Thursday, January 10, 2008

Creepy Environmentalism

As most of you know, I am a big believer in environmentalism. I'm just about as "green" as they come. In fact, my position on the environment has always been that I will wholeheartedly support and participate in any environmental initiative of any kind or nature, just so long as my support or participation in any such initiative does not involve any significant expense or inconvenience to me personally.

What's that you say? That position doesn't make me an environmentalist? In fact, it pretty much makes me an anti-environmentalist? Huh. Well, I can't say I haven't heard that sentiment before. In fact, one of my readers in particular is probably screaming epithets at her computer screen as she reads this. ("slug-killer!" being prominent among them, for reasons I won't go into right now.)

But the thing is, I do understand that a healthy respect for the environment is important to us as humans. Basically it is the concept of "don't shit where you live" extrapolated to a global scale. I get this, and I appreciate its importance. I also understand that we as a civilization have an obligation to future generations; that is, it would be morally and/or ethically wrong to bequeath a barren garbage dump of a planet to our descendants.

But the further thing is, I have come to believe in the power of "the market" in righting most if not all of the wrongs related to protection of the environment. For example, a paper manufacturer will, based on simple economics, understand that it ought to plant trees to replace the ones it cuts. And an oil company understands that public outrage, and its accompanying economic consequences, will prevent it from dumping its sludge into wetlands. Moreover, as a given commodity (for example, water) becomes more scarce, it also becomes more expensive -- which, clearly, will encourage conservation.

Now, that is not to say that these types of factors will always, in every case, prevent malfeasance. But over time, in the long haul, I think the actual, day-to-day consequences of flouting moral and ethical norms are enough to cause companies and individuals to conform to such norms without the need for overly zealous governmental regulation.

Some of you, I'm sure, will disagree with this. Hopefully based on logic and reason, rather than emotion only.

However, I hope I will get some agreement that this type of idea is at least somewhat creepy and should be the subject of some serious discussion prior to implementation. The friendly folks at the Department of Energy have been experimenting with "smart" appliances for our homes. These appliances have "sensors" which detect "stresses on the power grid" (i.e., times of peak usage across the whole grid). When these "stresses" reach a certain level, they then cause the appliances in your home to "curtail power use" until the peak has passed.

You'd have to read the article in depth to appreciate this, but I couldn't help but get the idea that it was soft-pedaling what was really going on here. It starts out by touting the study and all of the potential savings of money and energy that could accrue. Only in passing, and in a very obtuse way, does it let on that this program will, when implemented, involve your appliances being shut off -- possibly without your consent or participation. One must read between the lines to understand that soon all appliances will have these censors, and that while "consumer choice" is given lip service here, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where your thermostat is automatically (or remotely) kicked up to 85 degrees during the heat of the summer, or your computer is shut off, or your vacuum cleaner starts sucking less hard, or the beer in your refrigerator is warmed to 65 degrees, or your hot water is cooled to 95 degrees, etc., all without any affirmative action on your part.

This smacks of potential for energy rationing (without, of course, having to call it that). It also brings to mind a somewhat Orwellian feeling of giving over control of the things in your home to some unseen, unaccountable authority. And so far, despite the admirable sales pitch on the part of Reuters, I don't like it.


Gleemonex said...

Which reminds me: You should check to be sure your newest HD TV doesn't have a "send" as well as a "receive" function ...

I'm kidding, but only barely.

bgirl said...

I thought it was "don't shit where you eat." Even environmentalists shit where they live, they just offset it with environmental energy credits or somesuch pacifier.

I kid too.