Monday, April 26, 2010

Creativity (and Gasoline) Power This Country

First, Maria Vargas, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency, which helps runs the Energy Star program, assures us there was "no fraud."  So don't lose faith - no harm, no foul.  No incompetence, no lack of trust in our government.  This is a story about raw creativity, not bureacratic failure, right?

The center piece of the story, which I heard about in a Wall Street Journal Editorial, is the Energy Star approval of a gasoline powered alarm clock.  Details from the other end of the ideological spectrum are also at the New York Times, if as Stephen Colbert says, you haven't immediately used it to line your bird cage.

The Government Accounting Office created fictitious devices and submitted them for Energy Star approval, and they all went through.  This means that little sticker you rely on to feel good about a big purchase might not mean as much as you think it does. (In fact, a lot of products without the sticker are just as efficient).  Even discounting fraud, some standards have always been a little strange, like allowing certification for TVs that don't sip too much energy when turned off, regardless of how much power they slurp while in use.

From the NYT:
Watchdogs within the Environment Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have reported in the past that Energy Star has taken some claims of energy efficiency on faith. Yet the new study suggests that it often does so on remote control.
The Energy Star program claims that actually human beings are involved in the process. I'm thinking Creed from The Office. He does, um, stuff, really.

There were other items:
The GAO obtained Energy Star endorsements for 15 bogus products such as a gasoline-powered alarm clock, an "electric office hammer" and a "room air cleaner" that was a feather duster attached to a space heater.

So it's a bit sad that one part of our government can't read.  But it's extremely cool that another part of the
government came up with a gasoline powered alarm clock and an electric office hammer.  At first, I was in ecstasy because I thought the GAO had actually found such a product.  But upon further reflection, "bogus submissions" meant not only a fake certification, but a fake product also.

But enter more creativity!  Here from is an idea of what one could look like:

I imagine the purr of the engine would act like one of those gentle ocean sound noise machine that help you sleep well.  The fumes and carbon monoxide would also probably work better than Tylenol PM. And eventually, it would earn a true Energy Star label, when the hybrid version came out.  This thing gets 100 minutes to the gallon, man!

It's not just the bureaucracy here. Laws like Cash for Clunkers and Cash for Caulkers mandate that working products like cars or refrigerators be destroyed and replaced by items with the right sticker.  Doesn't the energy involved in creating a new refrigerator instead of reusing the old one count for anything?  We fret about throwing away paper towels instead of reusing towels, but we can destroy appliances and feel good about it.  Are people who already have fuel efficient cars subsidizing a new car purchase for  people who previously bought gigantic trucks?  Should the government pay for any part of my refrigerator in any situation, especially if I can afford a new one myself?  Does Mommy have to give me some extra cash so I'll buy the right toy?

Neither side of the aisle would fear big government in all its forms, from defense to energy to social security, if competence were more cherished and achieved.  It's not just little things. The Defense Department loses billions of dollars, and they don't know where it goes.  The Social Security Administration knows it is heading toward bankruptcy.  Neither of these government agencies use the accounting regulations that Congress forces on businesses. If they did, and politicians and the people cared, we might take a strong look at the current situation and change some important but difficult things to avert future disaster.  But for now, efficiency and effectiveness swim in a system that threatens to drown them with inertia.

But again let's remember, the power of ideas to inspire is unlimited. When I looked up the NYT article, I was surprised by another creative delight.  I think I had heard of this before, but the placement above the Energy Star article was ingenious.  Take a classic.  Add Zombies.  Everyone is happy.  USA! USA! USA!


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