We have certifications for organic claims, guides for green marketing, why not impose a new rule of thumb for news articles about energy-saving products or projects?
David MacKay of The Guardian proposes a rule that a device or project can only be reported in the public arena if it leads to energy savings of at least 1%. He complains that currently, valuable newspaper space is being wasted by the latest “green” inventions, “creating a delusion of happy progress while distracting people from serious change.”
The “eco-bling” example that MacKay sites in his article is a story about kinetic road plates installed in a supermarket parking lot that create energy when customers’ cars drive over them. By his educated calculations, he finds that the energy created by these road plates is actually about only one four-thousandth of the energy used by a car on a three-mile trip to the supermarket.
So is it a waste of time reporting about something so irrelevant in the fight against global warming? I agree with Mr. MacKay that these inventions may distract from the bigger conversation. In addition, energy-saving claims may lead to false assumptions on the part of consumers. In this example, a supermarket goer may be more likely to drive their car, thinking its environmental impact is offset by the kinetic energy plates, rather than ride their bike or walk, which clearly saves a lot more energy.
However there is a reason that the media reports even the most flea-sized advance in energy savings: optimism. The public wants to read about new innovations and ideas. It gives us hope. Maybe there should be some sort of disclaimer about the innovations that don’t meet the 1% rule; a cautionary footnote: “Please note: this invention is actually fairly pointless and in fact does very little to save energy in the grand scheme of things. Thanks for reading.”