A slow death by big screen TV

- First it was our 9 mile per gallon SUVs. Then it was our dodgy mortgages. And now, as a new wave of enviro-puritanism sweeps the United States, those of us who live on the star-spangled side of the Atlantic are about to lose yet another symbol of the easy money and high living of the Bush/Greenspan era: our monster-sized flat-screen TV sets.

Naturally, the ban has originated right here in California, which over recent months has already outlawed (or attempted to outlaw) such evils to society as helium balloons, circuses and swearing in public.

But what makes monster TVs such a public nuisance? Well, the average LCD screen uses 43 per more electricity than a cathode-ray tube set (a plasma screen uses 300 per cent more) and people tend to leave them on for hours or days at a time - if they ever switch them off at all. A TV used to be something you sat down and watched: now it serves much the same function as wallpaper. All of which puts an enormous strain on California's ageing power grid.

Now much as I abhor the concept of bans, I'll concede that a few Americans have taken the concept of flat-screen TV ownership too far.

A few Sundays ago, for example, I went over to my friend Dave's house, and he was watching American football on a screen so large that if the living room walls had failed, the TV would have been able to keep the ceiling propped up.

At the same time, Dave was keeping track of two other games via two other (only marginally smaller) displays, while also streaming live data to a couple of laptops positioned strategically on straight-backed chairs at either side of the room. The amount of energy being sucked into Dave's apartment could probably have kept the streetlights on in Baghdad for a decade.

This, of course, is what makes the “banners” so angry. Come the Super Bowl on February 1, they fume, a staggering 40 per cent of the output of California's San Onofre nuclear power station (or its equivalent) will be consumed by monster TVs showing little men in helmets running back and forth across a green background. The waste! The folly!

Hence California's new ultra-strict energy efficiency laws that will come into force in 2011, making the sale of some XXL displays unviable. I fear, however, that none of this has been thought through. For example: Californians will still be able to drive to the Nevada border and buy a flat screen on the “grey market” (or simply order one off Amazon.com), thus depriving the state of badly needed taxes that it could have used to upgrade the power grid and invest in clean energy - thus preventing the need for a ban in the first place.

With politicians in office who fail to grasp that kind of logic, no wonder the entire state is heading for bankruptcy some time in early spring.

We must protect ourselves from ourselves, of course. Most of that electricity guzzled by our giant flat screens is produced by burning coal, which pumps out carbon into the atmosphere, thus trapping the heat from the sun, and... oh, you know the rest. Only that argument doesn't sound as convincing after the publication of an article in Science magazine over the weekend about the humans who inhabited California in 11,000 BC.

Scientists had long believed that these “Clovis people” were rapacious meatheads who overhunted their food until it was extinct. Now it turns out that they were destroyed through no fault of their own: an enormous asteroid collided with Canada, sending a tsunami of ice water down the Mississippi and into the Atlantic, where it played havoc with the warm ocean currents and brought about a mini Ice Age.

Worth considering next time you feel bad about leaving your TV on standby.

Chances are, mind you, that no one is leaving their TV on standby any more - and not because of environmental dread, but for the rather more mundane reason that they can't afford the electricity bill. Here in Hollywood, this new era of frugality is coming as a terrible shock, largely because the frugality of previous years was largely a matter of show, and in many ways was simply just another form of consumption (“trading down” to a $120,000 Lexus hybrid, for example, or rearing your own livestock so that you can eat organic meat).

But now the real pain has set in. The rapidly approaching Oscars season will see some layoffs - guest-list layoffs, that is. According to prominent events organizers, this year's after-show parties will be dramatically downsized affairs, with expenditure cut in half.

It's all very grim indeed. Still, it raises an interesting question: will culled guests qualify for some kind of severance package?

It seems only fair.


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