When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban of large sugary drinks was rejected by a judge as “arbitrary and capricious” this week, I started thinking about analogies between calories and energy efficiency. Remember the uproar when Congress banned incandescent light bulbs? Most people probably didn’t notice, but I recall having a heated discussion with my big brother about “big brother.”
Codes and energy efficiency certifications are a bit like Bloomberg’s ban.
Consider, for the sake of illustration, a New Yorker who lives in a new, comfortable, high-efficiency apartment building with a convenience store on the ground floor. Every morning on his way to work, he stops at the store and buys a large soda for his caffeine fix. With Bloomberg’s ban in place, he would have gotten used to that large soda being a bit smaller than before.
One day, our New Yorker travels to Topeka on business. His hotel room is drafty and the nearby convenience store sells super-size sodas. Will he refrain from cranking up the heat despite his discomfort? Will he order the medium soda or perhaps a sugarless one? The answer to both questions is “probably” if, on the one hand, he had chosen his new apartment for its on-demand feedback of energy use; and on the other, he realized how many minutes on the treadmill it would take to burn off the calories contained in a super-size drink. The point is information can, but not always, influence our choices.
While my state of Massachusetts has not mandated calorie labeling by restaurants, one place I frequent does post calories on its menu. This information absolutely influences my lunch selection. My two companions on one recent lunch there confessed that this information most certainly did not affect what they order. Certainly not a statistically significant data set, but interesting nonetheless, especially because these lunch companions would have been on the “big brother” side of the Bloomberg ban discussion.
Calorie labeling at least gives people the opportunity to choose wisely. Measuring energy use is less precise. We consume energy at home day in and day out all month long and then get a bill. Sometimes it’s kind of high – five or ten bucks more than expected – and we grumble but pay it. Sometimes it’s through the roof and we diligently switch off lights and turn the heat down for a few weeks. But the feedback we initially get is complaints from our kids and spouse about cold fingers, noses, toes. We don’t see the savings for another month, if we pay close enough attention at all, and usually we’d rather have paid the fifty extra bucks to silence the whining.
But there are ways to inform our energy use. Enter the energy monitor. There are many on the market now and some are even able to wirelessly monitor gas and electricity consumption on a real-time basis. Turn down your heat a few degrees and it’ll tell you how much you’re saving. Turn on your hair dryer and you’ll see the spike in electricity use.
Maybe you won’t care. But at least it would give you the opportunity to choose wisely.
Here’s a great website that compares the different brands of energy monitors http://www.energycircle.com/learn/energy-monitoring/comparing-energy-monitors