Keeping My Cool About Refrigerators

Refrigeration is bad ass. I usually think of meat-packers or the old brewery district in Cincinnati when thinking about impacts of refrigeration but it turns out it revolutionized a lot of industries: nurseries, sugar mills, chocolate factories, manufacturers of paper, glue, soap, perfume, and even tea companies use refrigeration.

Refrigeration is a technology. That sounds silly to me but it is. Some form of refrigeration has been around since at least 1,000BC: In China people would cut and store ice in caves or dig holes and line it with straw or other forms of insulation. Even before that, spices, salt, dehydration, and drying were just a few techniques people have used (and continue to use) for thousands of years prior to refrigeration to preserve food.

Is your fridge running? Mine is. It’s called the General Electric Profile. I haven’t spent much time thinking of this particular fridge but, I like it I guess. The energy star website tells me that my fridge uses 1,335 kiloWatt hours (kWh) annually. What the hell does that mean? What makes a kilowatt? The US Energy Information Administration says that on average it requires 1.09 pounds of coal to produce 1kWh. OK, so if my fridge uses 1,335kWh and it takes 1.09 pounds of coal to make 1 kWh, how much coal does my fridge use in a year’s time? 1,335kWh/year x 1.09 lbs of coal/kWh = 1,445.15 pounds of coal. That means 1,445 pounds of coal is required to keep my fridge running every single year. Damn.

 

If you live in Ohio, 86% of electric generation is provided by coal. (Coming in second is nuclear power at only 10%.) So, where does this coal come from? In Cincinnati Duke Energy is probably your energy provider and they like to use coal. If you spend any time along the banks of the Ohio River, you’ll see barges full of coal traveling by on their way from West Virginia, where coal is mined. Conventional mining these days includes a process called ‘open pit mining’ for the PC crowd but I prefer ‘mountain top removal’. Over 400 mountains are on the list to be destroyed or have been already.

Over the holidays a family member asked me, “Well, what do you care if those mountains are gone?” Well, I’ve spent some time in the Appalachian Mountains. For our senior trip, some friends and I chose to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. At 18 years old, 4 of us did a 200 mile trek, and for the first time ever we were on an extended trip by ourselves, in the wilderness, away from our parents, trying to be men (even as we were passed by a family with 2 small children– the youngest of which was a 9 year old boy!)

This is how one effectively eliminates soil, bedrock, and herds of trees, commonly referred to as “forests”.

I did another 200 mile section of the Appalachian Trail 6 years later with one of the original members of our senior trip when I got out of the Air Force. (On this trip I randomly stayed at the home of that same family which we met 6 years earlier. I happened to have my old journal with me and was rereading it when I realized that it was those very same folks I had met all those years ago. Say whaaaa…)

Needless to say I have some very fond memories of those mountains. I don’t want them destroyed and shame on me for participating in their destruction. The fridge is our biggest electrical consumer in the house here. So, by unplugging it, we’ll be able to put a huge dent in our electrical consumption AKA coal burning AKA known-carcinogen-emissions AKA electricity bill.

Food preservation and refrigeration have been around a long, long time. Electrical fridges for mass production have only been around something like 100 years. I’ll have to ask a scientist but, I’m pretty sure that people were eating before the advent of refrigerators. While living in the woods in northern Maine, to keep our perishables from perishing we’d simply fill up a cooler half-way with well water, which is naturally chilled from the earth. Inside the cooler we’d create a shelf above the water line to put our food on. Stick the cooler somewhere in the shade and simply change the water every 2 or 3 days. Bam! At the house I even have a cellar (which stays at 55F year-round) to put my cooler in! Bam! Bam! By substituting the mechanical convenience of a fridge with a couple of used coolers and a minute amount of labor, I can stop over 1400 pounds of coal from being burned.

Now, do I think that this is significant in any way to Duke Energy? That Mr. Duke will be knocking at my door with a bouquet and a tip of his hat, asking us to please continue using electricity? No, not in the least bit. Mr. Duke doesn’t wear hats. Do I think that on a personal scale that this is a significant achievement? Yes. By unplugging only one appliance, I am stopping over 1400 lbs of coal from being burned!  That’s a pretty big plug.  (Three-pronged if I’m not mistaken.)  Its importance is also important because this is only one action which is part of a whole collection of behavioral changes, technological substitutions, and shift in mentality which will affect a different way of viewing the world and participating in it. No hard feelings, Mr. Duke. Give my best to the Mrs.

 

Sources: All were accessed on 25 December 2014.  Happy Holidays!

http://www.history-magazine.com/refrig.html

energystar.gov

http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=667&t=6

https://www.energystar.gov/ia/products/recycle/documents/Refrigerator%20Timline_x.pdfDoc1

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