It might seem like a bit of a stretch to connect Hurricane Katrina with the growing crop of power bricks populating offices, homes and travel...

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It might seem like a bit of a stretch to connect Hurricane Katrina with the growing crop of power bricks populating offices, homes and travel bags.

But consider how climate change and global warming may have contributed to Katrina’s deadly force. Warmer water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are believed to accelerate hurricane velocity and strength. How can we reduce carbon emissions that are raising Earth’s temperature? One simple way is by looking for the EPA’s Energy Star designation on consumer electronics.

“The average home pollutes twice as much as the average car,” said Andrew Fanara, product-development chief for the Energy Star program in Washington, D.C. By 2010, more stringent Energy Star qualifications enacted in January 2005 for computer monitors alone are expected to reduce carbon emissions by almost 5 million metric tons, equal to 3 million cars.

The federal agency rates everything from refrigerators to laptops for Energy Star compliance. Its tests uncover a wide spectrum of energy waste, largely pegged to how efficiently power from the wall outlet is converted for use in a device.

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In an era of cheap electricity, manufacturers haven’t paid much attention to their products’ energy consumption.

That’s changing. Beyond concerns over the effects on climate, rising gas prices are making consumers sensitive to energy costs. Device makers can turn power savings into a selling point, making the Energy Star program a key line item for consumers’ check-off lists.

Besides power bricks, another key area to watch is TV equipment. Not only are screens getting larger, but the family TV is winding up in a bedroom or teenager’s room. By 2010 there may be more TVs than people in the U.S.

Add in the constellation of devices surrounding the TV — set-top boxes, DVD players, sound systems — and the average big-screen television setup consumes more electricity than one and a half refrigerators.

The Environmental Protection Agency is rating television sets on the basis of overall consumption (not just standby mode, the previous focus). The new specification would save more than 10 billion kilowatt hours a year of energy consumption.

We’re approaching the peak purchasing season for consumer electronics. As much as 40 percent of annual sales are around holiday buying.

You can look for the Energy Star logo on the box or device itself, along with the UL rating and other compliance specifications. Or check the energystar.gov Web site for vendors (Dell, IBM, Sony and Hewlett-Packard are among leaders).

The average American uses five power bricks. In checking two dozen devices in my home (yes I’ve skewed the average somewhat), I could find only three that were Energy Star rated, which surprised me.

Whether it’s for the sake of global warming or hurricanes like Katrina or your own pocketbook, Energy Star compliance can make a difference. Think about it as you shop for electronic gear this fall — and into the future as well.

Seattle freelance writer Paul Andrews has written about technology for more than two decades. He can be reached at pandrews@seattletimes.com.