Monday 11 January 2010

What were we thinking?


“Will you please stop turning the kettle off!

Here is a picture of our lovely kettle. It glows in the dark. It has little red lights that come on when the kettle is boiling, and flash when it’s on “stay warm” mode. And best of all, it has a heated handle! So, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, I can avoid the horror of freezing my hands on the icy chill of the kettle handle when I want to make a cup of tea.

What on earth were they thinking when they designed this kettle? What on earth was I thinking when I bought it?

I bought this kettle six years ago, and I’d just seen the film “Solaris”. In “Solaris”, the George Clooney character has a number of lit-up appliances in the otherwise dark & brooding kitchen that so perfectly matches the tone of the film. Although I didn’t notice at the time, something about this must have lodged in my mind as being aspirational, and so when I went to buy a kettle, of all the kettles in the shop, I just had to have this one! (To be fair, I didn’t know about the heated handle at the time; that might have been a step too far.)

So, as a result, I now have a kettle that uses far more electricity than is really appropriate for a simple water-boiling device. Which is why, quite often, R puts the kettle on for a cup of tea, only to find some time later, that it hasn’t boiled as I’d turned the thing off at the mains to avoid wasting electricity. Hence the oft-heard frustrated plea “will you please stop turning the kettle off!”

The simple fact of the matter is that so many of the small decisions that we make every day are made against a backdrop of a different set of values than the set that makes more sense in a 21st Century carbon-conscious world. Our housing, job, transport and food systems were all designed in a different age, when environmental concerns were more local than global and global warming / climate change was less well understood. Making the right choices in our new century means that we need to think more, and make decisions on better information than before. We need to think through the obvious and work out the real cost.

My new 2010 calendar proudly bears an “eco-friendly” sticker as it’s recyclable and uses 100% soy-based ink. Great stuff. Unless that soya is derived from crops grown on rainforest-cleared land. We just don’t know. And possibly those who made the design decisions may well have swapped one “bad” thing for just another “bad” thing, but just in a different place. We can’t just move the symptoms of our poor choices round and round endlessly; we need to address the causes. We need to start thinking in different ways, asking more questions, and making decisions on better information, and with different outcomes in mind. A new paradigm for a new decade.

So I could throw away my kettle and get a new, triple-A rated “eco-kettle”, but actually, the carbon cost of making and shipping a new kettle (probably from China) to Norwich would vastly outweigh the cost of just turning my bright, shining, ever-warm kettle off at the wall after each use.

So long as I can make sure the rest of my family know that that’s what I’ve done before they start thinking about a nice cuppa!

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