The Simple Dollar, while making a point last week about how plugged-in gadgets can cost around $3 a month in unnecessary energy consumption, also suggested buying the Smartstrip LCG4 power strip with auto-shutoff for groups of devices. In turn, Gadget Lab asked if it's worth paying $40 for a strip that saves less than that in a year.
There is no clear answer; that there is no clear answer is one of my primary concerns about the best way the gadgets industry can help minimize power use. The last thing we need to address climate change are loads of new gadgets being produced, using up hydrocarbons for plastic and rare (and often poisonous) metals for the sole purpose of saving a few bucks in energy costs over a product's lifecycle. Better to just pay the extra power costs, even with their associated carbon cost. Better we focus on cleaner methods of power generation than replace loads of fully functional products.
(I'm also loathe, as a rule, to suggest items that have a "convenience sphere" of less area than a room. Is it really so hard, as you're getting up to go elsewhere, to reach down and flip a switch? I know it's not as easy as using a remote, but come on.)
It's this wariness (and cheapness) that worry when speakers here at the U.N. talk about the green economy being good for business. In some ways it will be, but just as Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, said in a press conference an hour ago when talking about fossil fuels, we will have to "capture the true cost" of these materials in their retail prices. That means we will have to accept more expensive products to do our part; can we trust the companies selling those products to be responsible with the extra money without oversight? Will these tarrifs be self-imposed by all countries unilaterally?
Where business will have great opportunities are in developing economies. The last thing the first world needs are more things, frankly. (And that I make my living indexing those things we don't need—a plastic pusherman—is something of which I am aware; that said, ain't nothing wrong with window shopping, except when it implants a festering seed of irrational desire.) By using our technological prowess to help poorer nations build sustainable solutions for energy generation and waste management, we can not only take a stiff slug of fortifying capitalism, but also use it to help those countries that are often most affected by global warming but have done the least to contribute to it.
It's hard not to hear about lakes in Africa drying up, in part because of rising temperatures, and look at all the stupid crap I own and wonder what part of my lifestyle has cost someone else part of theirs.