If we want to lessen and eventually reverse the impacts of human-caused climate change, we have to switch most of our energy use from fossil fuels to nuclear or solar (with some wind and hydro on the side). Unfortunately, because environmentalism often looks more like religion than science, some of the policies for dealing with environmental problems resemble superstitious rites and have little to no real impact. We could call this phenomenon climate-change theater.
I was shocked to learn that the sale of certain high-end Dell gaming computers is outlawed in Colorado. For example, the Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition R10 “cannot be shipped to the states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont or Washington due to power consumption regulations adopted by those states,” says Dell.
Yep, we can buy “assault” rifles, booze, marijuana, abortion services, and gas-guzzling trucks to take on joy-rides, but we can’t order the “wrong” sort of computer to play games because it uses “too much” electricity. What the hell? “My body, my choice”—unless you’re using your body to play video games on the “wrong” machine. (I realize those other things also are subject to various regulations. Still.)
Following California’s lead
Dell told Thomas Claburnof the Register, “This was driven by the California Energy Commission (CEC) Tier 2 implementation that defined a mandatory energy efficiency standard for PCs—including desktops, AIOs and mobile gaming systems. This was put into effect on July 1, 2021. Select configurations of the Alienware Aurora R10 and R12 were the only impacted systems across Dell and Alienware.” See also articles by David Gewirtz and Paul Lilly.
What does that have to do with Colorado? It turns out our regulations are the California regulations.
A spokesperson from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told me, “Beginning January 1, 2021, House Bill 19-1231 requires computers and computer monitors sold, leased, or rented in Colorado to meet the new energy efficiency requirements. The bill also requires us to collect and publish the standards. Those standards, Colorado Efficiency Standards for Appliances, can be found here.”
So let’s glance at the 2019 bill in question. One section states, “Computers and computer monitors must meet the requirements of section 1605.3(v) of Title 20 of the CCR, and compliance with those requirements must be as measured in accordance with test methods prescribed in section 1604(v) of those regulations.”
And what is the CCR, you might be wondering? It’s the California Code of Regulations. Yep, Colorado legislators are too lazy to draw up their own regulatory framework, so they just piggy-back on California’s regs. Talk about Californicating Colorado!
The penalty for violating these California regulations, as enforced by Colorado’s Attorney General, is a fine of up to $2,000 per violation, or $500,000 total. The exception is that, if you sell a verboten computer or other item to an elderly person, the fine is up to $10,000 per violation. Land of the Free, right?
Ignoring economic reality
What might be the rationale for such a ban? Claburn opines, “Such concern about energy efficiency appears to be appropriate given the findings of a 2015 Semiconductor Industry Association report that,” with relatively inefficient chips, “‘computing will not be sustainable by 2040, when the energy required for computing will exceed the estimated world’s energy production.'”
This argument might seem persuasive—to someone who has never spent a moment contemplating economic realities. In the real world, the incentives of supply and demand will solve the problem. We don’t need politicians and bureaucrats banning certain computers. People can (and will) adapt by making computers more efficient, economizing on computer use, or generating more electricity.
Of course the main rationale for the ban is to try to force people to cut back on energy use. But the aim should be to switch to cleaner energy sources that allow us to radically expand electricity generation, not only at home but in now-impoverished regions.
Sure, people have a natural incentive to economize where they can, as Andrew McAfee documents in his book More from Less. But as more people buy electric cars, the global population increases, and more countries develop, we simply need a lot more electricity on net.
What matters fundamentally, then, in terms of carbon-dioxide emissions, is changing the way we generate electricity. Policies such as the computer ban make essentially no difference regarding climate change; they have roughly the same effect as looking at astrology charts or counting Rosary beads. But they do give the well-paid High Priests of the Environmental Bureaucracy something to do.
Consider this absurdity: Even if someone installed a bunch of solar panels on the roof or in the yard and bought a back-up battery, that person still would not be able to buy the “wrong” computer or electric appliance, even though the tiny additional electricity use would produce zero additional carbon dioxide.
Anyway, it’s simply not the government’s job to force us to save energy. If someone wants to buy a high-end gaming system that uses relatively more electricity, why is that the business of any politician or bureaucrat?
Even if you disagree with this and think somehow it is the government’s legitimate business, the less-intrusive approach would be to tax high-energy products more. An even better (or less-bad) approach would be to add a fee for fossil-fuel energy, and then people would account for the extra energy costs when buying products. A carbon tax is popular among economists. I favor what I’ve described as a Carbon Compensation Fund, which basically requires the producers of fossil-fuel energy to pay for demonstrated harms of global warning. At least these are serious ideas; a ban on select computers and other items is useless and unnecessarily intrusive.
As a measure to address climate change, the gaming computer ban is laughable. But as a symbol of pious religious environmentalism—sort of along the lines of a hair shirt—it makes a certain sense.
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