Sunday, January 04, 2009

How progress is made...

It's a new year, which means that it's time to get caught up on last year to move on with the new year. This includes an article in the New Yorker on Nobel laureate (and Secretary of Energy appointee) Steven Chu.

He asks us to consider the lowly refrigerator with the following:

Refrigerators consume a lot of energy; all alone, they account for almost fifteen per cent of the average home's electricity use. In the mid nineteen-seventies, California—the state Chu now lives in—set about establishing the country's first refrigerator-efficiency standards. Refrigerator manufacturers, of course, fought them. The standards couldn't be met, they said, at anything like a price consumers could afford. California imposed the standards anyway, and then what happened, as Chu observed, is that "the manufacturers had to assign the job to the engineers, instead of to the lobbyists." The following decade, standards were imposed for refrigerators nationwide. Since then, the size of the average American refrigerator has increased by more than ten per cent, while the price, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has been cut in half. Meanwhile, energy use has dropped by two-thirds.

The transition to more efficient fridges, Chu pointed out, has saved the equivalent of all the energy generated in the United States by wind turbines and solar cells. "I cannot impress upon you how important energy efficiency is," he said.

This is a powerful example, it does show that there is a lot of potential in improving efficiency of our lives. I wrote earlier about passive heat homes where the improvements in home sealing has eliminated the need for furnaces. Well back to refrigerators, the architect WIlliam McDonough often talks about a Chinese manufacturer who builds refrigerators meant for the U.S. market in the U.S. Their reasoning, Refrigerators are mostly air, why ship air across the planet.

Now, while I am very much pro-engineer, I also don't want to create a crutch for us to not consume less. Michelle Singletary, the personal finance columnist asks us this year to reconsider the title of "Consumer". This is a clear way to impact our world, where we are always told that everything new is always better.

Speaking of goals, I still have to set my 2009 goals. Something that I have found very effective is a method of goal setting that columnist Charles Jaffe shares that has worked for me too. I plan to add a few eco-goals to my list this year. I hope you'll consider adding a couple as well.

Happy New Year everyone, in the immoral words of Hill Street Blues cop Sergeant Esterhaus.."Let's be careful out there."


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home