The Good Green Men





Let me be petty for a moment. I recently saw a public service commercial which set me off.

These are made by people purporting to be wise to tell the rest of us how to live. Generally they are made by people less happy and successful than the rest of us. The one I saw pirates the ancient Green Man character into a mute and be-bearded hippy. It told me to set my water heater to 120 Fahrenheit to save energy. My first thought was that more energy could be saved by insulating the pipes and water heater. That would save freezing pipes too. Much energy would be saved in not replacing split pipes in cold winters. Of course, we don’t really deserve hot baths and comfortable houses or enough hot water for everyone.. Mainly the sort of advertisements I see here try to make one feel virtuous for metaphorical cold showers and hair shirts.

When I was young water heaters were set to 160 or 170. By the time I was eighteen the enviro-sapiens told us to set them to 140 Fahrenheit. As a diligent student, I believed what I was told. Now that I am told 120 Fahrenheit.

I wish to think out loud. There was good reason to set water heaters to 160, it tended to sterilize. When — not if — debris entered the water heater it was killed by the heat. Also the hot water lines were kept sterilized. And the drains for some distance.

At 120 any algae or other debris is incubated. We encourage bacterial growth. Hot water pipes have interesting slimes growing in them. One should not drink water from a hot water line. If one goes to England one finds separate hot and cold taps. This is a cultural memory of the early water heaters when one risked contaminating the potable water supply from the hot water. At 120 we might consider the same.

Is this really saving energy? Or is it risking public health? Do the people running the PSA’s care or do they not think?

This is like the CAFE standards for cars. The idea is to save energy. But every advance in CAFE cost human deaths. When we make cars lighter we remove protections. This is not too terrible because of clever engineering. But this is not to the credit of those setting the unreasonable goals. A car company once made the Pinto. The short version had the gas tank too near the rear bumper. The car was prone to deadly gasoline fires when rear ended. But it made the CAFE standard!

Ford was sued. They knew about the problem beforehand and calculated that it was less expensive to settle law suits than to fix the problem. It was thought monstrous that there was a price set on human life and suffering. Is this not what the bureaucrats who establish the CAFE standards do? What number of barrels of oil are worth a human life?

I come not to criticize Cassius and Brutus. They are good green men.


One comment on “The Good Green Men

  1. Dan says:

    Good intentions pave the road to gastrointestinal distress. To be fair, our filtration and treatment systems are different that when you were a kid. Not to say that I don’t like a warmer water, though I have to be careful not to burn the littles, but all things are not equal over the decades.

    Still, it seems that even after 200+ years, we have not left our instilled sense of guilt behind. Be a good little citizen, they tell us, or feel bad. The marketers and leader types love us for that.

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