Why is it that many government agency names are oxymoronic? How much new water has the California Department of Water Resources delivered in the past couple of decades? How much energy has the federal Department of Energy or the California Energy Commission produced or encouraged?
It should come as no surprise that in 2009, an era when the L.A. Basin’s air quality bureaucracy, the SCAQMD, wants to ban dark cars because they need more air conditioning in the summer, that the California Energy Commissariate is drafting an order to outlaw TVs. (Perhaps if our TVs had one state-approved channel they would relent.)
Why is the California Energy Commission (CEC), a Gov. Jerry Brown creation, wanting to ban television sets? Well, it seems that a honking 48-inch plasma screen, that bright symbol of the bygone days of conspicuous consumption and purveyor of drooling vacuity, uses too much electricity, and electricity production makes too much greenhouse gas emissions (at least in America, where half of our electricity comes from coal – in France, a plasma screen would emit nary a CO2 molecule as the TVs there are nuclear powered).
The CEC plan, contained in a dry-sounding reported entitled, “December 2008 Draft Efficiency Standards for Televisions” proposes to ban about 200 television models. This regulatory diktat would conservatively result in 4,600 more lost jobs in the California retail industry as consumers switch to smuggling 50-inch plasmas into the state via the Internet, resulting in another $50 million in lost tax revenue (does anyone see the irony in Al Gore’s invention being used to pump up carbon emissions?).
Of course, television sets, just as with dishwashers and refrigerators, are getting more efficient all the time, a process that the free marker excels at on its own – at least it used to, before the age of AIG, bailouts, and executive compensation caps. TV manufacturers pour millions of dollars into innovation yearly and are making sets that automatically use less energy in a darkened room and switch off standby mode after a period of disuse.
But, rather than let nature and consumer choice take its course, the CEC must be seen as acting. For bureaucracies that don’t act are soon acted upon by politicians.
Greens grumble that old-TVs (many of which are still in service – when I was a kid, we had one black and white TV in the apartment – how quaint) only produce 220 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Larger plasma screens produce 880 pounds though. Hence, they must be banned. Unsaid is the fact that, if anything decent were being produced for television, emissions would skyrocket. On this basis NBC should make out like a bandit with a carbon cap-and-trade program since their sole show in the prime-time top-20 Nielsen ratings is rated an energy-saving #20, translating weak viewership into an Earth-friendly virtue, and a few million tons of valuable carbon credits.
Another sure way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from plasma TVs is to reduce the electricity driving them from coal or natural gas, which powers 60 percent of California’s grid, and use instead, nuclear power, which has 55 times less emissions than coal and 30 times less than natural gas. Thus, a nuclear-powered plasma screen would emit an environmentally-conscious 18 pounds of CO2 per year – far less than a coal-fired black and white vacuum tube set.
Few Californians know that the Golden State is the most electrically efficient in America. The CEC would be proud to tell us that. What they don’t want us to know is that half of our per capita energy consumption savings over the past 30 years has come from the evisceration of California’s manufacturing base – it seems that not making stuff saves energy (ignoring the fact that we still consume stuff that we now just import from coal-fired China). No wonder California’s North Coast is now meeting the 30 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction target set by 2006’s landmark AB 32 – unemployed people don’t emit much CO2 (unless they’re at home watching a banned TV).
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) is a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010 and a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel.