What's your Consumption?

pj's thoughts Jan 27, 2023

A few weeks ago, I was having a robust debate (yes - that means arguing) with someone about energy use. His belief is that the world is going to run out of non-renewable natural resources. Let's assume for the sake of argument that you agree and that humanity is too rapidly using the world's finite resources.

The question then becomes, what are you going to do about it?

His position: everything you purchase should be as energy efficient as possible.

My position: stop purchasing so much and reduce your total consumption.

My fellow debater was hypothesizing that increasing energy efficiency would be the ultimate solution and that advancing technology and alternative energy sources were going to make a huge difference to the earth's woes.

My argument was that if one is really interested in trying to save the environment from a depletion of resources, the only true way to do it is by reducing total energy consumption.

As we continued to debate, I brought up the Jevons Paradox.

If you've never heard of this paradox, Wikipedia says...

"In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological progress could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption."

In other words, it doesn't matter if you make everything more energy efficient if you just end up buying more of it. 

For example, I remember when a basic computer cost over $5,000. At those prices, there was one computer per household (if the household even had one). Now that computers are so much less expensive, many families have one computer per person. 

More efficiency didn't lead to less resource usage - it led to more.

Same thing with cars. Few families could afford multiple cars. But now - few families have only one car. 

So I would argue that instead of purchasing high-efficiency appliances or electronics, limit the quantity or do away with those appliances or electronics completely. 

And if you choose to drive an electric vehicle to help save the environment, you should also consider reducing how often you fly on airplanes.

And if you stop using water bottles to reduce your plastic consumption, you should also consider no longer buying bananas in January if you live in the midwest. It doesn't matter how efficient the transportation is if you are transporting food thousands of miles out of season.

So I stand by my argument - it's not just about energy efficiency.

You also need to consider total consumption.

One way I put this into practice is to grow as much of my own food as possible.

And I try even harder to eat seasonally. This not only helps to keep my food as nutritious as possible, but it limits all the transportation costs associated with shipping out-of-season food across continents.

But I do admit - bananas are our weakness. I haven't figured out how to grow bananas in Indiana.

And no - paw paws (the "Indiana banana"), while tasty, are definitely no substitute!


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What could your life look like?

What could you accomplish if you made everything in your life run on a system? How much could you accomplish if you had an extra hour a day?