05/12/2006 01:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

What do the Queen of England, the Rapper 50 Cent and George Bush have in common? It is not their political persuasion, the cars they drive or their bankers. They all have homes heated and cooled with geo-exchange heat pumps.

Geo what?

Geo-exchange is a technology that our ancestors in caves used. A few feet underground, the temperature is constant year round. So, in winter when its cold, the cave feels warm, and in summer when it's hot, the cave feels cool. We can exploit this fact to heat and cool our homes and guess what, it doesn't consume oil.

Geo-exchange simply takes water and pumps it underground through a long pipe and uses the fact that it comes out the other side at 50 F or 10 C no matter where we are in the world (more of less). If it is hot outside, say 100 F, this cool water can be used to air-condition your home. If it is cold outside, say 0 F, this 'hot' water can be used to heat your home. Commercial systems add a compressor to all of this to enhance the effect, much like you fridge does at home.

The earth is a big sink at a constant temperature and there is enough of it to heat and cool or houses and buildings, even entire cities. It is a well-kept secret that over 1 million homes in the US use geo-exchange systems. That's great news. Just to put it in perspective, for every million homes using geo-exchange instead of traditional oil or natural gas HVAC systems in the United States, CO2 emissions are reduced by 9 billion lb. That would be the equivalent of converting about 600,000 cars to zero-emission vehicles, or planting more than one million acres of trees. It is crazy that we are not using geo-exchange wherever we can. We would cut down pollution, reduce our dependency on imported oil and it would be cheaper to boot. The Swedes do a lot of it and they have vowed to be the first country in the world to be free from oil by 2020.

So, what's a nice anti-environmentalist like George doing with one of the most environmentally friendly forms of heating and cooling? Perhaps he has discovered that it is much less costly to operate than heating and cooling with fossil fuels and electricity? Maybe he wants to be 'off-the-grid'? George? 'Off-the-grid'? You've got to be kidding!

But, can you imagine how the pollution levels in cities and our dependence on oil and natural gas would change if everybody followed George's example?