Energy use is the largest driver of Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions and it costs over $20 million annually to provide heat, air conditioning, electricity and hot water to our buildings and fuel for our vehicle fleet that make our daily work possible and comfortable. The University has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent since 2005 through energy efficiency, installing equipment for Combined Heat and Power, awareness programs, investment in renewable energy and switching to more fuel efficient vehicles.
Penn State's Physical Plant works consistently to improve buildings' efficiency and welcome the actions that our faculty, staff, students and visitors can take to avoid energy use. The resources below can help you and your peers understand the impact that energy use has on climate change, both in our individual decisions, as well as with large scale operations. It would be best to view these resources in the order in which they are presented as the early ones give a broad overview of energy, alternatives to fossil fuel use, the relationship of energy use to climate change, and information about daily changes or practices that can be applied in your own life to reduce energy use.
Many people think that climate change and global warming are interchangeable but in reality they are not. Global warming references a temperature change over an extended period of time. Most commonly, people associate global warming with the average 2° F increase since 1880.
When thinking about climate change it is important to remember that it includes a broad range of changes occuring throughout the world and right here in Pennsylvania. These include metrics that are not as readily visible for some people, depending on where you live or your knowledge of natural resources. Some of these include rising sea levels, melting mountain glaciers, melting ice capsules and shifts in agricultural prosperity patterns. These natural occurrences rely on specific global temperatures to be intact and without them, the natural occurrences are forced to alter.
Pennsylvania is the fourth largest carbon dioxide emitting state in the nation with more than 37% from the electric power sector, 28% from transportation and 21% from the industrial sector. The residential and commercial groups produce the remainder. The impacts of climate change on our state are visible and predicted to expand. From worsening air quality, warmer temperatures, expanded flood damage and agricultural losses to the growth of vector-borne diseases, such a Lyme Disease. According the the PA Department of Environmental Protection which is required to assess potential impacts, our counties are expected to get warmer and wetter, with “ average rainfall and extreme precipitation continuing to increase 8 to 12 percent, particularly in winter and spring, while average temperature rises at least 2.7° F.” (DEP 2020 Climate Change Impact Assessment) These impacts disproportionately impact low-income and minority residents of our state, from the effects of pollution and extreme heat on health to displacement from severe weather conditions. Existing social and income inequalities are exacerbated by climate change.
There are solutions and actions that each person can take. The global Sustainable Development Goals provide a blueprint with targets to address the social, economic and environmental challenges presently facing humanity and to build more equitable, just, and healthy communities. Project Drawdown is the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse Global Warming and suggests seven main areas in which the human population can target to reverse global climate change. These main seven areas are energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, transport and materials. Below are descriptions of some of these sectors that most directly relate to us as individuals and how alterations in our practices with them can play a role in climate change and global warming. Following the descriptions you can find some resources to help you further grasp these bold concepts as well as allow you to see how you as an individual can fit into solutions.
Energy Resources by Type
With most discussions surrounding climate change, energy sources are a main component of conversation. Clean energy includes renewable energy sources that do not deplete the world’s natural resources. While this sounds like a simple transition, pros, cons, and feasibility needs to be taken into consideration.
“Carbon footprint” is a term commonly associated with ways to monitor personal contributions to climate change. Being conscious of this usually helps people adjust their personal lives accordingly to reduce their footprint, but it is important to remember that group settings such as school or the workplace have potential to assess and decrease their carbon footprint as well.
Assessing your personal carbon footprint allows you to decide if you are where you want to be in regards to personal consumption and climate change. Understanding the impacts of your life allows you to decide what changes, if any, you want to make to alter your carbon budget.
Think about some of the appliances you use each day and play around with decreasing your usage either daily, weekly, or annually to see the avoided economic loss. This can also be combined with thoughts on how your energy footprint can be decreased in relation to climate change.
An operator’s manual helps keep your car or computer running at peak performance. Earth science can do the same for the planet. To illustrate the evidence and the way forward, host Richard Alley takes viewers on a High-Definition trip around the globe, from New Zealand to New Orleans, telling the story of Earth’s climate history and our relationship with fossil fuels.
Guides and Checklists
- Electricity Calculator
- Holiday Shutdown Checklist
- Energy Star — Home Energy Audits
- EPEAT Rating: Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool
- Pennsylvania Power Switch
- Pennsylvania Energy Profile
- Renewable and Alternative Energy
- Reducing Your Carbon Footprint at Work
- Estimating Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Usage
- Carbon Footprint Calculator
Presentations and PDFs