This Sustainable Life

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176: The folly of chasing efficiency

Ep. 176

Silicon Valley, governments, and lots of people are pushing for efficiency. I do too, but only after changing systemic beliefs and goals.

The greatest cause of global warming would have looked like the greenest clean energy innovation ever: the Watt steam engine. It led to our environmental problems today more than anything else.

We'd be fools to think today's green clean energy will do any different. Changing beliefs and goals will create results, not ignorantly continuing the patterns that got us here, thinking we're different.

Efficiency is different than reducing total waste. An LED will never compete with simply turning off the light. If you thought, but the light enables things, that belief, especially if you reflexively believe that the alternative to technology is the stone age, is the cause of global warming and our other environmental problems because it drives continuing the behavior that got us here.

What I'm saying won't change that belief. In my experience few things change belief, rarely facts, figures, doom, gloom, guilt, shame. Definitely not continuing what you're doing. What does? New experiences and community.

I'm not going to get into leadership and what influences motivations, emotions, beliefs, and behavior, but I'll tell you that if we don't change our behavior and beliefs, if we could magically return CO2 levels to pre-industrial revolution, we'd be back here pretty quickly.

And our behavior for centuries has been to make things more efficient, ignoring total waste, which we've increased. Almost nobody wants to consider consuming and producing less, despite reduce, reuse, recycle starting with reduce.

Folks, when people say that not acting now means we'll have to act more later to keep the earth able to maintain a population and society something like ours, they mean it. And people have been saying that for generations. If you believe efficiency only will make a difference, you aren't changing at all. You're doing exactly what got us here.

Change would be to reduce.


Here's one of the papers I alluded to. Quoting the paper:

we find that higher energy efficiency increased rather than reduced energy use, because lower capital cost enhanced energy use by more than the increase in energy cost reduced it. This casts strong doubts on the view that energy-saving technological change has lowered fossil energy use.

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We can dance around our environmental problems all we want. Understand them enough and we eventually reach overconsumption and overpopulation. These overshoots contribute to everything.We at least talk about overconsumption, even if few are acting. Decades ago, the public talked about population, but didn't act. Today we don't talk about it. All the numbers I see suggest the Earth can sustain two or three billion people with roughly western European consumption levels. I'd love to live in a world with two billion people, like what produced Mozart and Einstein.Karen has been working on helping society face our problem of too many people being alive at once longer than I have. I've only been able to talk about it since learning from (TSL guest) Alan Weisman's Countdown about (TSL guest) Mechai Viravaidya helping solve the problem. She's been treating it a lot longer. She also knows I think all the podcast guests I talked to about population. She also knows many environmentalists who never acted on population.Karen shares her decades of working on (over)population. The U.S. doesn't talk about it publicly these days, but Karen shows how to talk about it. As I recognized that our overpopulation contributes to every environmental problems, I realized we had at least to talk about it. Karen does this.Karen's page: Moving Upstream... Where Possibilities Come to RoostMove Upstream: A Call to Solve OverpopulationChange Our Stories, Change Our World