The (Hidden) Energy Costs in Energy-Efficient Fridges

David Owen argues that more efficient fridges doesn't always equal lowered energy use.

In light of GOOD's Energy Issue, I decided to look into how one household technology transforms our relationship with food:

In 2008, when Steven Chu spoke at the National Clean Energy Summit about using more efficient technologies to cut energy use, he talked about one success—a household fixture, a big, humming kitchen appliance that, since it's invention in 1900, has made its way into 99.5 percent of American households (yes, even in Alaska): the refrigerator.

Chu said that despite the ever-increasing capacity of refrigerators (the red line), better, more efficient cooling systems and mandatory energy regulations in California, had caused a net drop in energy use (the blue line)—more energy saved, in fact, than was expected to be produced from all renewable energies.

This line of thinking presumably extends to cars, computers, and electronic devises. At the time, The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert enthusiastically responded, saying his speech heralded a shift in policy, a clear message from the country's future energy chief.

But now, David Owen, author of Green Metropolis, has questioned the escalation of the cooling capacity across suburban America in lengthy piece in The New Yorker. Owen says more efficient technologies don't always cut energy consumption or carbon output. That's especially true when it comes to the refrigerator:

The steadily declining cost of refrigeration has made eating much more interesting. It has also made almost all elements of food production more cost-effective and energy-efficient: milk lasts longer if you don’t have to keep it in a pail in your well. But there are environmental downsides, beyond the obvious one that most of the electricity that powers the world’s refrigerators is generated by burning fossil fuels. (Non-subscribers can read the full-text, via Richard Wilson.)


Fridges make us expect food will last forever, but it doesn't. Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, tells Owen that we throw away a quarter of all food—and, with that food waste, goes all the energy that's been used to grow it, transport it, and keep it cold. That alone is a thought-provoking suggestion, but Owen goes one step further and says (parenthically) that “the growth of American refrigerator volume has been roughly paralleled by the growth of American body-mass index.”

He doesn't go into detail and I'm not so sure a clear causal link can be drawn between excess refrigerated shelf space and expanding waistlines. After all, people once filled large root cellars full of food for storage, some early ice boxes were pretty large, and, as Harold McGee says, frozen food isn't equivocal with unhealthy food. Regardless, it's clear that we need to think about how to stop wasting food and energy, as well as refrigerator space.

Top drawing via C. Linde, 1895. Apparatus for Producing Low Temperatures, Liquefying Gases, and the Separation of the Constituents Gaseous Mixtures. US Patent 728173.

Bottom drawing via Bechtold, Reuben E. and Mellowes, Alfred W. Cooling Apparatus. US Patent 1276612.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

Keep Reading Show less
Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert

This election cycle, six women threw their hat in the ring for president, but is their gender holding them back? Would Americans feel comfortable with a woman leading the free world? Based on the last election, the answer is a swift no. And a new study backs this up. The study found that only 49% of American men would feel very comfortable with a woman serving as the head of the government. By comparison, 59% of women said they would feel comfortable with a woman in charge.

The Reykjavik Index for Leadership, which measures attitude towards women leaders, evaluated the attitudes of those living in the G7 countries as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. 22,000 adults in those 11 countries were surveyed on their attitudes about female leadership in 22 different sectors, including government, fashion, technology, media, banking and finance, education, and childcare.

Only two countries, Canada and the U.K., had a majority of respondents say they would be more comfortable with a female head of state. Germany (which currently has a female Chancellor), Japan, and Russia were the countries least comfortable with a female head of state.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

Yes, you read that right, "history of polling."

Keep Reading Show less
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.