February 17, 2009
Refrigerator Lust and Disgust
A few days ago I came across an article in the New York Times entitled "Trashing
the Fridge", a mildly amusing piece about some environmentalists who have
decided to give up their home refrigerators, ostensibly in order to become more
The anti-refrigerator movement may represent nothing more than a harmless
fashion statement - an attempt to achieve a "holier than thou" status
in fringe environmentalist circles, but the broad thinking behind it is
something that is quite widespread in the environmental movement today: the
notion that technology is the problem, that human prosperity is the problem, and
that we will have to make major sacrifices of technology and prosperity (such
as refrigerators) if we want to save the planet.
For me, one particular quote by an environmentalist in the New York Times
article stood out: "Refrigerator
lust is one of the things driving huge energy-use increases in the developing
whether this person, who so flippantly makes a sweeping statement dismissing
technologies like refrigerators for people in the developing world is aware of
any of the following.
life saving medicines, including most vaccines, certain antiretroviral AIDS
drugs, insulin, etc, need refrigeration. In the
one-third of all fruits and vegetables in
on the way to market, mostly because of poor infrastructure, such as lack of
refrigeration and cold-storage facilities.
how quickly food spoils in warm tropical climates, it is difficult to even
begin to count the cost to farmers in the Third World who are forced to make
distress sales of produce due to lack of refrigeration facilities, or the cost
to families who have no way to store fresh food at home for any length of time.
Maybe what is needed to make the world a better place is more, not less,
"refrigerator lust" in the developing world.
For someone (who probably enjoys all the benefits of a modern industrial
society such as an assured food supply, modern medical care, etc.) to blame
"refrigerator-lust" in the developing world for global warming
represents a combination of arrogance and ignorance that I find shocking.
Energy Usage Does not Cause Global Warming
The attitude that environmentalists display is based on the fundamental assumption
that without curbing energy consumption, global warming cannot be addressed.
This assumption, on which many environmentalist positions (such as the
anti-refrigerator movement) are based, is fundamentally flawed. The fact of the
matter is that energy consumption does not cause global warming,
greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming.
In fact, for many parts of the developing world, increase in energy consumption
would be a good thing, not a bad thing. Increased energy consumption is
necessary if we are to spread education, fight AIDS, reduce infant mortality,
and a whole host of similarly noble progressive endeavors.
Delinking Energy Consumption and Emissions
It cannot be denied that greenhouse gas emissions today are at an unacceptably
high level, and that global warming is a very serious matter. At the same time
it also cannot be denied that energy consumption is essential to ensure a high
standard of living for human beings.
Some say that environmental sustainability and a high standard of living for
human beings are mutually irreconcilable goals. There is, however, a third way.
One that does not sacrifice the progressive ideal of better lives and better
opportunities for all people everywhere for the environmentalist ideal of a
sustainable Earth. The secret lies in breaking the link between greenhouse gas
emissions and energy consumption. The key to dealing with global warming lies
not in reducing energy consumption per se, but in finding technologically
advanced solutions that will sever the link between energy consumption and
greenhouse gas emissions.
Any approach towards solving global warming that dismisses the aspirations of
people in the developing world for longer and better lives for themselves and
their children using pejorative phrases like "refrigerator lust" is
doomed to failure.