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.
Inspiring because we already have many conservation techniques at hand that, if applied, will immediately start relieving our energy-related woes. But depressing for the reasons that I highlighted, specifically the “of course” part. The idea that capitalism is a system run on pure economic rationality is clearly a joke; in reality, the powerful and rich men who run the system are as emotional as the rest of us and generally more ideological. Rationality would dictate cooperating with government and labor instead of spending shitloads of money defeating them, money that could have instead spent on complying with demands and making the world a better place, which is the more rational decision. (Same money + better results = more rational.) But environmentalists, liberals, and labor leaders are seen as emasculators, replacing the godly corporate authority with their own, and so no matter how rational it is to comply with regulations, most industry types will push back. Of course. As the stock market continues to scare the crap out of everyone, it’s a good time to remember that we’re in this situation because protecting their own economic interests was less important to your average rich ass Republican than making sure welfare mothers didn’t get a dime of their money.
It’s going to be coming up a lot in the future, I think. Lots of business leaders offering irrational resistance because of ideological and just general ego-driven opposition to any kind of aid or comfort to people who live paycheck to paycheck. Of course, hardline socialists would say, “Let them.” Let them dismantle the liberal agenda that will save their asses in the long run and drive people towards much more dramatic and revolutionary change. I’m not really on board with that idea, myself, because the cost in human suffering is too high. But I do think it’s fascinating watching ideological conservatives who will, every single time, cut off their noses to spite their faces.