    Ha, ha.

  3. Wayne says:

    One of Boxer’s private plain trips from California to DC leaves a greater footprint then the total footprint of a year of a typical citizen. .

  4. DC Loser says:

    My agency tells us never to turn our machines off after hours as that’s when the IT guys do all kinds of remote updates to workstations.

  5. If you really believe in man made global warming, turn off your air conditioner and heater. That will have a bigger impact year round than always sitting in the dark. And it will save you money. Added bonus, we should see a sharp decrease in government regulations in August.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    DC Loser,

    I turn off my machine every night and it takes just a few minutes one some days for those updates/uploads to take effect (in short our IT dept. says the samething, I ignore them). My guess is the losses would be minimal, and compared to the decline in GHGs why it is clearly worth it!

    So get on the global warming band wagon lest we think you work for a coal mining company or something.

  7. Steve, twenty years ago the company I worked for at the time did a study and found that most electronic equipment fails at startup. The study’s recommendation was to never turn electronic equipment off to prolong its life span. Of course, any number of improvements to electronic components may have been made over the years, but, given the cost and environmental impact of disposing of old electronic equipment, I don’t think the answer is quite as cut and dried as it seems.

    As for the government being wasteful, well, is the health of the environment just another reason that the government that governs best governs least?

  8. DC Loser says:

    Steve – I don’t determine when the updates are done. Last week they completely hosed an Acrobat update and they still haven’t fixed the problem yet. I’m just a small cog in a big machine, ya know.

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    DC Loser,

    I know you determine when they are done, my comment was that if your machine is off it would likely be the case that the updates would occur when you first turned it on in the AM.

  10. DC Loser says:

    That’s not the way they work here. We are prohibited from turning the machines off.

  11. Wayne says:

    Every IT department is different. If one should turn off computers depend on the IT infrastructure, network and resource usage among other consideration. I suggest following your IT department guidelines. Most Microsoft operating systems “default settings” are to shut down almost all system components when no input is receive in a certain amount of time.

    Most federal building uses fluorescent lighting already. Those bulbs are improving over time. Many of our houses can reduce energy use by replacing our standard light bulbs with CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs) light bulbs. True is not the same for federal buildings.

    It boils down to another feel good statement.

  12. Steve Verdon says:


    I bet if you were to check, the computer is probably using just as much electricity in that “shut down/power save” mode as when it is running all out. Same with DVD players, VCRs, and all sorts of other machines. Often times they will use something like 40% to 50% of their typical running time usage to maintain various functions.

    And the idea behind Boxer’s bill is that IT departments would have to adapt and get used to the new edict. Seems like a minor thing for saving the planet. Right?

    Sheeesh were are all the liberals/environmentalists who love the idea of raising taxes to exorbinant levels? Suggest they turn off their PCs at night and they shit a brick.

  13. Wayne says:

    You are wrong. Try running a laptop at full speed and compare thee battery life with having it in stand bye or hibernation.

    A PC or laptop is not a DVD player. IT departments often do maintenance during off hours to limit loads and downtown. Some business might not mind shutting down their computer networks and/or computer use during work hours. Ours diffidently do. To do so often increases the downtime of the network as well.

    It won’t save the planet either. It will just cut down on productivity so someone can feel like they did something when in reality they hurt the cause. It was a nice thought but doesn’t work in reality.

  14. Wayne says:

    Looks like my last post was lost.

    Quick restatement. Computers are not DVD players. They use nowhere near the energy during standby or hibernation states. PC use energy even if they are shut down and are plug in.

    Most businesses don’t like their computer networks or computers being interfere with during working hours.

    Boxer plan is little more than a feel good policy that hurts more than it helps.

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    I dunno Wayne, shutting down the governments computers and limiting their ability to do things sounds good to me! Plus, this is where we are going with the AGW stuff. Soon you wont be able to run your PCs or your network at night because the sun isn’t up at night. And hoping for a windy night simply strikes me as even worse in most areas.

    Sarrcasm aside though…for the PCs I don’t know what the exact percentages are, but last I heard it was something like 30%. Given that it is idle for 2/3rds of the day, that means about 2/3rds of the energy it uses is simply wasted so the IT department can do its updates. Still seems like there could be some way to improve energy efficiency, and still shut off many of the desk tops. Also, switching to laptops (where ever possible) could help as well as they reportedly use less energy overall.

    And there are other things as well such as the fleet of vehicles the government uses. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings in terms of insulation and heating and cooling systems. I’m not a big energy expert, but there seems to be lots of waste in the government’s use of energy. Reducing the stuff that easily fixed does make sense. And don’t foreget Nancy Pelosi’s plane. Maybe we can ground that to reduce the government’s carbon foot print.

  16. Wayne says:

    You don’t understand computers, which is fine. Most people don’t. If they are set up right then they don’t use any more energy in a hibernated state then if they are shut off and remain plug in. I try to post some links to that effect yesterday but it wouldn’t post. We personally have most of our people shut down at night but there are pluses and minus that go into that decision. Going to laptops have pros and many cons as well.

    I have no problem in the government looking into ways to decrease energy use. Energy efficiency of buildings, I suspect are already being done. However like any business, they have to look at when it is fiscal reasonable to replace old buildings and equipment. To replace all old with everything new would be foolish. Even if there were enough money, by the time it was done something better would be on the market.

    What perturbs me is when people throw out these grandiose ideas as if it new and have little idea on the reality on the ground. Most of those times those great ideas fall flat on their face. Investigate possibilities yes but don’t draw any conclusion until we have the facts.

    The lights and PC idea sounds great but in the end it is much to do about nothing.