Charlie’s Diary: Magical thinking

Charlie’s Diary: Magical thinking

In other words, it’s a lot cheaper just to buy another nuclear power station.

You may think I’m being unfair. Why not put all the wall warts in a house on one power block with a single switch, making it easy to turn them on and off? Well, if we do that we can reduce the cost by an order of magnitude. But it’s still the same as the cost of a new nuclear power station, amortized over 7-8 years rather than the 40-50 year running life of the plant.

The “unplug your standby gizmos” movement is trying to get us to observe a superstitious ritual, rather than contributing a practical measure to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions. It will in any case be obsolete in the next few years, as gizmos with really low energy standby modes are mandated by law — so you’d be saving milliwatts rather than whole watts.

Back during the second world war, there was a drive in the UK to strip out railings and send pots and pans to metal works to be melted down and turned into weapons. It was seen as a patriotic duty; if you had railings outside your home, you weren’t doing your bit for the war effort. Did this actually help the war effort? No it didn’t; the total weight of railings and pans melted down for scrap probably wouldn’t have built a single cruiser. But they kept urging people to do it anyway, because it made the public feel as if they were contributing and helping deal with the national emergency. It was, in other words, good for morale.

Trying to defeat global warming by unplugging phone chargers and gizmos with a standby mode is in the same league as sending your kitchenware to be melted down to make tanks; it’s silly.

Want to save energy? Have a shower instead of a bath; heating water consumes a huge amount of energy. But don’t use an electrically-heated shower — it’s much more efficient to use gas or even oil fired water heating. Work from home, or find work that’s close enough to home that you can commute on foot or by bicycle or bus. Turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees in winter by all means. The rate of heat loss through a wall is proportional to the temperature differential across the wall — in other words, the cooler your house in winter, the more slowly it’ll lose what heat it retains. Switch from driving an SUV or a truck to driving a small, light car, and go easy on the gas pedal.

But unplugging wall warts? That’s just plain silly.

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