Let it be known that I do not want to sell refrigerators, own patents, market products, or operate anything which could be construed as a business. That being said, a guy has to make a living, so that if I were to develop a domestic refrigerator I feel confident in, then I would probably attempt to sell them, constructing them by hand, one by one. However, if the world worked differently, I would spend my days building refrigerator after refrigerator, making refinements both in utility and aesthetic appeal. For now, that is exactly what I am going to do, while working a regular day job. Perhaps I will never feel that I have a machine good enough for sale, and I will tinker away in my shop for the rest of life trying to make the perfect refrigerator. This is all speculation, but I really feel like I do work on this for a very long time.
Improvements in technology over time, when driven by competition though the market process, seem to produce individual machines of increasing sophistication and individual energy efficiency, but shorter useful lifespans. This, I feel is due to a mixture of cheap components “made to break”, and a lack of sensible repair options, not to mention the obsolescence in compatibility, or the more sinister intrinsic obsolescence associated with a techo-cult, progress obsessed, “newer is better” society. Whether it once again becomes a common practice to produce durable goods really doesn’t matter; that decision will be made for us by the necessity of conditions we find ourselves in. The planet is constantly changing, and our collective relationship with it will be forced to change along with it; kicking and screaming at first, but change we must. There are many people that understand the precarious position the human race has found itself in, with the population exploding – dependent on the fuel of Earth’s past to feed our complex and demanding metabolism. All good things must come to an end.
I am particularly fond of John Michael Greer’s suggestion in Ecothechnic Future, where he describes several possible “seral stages” that human society could pass through on the way towards a sustainable and sensible relationship with the rest of the biosphere. He borrows this concept from ecology such as the stages a forest could go through after a forest fire. I’m not going to describe this in length- read the book; it is really good!
I certainly agree with Greer that human beings will adapt to whatever world they are given. Right now, it is still a world of abundance and extraction, at least for some. Even the poorest populations are finding it possible to have population increase, albeit not without severe disruption. Eventually though, energy sources that have fuelled the growth, will become overly expensive, material resources will become more difficult to extract and rare (along with the increase in energy costs to get at them), clean drinking water will become more of a commodity than it already is, and the lifestyles along with the locations people have become accustomed to will no longer be viable for anyone, save for the very wealthy. The transition will be slower for some, faster for others, but we will be collectively aware and scapegoats will certainly be found, that you can be sure of.
Greer, and others, describe a low energy future where re-purposing and scrapping become the industry of the day. Suburban settlements in the Nevada desert are de-constructed for useful materials, and Manhattan skyscrapers are cut to pieces, as it is no longer economical to live or work in these environments.
So what do refrigerators have to do with this diatribe? Well, as Greer discusses, in a future world limited by severe energy budgets, people will be forced to live with less or live without. The order of the day will be conservation, planning, and resourcefulness. No longer will large scale production exist as economic depression will limit commerce to local exchange. Labor and craft will be the order of the day. Durable goods will be cared for and cherished for their usefulness in mediating the difficulties of daily living. I hope that refrigerators are amongst these durable goods.
It is within this line of thinking that shapes my values and process for designing a better refrigerator. I want to bring craft to the domestic refrigerator. We live in an energy efficiency obsessed culture, and it only excuses us for using more, and wasting more. The line of thinking must shift towards practical matters such as reliability, serviceability, modularity, and above all else, necessity. We cannot force this cultural change; powerful economic players and long held myths push us toward the brink of collapse, which are far too great, and have almost certainly set our fate. What we can do now though, is practice and provide useful examples of well built machines like refrigerators for the future, while we have the resources to play with the idea.
I don’t really care if it is a marketable product in the present, I want to build it anyway, and again, and again- as many iterations as it takes until I am satisfied. I see many examples of refrigerators from my grandmother’s youth still running today. They often used more environmentally friendly materials, and were much more serviceable, but that was what was possible in that time period given the substances available and the nature of newer technologies. It is quite common to see these machines running eighty years from production. I want to produce something even better.
This refrigerator isn’t made for you or anyone on this planet today; it’s intended for a person living one hundred years from now. We should build everything that way.