Keith Johnson over at Environmental Capital has uncovered some of the critical details within the Waxman-Markey draft climate legislation. Commenting about some of the minutia addressed in the draft bill, he says:

Reflecting perhaps California’s disproportionate influence in Congress these days — Henry Waxman is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — one sub-section is dedicated to something called “portable electric spas.” Yes, that’s just what it sounds like.

Sensing that middle America’s populist rage is secretly directed at the energy consumption of hot tubs, the bill lays down the law—in its own way: “Effective January 1, 2012, portable electric spas shall not have a normalized standby power greater than 5(V2⁄3 ) Watts where V=the fill volume in gallons.”

As a hot-tub owning California resident working on climate change, I have been living with guilt about my “portable electric spa” for some time. This past fall, my husband and I decided to drain and unplug it. Since then I’ve had my moments of regret for sure, but at least the assurance that I’m doing my part for the climate.

But now, while reading the suggested efficiency requirements, I found myself wondering if perhaps our tub fits under the limit? What if, in fact, I have a hot tub that is as efficient as federal legislation would call for? Does that give me license to fill it back up? Have I overshot my efforts to be green?

I’ve thought a lot about why its so hard to change green behavior. Part of it, I believe, is because we have yet to establish a new social norm. How many of our peers bring their own shopping bags to the store? Buy local? Drive with gas efficiency in mind? Have turned off their hot tubs? While I think I’m doing a pretty good job, I don’t really have anything to measure it against because so many of these behaviors are hidden from view.

This is what was so ingenious about the Prius — Toyota made a way for people to be visibly green (vs. the Honda Civic, where you have to squint to see the “hybrid” mark on the back).

Not that measuring up to the Jones’s should be all that motivates me. But what if climate legislation puts a more visible line in the sand for what is “acceptable” green behavior? What if it tells me “it’s ok to have a portable electric spa, as long as the normalized standby power is…. “?

I don’t know, but I can say that on cool spring evening like this one with the stars all out, it would be awfully tempting to fire it back up.

(Image: Hot tub. Credit: Automania through a Creative Commons license.)

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  1. Chrissy –

    I don’t think that “Toyota made a way for people to be visibly green” with the Prius. Aren’t all fuel-efficient cars (generally small, sleek) visible when they come into view around the corner from a Hummer-sized SUV? How about a bicycle, a scooter, or a motorcycle?

    And there are other examples of ‘green’ visibility, such as outdoor clotheslines with clothes on them. And the converse is true. If we take ‘black’ as the opposite of ‘green’ – then the ‘portable electric spa’ is black regardless of it’s efficiency rating, as are other things like gas-powered grass mowers, leaf-blowers, ATVs, snowmobiles, and other examples of carbon-burning strictly for pleasure. There’s plenty of pleasure and relaxing that we can do without adding to our carbon footprints.

    I applaud you for unplugging the hot tub. Now it’s time to recycle that bad boy.

  2. Hot tubs are evil? Didn’t know that. I thought the entire point of conservation wasn’t labeling “evil” vs “non-evil” but rather responsible energy consumption in a world where excess runs rampant.

    If you ran your hot tub every night for several hours, with only you in it, amidst rampant fossil fuel usage, yes, hot tubbing might be considered evil. But what if your hot tub was there for the therapeutic benefits? Stress relief, sore muscles–all valid uses for this high energy consumption. And what if you applied the “cap-and-trade” principle to your hot tubbing excursions and got rid of your other high energy appliances to make up for the extra energy expended?
    With all due respect, I don’t think you can apply labels as “black” and “green” to individual objects. It needs to be applied to your lifestyle.
    However, if you’re really feeling bad about your hot tub, I’d bet somebody in the state of California has figured out how to jerry rig it with solar power. That way you’ll get more relaxing for way less guilt.

    Just something to think about.

  3. What’s the definition of “portable electronic spa”?

  4. I have to agree with TruNorth, I don’t think that you can label the object itself as either “black” or “green”. Instead, you should focus on how you use it. Whether you are responsible and not wasteful in your consumption or careless. Also, I have seen a solar power hot tub… so I know that it CAN be done. Good luck!

  5. Ooohhh… a solar power hot tub. That may be my salvation! Many thanks for the thoughtful comments all….

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