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When a blackout hit part of New York recently, some people blamed the air conditioning, as demand soared during a heat wave. Air conditioning has caught on around the world, which means year-round demand for energy beyond cold winters, and so bigger bills and environmental costs.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD in figures 2006

Although natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or warm ocean currents, or even the earth’s tilt, might all contribute to global warming, carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activity–from running homes and factories to flying planes and mowing lawns–is accepted as a major culprit.

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

The possibility of using renewable energy to produce electricity on a significant scale is a heated debate.

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Can the Kyoto protocol, which came into force on 16 February 2005, work? Although natural phenomena such as large volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, the likes of El Niño or even changes in the earth’s tilt might all be contributing factors, carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activity–whether running homes and factories or driving cars and lawnmowers–is cited as a major culprit in the rise of global temperatures.

With oil prices historically high and worries about global warming, greater attention is being paid to renewable energy potential. Take solar energy, for instance, which is already used for water heating and cooling systems.

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While energy demand in IEA countries has increased steadily since 1973, with only two interruptions, energy savings have been substantial, according to Oil Crises and Climate Challenges: 30 Years of Energy Use in IEA Countries. Compared to 1973, it takes a third less energy to produce a unit of GDP, thanks in part to improved energy efficiency.

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