Friday, August 18, 2006


Before the CAFE Standards

I've been reading Joyce Chaplin's biography of Benjamin Franklin as scientist, The First Scientific American. The section on the Franklin stove is particularly interesting, as it turns out that Franklin's explanation of the design doubled as an opportunity to explain his theories on why heating air made it move. It was an elegant combination of the theoretical and the practical, and it made money too. (Well, not for Franklin. Although he didn't make it a general rule, he felt that it was improper to profit himself by his inventions.)

But what really caught my eye was his awareness of the impact of the growing American population on the forests. "As the Country is more clear'd and settled, [wood] will of course grow scarcer and dearer." An important advantage of the Franklin fireplace was that it consumed far less wood than ordinary fireplaces. Franklin noted that the alternative to striving for fuel efficiency was an expensive internal market for wood, or an expensive import traffic in coal from overseas. "We leave it to the Political Arithmetician to compute, how much Money will be sav'd to a Country, by its spending two thirds less of Fuel."

Franklin's pamphlet, Account of the New Invented Pennsylvanian Fire-Places, was published in 1744.

I guess a "political aritmetician" would now be called an economist.
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