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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Such A Marvel -- The Washing Machine

Hans Rosling simply states that the washing machine freed his mother from endless work. He says the invention has liberated people to read, learn and pursue their interests. And now, as more people move into the middle class, they will want washing machines. He acknowledges that upward mobility means a more energy-intensive lifestyle, adding to climate concern.

A washing machine -- such a standard convenience to so many. Yet, this machine symbolizes, in its attainment, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the world. Rosling is wonderful in this video as he weaves the story of his mother's washing machine into the state of all people occupying planet earth. His presentation is nostalgic, humorous, and thought provoking.

His slides kick into action as Rosling lays out the facts: "Two billion of the world's seven billion people live on less than $2 a day, below the poverty line," Rosling says. And only one billion live about the "Air line," the term Rosling uses for those who spend more than $80 a day and whose lives are filled with gadgets, including airplanes.

But how many live above the "Wash line?" Rosling asks. How many of the world's seven billion have access to a washing machine? Only two billion. These people live on $40 a day or more. Everyone else -- about five billion people around the world -- still wash their clothes by hand.

Rosling shows that moving most of the population above the "Wash line" over the next few decades would more than double the use of fossil fuels at current rates. Some in the group, he says, don't drive cars on principle. But no one, when Rosling asks, raises a hand to indicate that they wash their clothes by hand. "Even the most hard-core of environmentalists use washing machines," Rosling states. (Nicholas Jackson, "Data Analyst Hans Rosling: People Vote For Washing Machines," The Atlantic, December 8 2010)

Rosling informs us that the real climate challenge is not about the number of people in the world, it is about more effective use of energy and more green ways to produce the energy we are going to use. Population growth may only add an extra 30% to the number of people, but most of the 7 billion people on Earth today want a better life -- and that means a life that consumes more energy.

That implies an increase in energy use by severalfold more than 30%, and that is where the focus must be if we are to solve our energy and climate problems.

Rosling's argument is that the level of wealth that everyone aspires to achieve will include the washing machine -- which 5 billion people still do not have. He says the proof is that even the hard-core members of the green movement use it to wash their clothes. 

In the end, Rosling tells of the love he and his mother had for the washing machine in their lives. Roslling remembers, "This is where I started my career as a professor, when my mother had time to read for me. And she also got books for herself. She managed to study English and learn that as a foreign language. And she read so many novels, so many different novels here. And we really, we really loved this machine.

"And what we said, my mother and me, 'Thank you industrialization. Thank you steel mill. Thank you power station. And thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.'"
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