How Efficiency Makes Sense

Still away…

A long time ago now, I had an argument with someone also concerned about climate change, but his view seemed little more than Business as Usual, only nuclear. The situation made it all too clear that being an advocate for sustainability is no clear principle… Sustainbility means a lot of things to a lot of people, including, in this case, larger “efficient” electric SUV’s (something I fail to make sense of – but had me labelled as a radical).

Anyway, efficiency was key to the argument and a point I’m ever drawn back to.

The basic problem, noted by the other, is that whenever improvements are made, rather than use less resources, we make more product. A suitable example that we are all familiar with is the relationship between computer hardware and software. It doesn’t matter how wonderful the new processor is claimed to be, it only takes six months before we find ourselves turning it on and walking away to make a coffee.

This is due to new software demanding this additional processing power to work.

We still do not have wonderful, fast and reliable computers for very long, although, I think the “tablet” systems may overcome this. The reasoning being, rather than an arms race being processor and software, they tend to start with limits. That is, how can you get the most from this small package? What do most users really want and what can be removed or split for use only by specialists in supplementary programs?

Efficiency for its own sake will not work. Limits inspire innovation.1 Limits are inherent to all processes and resources required for human activity. The obsession with a notion of freedom that clearly does a hat tip to absolute limitlessness is flawed and nothing more than gluttony made virtuous through another name.2

We are increasingly aware of our over arching environmental limits.3 We also have good reason to believe there are also floors which we must work above to ensure humane living standards for our species.4 It makes sense to enforce these limits and let human ingenuity run wild within them. It is not an attack on personal freedom, only an attack on person rights to create depletion and irreparable degradation.

This is where I feel my opponents argument falls down completely. Holistic appreciation insists on limits to ensure ongoing prosperity. I would personally go further in suggesting that maximising proserity requires enhancing genetic diversity of of all life – ecological services will appear that will reduce effort within the urban landscape.5

Efficiency remains imperative.

1 Taylor, M.R., Rubin, E.S., and, Hounshell, D.A. (2005) Regulation as the Mother of Innovation: The Case of SO2 Control. Law and Policy, 27(2). Link
2 To be elaborated on in a new ebook I’m working on.
3 Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, III, E. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. Schellnhuber, B. Nykvist, C. A. De Wit, T. Hughes, S. van der Leeuw, H. Rodhe, S. Sörlin, P. K. Snyder, R. Costanza, U. Svedin, M. Falkenmark, L. Karlberg, R. W. Corell, V. J. Fabry, J. Hansen, B. Walker, D. Liverman, K. Richardson, P. Crutzen, and J. Foley. 2009. Planetary boundaries:exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32 Link
4 Oxfam Introducing ‘The Doughnut’ of social and planetary boundaries for development Link
5 Moth, The Human Island Link
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