Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Just Getting Warmed Up

We all know that Barack Obama is in favor of change. Less clear has been exactly what it is he wishes to change. For most of the campaign the assumption has been that Obama wants to change government. He speaks often, for example, of the need to take power away from the “special interests” (which is no doubt why he supported the ethanol mandate). But based on some of his statements, it seems his ambitions may run higher than that. Perhaps Obama wishes not merely to change government, but to change us:

Pitching his message to Oregon’s environmentally-conscious voters, Obama called on the United States to “lead by example” on global warming, and develop new technologies at home which could be exported to developing countries.

“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama said.

“That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen,” he added.

I might humbly suggest that getting other countries’ OK as to where we set our thermostats isn’t leadership either (except, perhaps, in a globalized version of Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin‘s use of the term).

Obama’s talk of “new technologies” and controlling thermostats put me in mind of a story from a couple of months ago, when the California legislature was considering installing devices in people’s homes that would allow the government to set people’s thermostats for them:

Next year in California, state regulators are likely to have the emergency power to control individual thermostats, sending temperatures up or down through a radio-controlled device that will be required in new or substantially modified houses and buildings to manage electricity shortages.

The law provoked some understandable outrage, and was ultimately defeated (which, if I understand California’s system of government correctly, means that in a couple of years the California Supreme Court will hold that the law is constitutionally required), but it was not without its defenders:

Ralph Cavanagh, an energy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview that at a time of peak electricity use, “most people given a choice of two degrees of temperature setback and 14th-century living would happily embrace this capacity.”

Well, gosh, if the choice is between letting the government control thermostats, and being reduced to a 14th century standard of living, then who could object? Likewise, I’m sure that Mr. Cavanagh, if given a choice between being flayed alive and giving me $1000 would gladly give me the $1000. But I won’t expect to be receiving my check any time soon.

When Senator Obama spoke of using new technologies to combat global warming, he probably didn’t have the California proposal in mind. He was no doubt thinking of something much more sensible, like the aforementioned ethanol. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for using technology to combat global warming. But stories like the above make me skeptical of the government’s ability to pick which potential new technologies have the most promise, or which methods of adaptation are the best.


May 23, 2008 - Posted by | America, Election, Environmentalism, Global Warming, Law


  1. One of my female coworkers explained to me very earnestly the other day that when Obama becomes president he will allow us to install little windmills on the back of all our cars to generate electricity from the wind generated by driving. This would allow us to have fully electric cars that would never need to recharge — since driving would charge them.

    We would have these now, she explained, except that the oil companies don’t want us to.

    I said it would be cool if the car had a perpetual motion machine on the dashboard as well — a joke she didn’t seem to get…

    Comment by Darwin | May 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. You may think your coworker is stupid, but what if the windmills were frictionless and weightless and didn’t have blades that interacted with the air, then there wouldn’t be a problem. Also if doing that means you don’t get enough electricity, then you can just have batteries to the windmills can generate electricity at night when your car is parked in your garage.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood | May 28, 2008 | Reply

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