NYT: 'For the Sake of a Cleaner Planet, Should Americans Wear Dirtier Clothes?'

"For the sake of a cleaner planet, should Americans wear dirtier clothes?"

So comically began a New York Times article on the front page of the Gray Lady's Science section Tuesday ironically titled "When Energy Efficiency Sullies the Environment" (photo courtesy Viktor Koen):

We’ve come far since the carefree days of 1996, when Consumer Reports tested some midpriced top-loaders and reported that “any washing machine will get clothes clean.”

In this year’s report, no top-loading machine got top marks for cleaning. The best performers were front-loaders costing on average more than $1,000. Even after adjusting for inflation, that’s still $350 more than the top-loaders of 1996.

What happened to yesterday’s top-loaders? To comply with federal energy-efficiency requirements, manufacturers made changes like reducing the quantity of hot water. The result was a bunch of what Consumer Reports called “washday wash-outs,” which left some clothes “nearly as stained after washing as they were when we put them in.”

Those last two sentences warrant repeating: "To comply with federal energy-efficiency requirements, manufacturers made changes like reducing the quantity of hot water. The result was a bunch of what Consumer Reports called 'washday wash-outs,' which left some clothes 'nearly as stained after washing as they were when we put them in.'”

So, as a result of federal regulations, top-loading washing machines today are basically worthless despite their cost.

Makes me glad I've got a front-loader.

But that's not the point. In our nation's drive to reduce paranoiacally dreaded carbon dioxide emissions, a product that has improved the lives of Americans for decades has now been made useless.

Warms the heart, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, that's just the beginning, for as author John Tierney shared with his readers, our nation's obsessive drive for energy efficiency has largely backfired:

[A] growing number of economists say that the environmental benefits of energy efficiency have been oversold. Paradoxically, there could even be more emissions as a result of some improvements in energy efficiency, these economists say.

The problem is known as the energy rebound effect. While there’s no doubt that fuel-efficient cars burn less gasoline per mile, the lower cost at the pump tends to encourage extra driving. There’s also an indirect rebound effect as drivers use the money they save on gasoline to buy other things that produce greenhouse emissions, like new electronic gadgets or vacation trips on fuel-burning planes.

Some of the biggest rebound effects occur when new economic activity results from energy-efficient technologies that reduce the cost of making products like steel or generating electricity. In some cases, the overall result can be what’s called “backfire”: more energy use than would have occurred without the improved efficiency.

That last sentence warrants repeating: "In some cases, the overall result can be what’s called 'backfire': more energy use than would have occurred without the improved efficiency."

So, efficiency leads to inefficiency.

You gotta love it.

And here's what would make Al Gore and his acolytes nauseous if they actually cared about science:

“The implications of this research are important for those who care about global warming,” said Harry Saunders, a co-author of the article. “Many have come to believe that new, highly-efficient solid-state lighting — generally LED technology, like that used on the displays of stereo consoles, microwaves and digital clocks — will result in reduced energy consumption. We find the opposite is true.” [...]

[I]f your immediate goal is to reduce greenhouse emissions, then it seems risky to count on reaching it by improving energy efficiency.

Not surprisingly, Tierney's solutions were "alternatives like a carbon tax, and to look more carefully at the hidden costs and trade-offs involved in setting rigid standards for efficiency."

In essence, the added efficiencies produced an undesired result, namely people and businesses spent the cost savings on other things thereby using more energy than if the efficiencies were never created.

And since we didn't just pocket that money rather than consume with it, the only solution is tax us - conceivably a sum equal to the efficiency's savings! - in order to reduce energy usage by preventing us from spending those funds.

Plainly stated, the efficiency carrot didn't work, so here comes the efficiency stick.

And people on the left actually think America is an unregulated free market.

(H/T Climate Depot)

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.