David B. Goldstein is too modest to think of himself as a genius. But he'll have to learn to live with the label. After laboring for years in relative obscurity to make our nation's refrigerators, washing machines, buildings, and lots of other things more energy efficient, this September the fifty-one-year-old Ph.D. in physics was named a MacArthur Fellow. The prize comes with a no-strings-attached $500,000 grant and is nicknamed the "genius award."
What did the co-director of NRDC's energy program do to deserve this? The short answer is that he's spent nearly three decades working to make sure that everyday things use smaller and smaller amounts of energy.
"I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, during a time when there was lots of air pollution," he says. "And you couldn't miss, even as a child, that there was all this black stuff going up the smoke stack."
That image stayed with him during his years at the University of California at
Berkeley, where he studied physics with Arthur Rosenfeld. While many experts were tackling vehicle fuel economy, these two concentrated on another energy hog: buildings, which used a more than a third of America's energy. Goldstein set to work on the government side of things, developing efficiency standards for refrigerators, which (along with air-conditioners) were the largest consumers of electricity in the home. In 1976, California adopted those standards -- the nation's first.
By 1986, Goldstein, who started working for NRDC in 1976, had negotiated national energy standards for a wide range of appliances. Tens of millions of refrigerators, water heaters, and washers have been produced since then -- which means that Goldstein has personally lowered Americans' utility bills. Today, his work on energy efficiency standards for appliances is saving as much energy every year as the entire output of the U.S. nuclear energy program.
Appliances, however, were just the beginning. Among other achievements, he helped develop California's building-efficiency standards, which cover everything from lighting to windows; and took his expertise abroad, helping China and Russia cut their energy use in buildings.
As for the half-million dollars, Goldstein will say only that he'll use it to further his work. He also predicts that, though he is the first, he will not be the last NRDC advocate to be named a MacArthur Fellow.
-- Craig Noble