Robinson, John P., and Geoffrey Godbey. Time For Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time. U.S.A: 1997, ISBN 0271016523, Page 316
To be happier and wiser, it is easier to increase appreciation levels more than efficiency levels. Only by appreciating more can we hope to have a sustainable society. While efficiency, at least as envisioned in American society, always starts with wanting more, appreciating may start both with valuing more what is already here and with wanting less.
Toynbee, Arnold From Eben Fodor’s Better Not Bigger. 1999. ISBN 0865713863, Page 104
True growth is the ability of a society to transfer increasing amounts of energy and attention from the material side of life to the nonmaterial side and thereby to advance its culture, capacity for compassion, sense of community, and strength of democracy.
Kohn, Alfie. No contest. U.S.A.: 1986. ISBN 0395393876, Page 67
The economist Fred Hirsch pointed out that each individual in a crowd is able to see better by standing on tiptoe, particularly when others are doing so. But everyone would do better if no one stood on tiptoe.
“From Cradle to Grave.” Lexis Nexis Xchange May 1997 ISSN 01617389 Page 6
As Israel Kirzner, professor of economics at New York University, has said, “It is the individual who has goals and who deliberately deploys his perceived resources in order to achieve his goals most efficiently, so far as is possible. To transfer this important concept of individual allocative choice to society as a whole is, at best, to engage in metaphor. Society, as such, neither possesses goals of its own nor deliberately engages in allocative choice.”
The Case Against Efficiency By Nicols Fox, washingtonpost.com Sunday, February 15, 2004; Page B01
As an idea, it seemed the model of efficiency. Stew up an assortment of unwanted animal carcasses and call the resulting material rendered animal protein. Include it in animal feed and you’ll see increased growth and, in the case of dairy cows—never mind that they are natural herbivores—increased milk production.
It might have been recycling at its best, wasting nothing, but it turned out to be efficiency at its worst. Feeding diseased animals back to animals led to Britain’s epidemic and North America’s outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. Fed the same material, some domestic and big zoo cats contracted the feline version as well.
Even with the assumption that cooking would kill any pathogens, common sense might have predicted a bad outcome from such an unsavory practice. But common sense has little currency just now. Instead, what counts is doing whatever needs doing in the fastest, cheapest, most intensely productive way, expending the least effort or energy with the minimum of raw materials. We call that efficiency—and it has become the value that trumps every other.
It’s in our heads now, a dogma that has been internalized: To be efficient is good, to be inefficient is bad. Questioning that creed begins to feel like heresy. Other values don’t stand a chance in the equation. Yet efficiency operates too often without regard for long-term consequences, and giving it our unquestioning allegiance is creating more problems than anyone might have imagined.
Researching a book on emerging food-borne pathogens about a decade ago, I began getting clues that efficiency wasn’t living up to its reputation. The small-scale food poisoning outbreaks of the past, the spoiled potato salad at the family reunion kind of thing, were being supplanted, I discovered, by huge, nationwide outbreaks from contaminated commercial foods that were efficiently mass-produced, mass-processed and widely distributed. One salmonella-tainted, nationally distributed brand of ice cream produced 224,000 cases of salmonellosis in 48 states in 1994.
We’ve become too efficient for our own good . Watching the dwindling catches of local fishermen from my vantage on the Maine coast, it has occurred to me that efficiency is the reason that every bite of haddock feels like it could be my last and the taste of cod is rapidly becoming a distant memory. The giant commercial pair trawlers, dragging their great nets between them and using sonar and other high-tech tools to find fish, are devastating the resource as efficiently as possible. Looking north to the Maine woods, it becomes obvious that efficiency is the culprit in clear-cutting. Huge machines known as feller bunchers strip and stack trees at a rate that virtually precludes the possibility of sustaining the forests, while putting traditional chainsaw loggers out of work.
Modern transportation is just as efficient at conveying diseases as it is tourists and trade—now plagues are only a plane ride away. The efficiencies of interconnected electrical grids mean that whole sections of the country can lose power if a squirrel knocks out a transformer on a country road. Efficiency tells us that it is necessary to fly to Chicago or Dallas or Atlanta, often in the wrong direction, to get anywhere at all. Efficient, perhaps, but for whom?
The hub system keeps planes in the air, but at the cost of customer convenience. What appear to be efficiencies may actually result in inefficiencies. Using new technologies, medicine can identify illnesses efficiently, but at stages that may not be harmful; or it can discover conditions that seem abnormal yet may not be dangerous, but which physicians feel obliged to treat, increasing the cost of health care to little benefit. Positive screening tests for prostate cancer, for instance, are raising just such questions in older men who may not live long enough for their cancers to become life-threatening, and for whom treatments may be unpleasant without guaranteeing a longer life. Appliances have certainly become more efficient, yet energy use hasn’t gone down. To the contrary, points out energy consultant Andrew Rudin, it has risen, as we simply add new appliances to our lives. Nevertheless, our culture works on the assumption that efficiency is an unquestionable benefit.
As a concept, efficiency is relatively new. It grew out of Jeremy Bentham’s early 19th-century philosophy of utilitarianism, which set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. While Marx and Lenin liked efficiency as well, it has a close and obvious link to capitalism and the factory system. But, like some virulent virus, it has crept stealthily out from behind the factory doors to infect the culture.
Every aspect of life is dominated by the demands of efficiency: How can I get from here to there in the fastest possible way? How can I find and prepare and consume food as rapidly as possible? How can I get this job done more quickly, expend the least amount of fuel, communicate more cheaply and faster? What more can I fit into my day? We’ve reached the point, as author and critic Sven Birkerts writes, when “Just sitting in the park while our kids play on the swings feels like truancy.” How and why did we allow this to happen?
Blame Frederick W. Taylor, known as the father of scientific management, efficiency and systems engineering. Today we would call him obsessive/compulsive; in his day, he was just a bore, counting his steps, measuring the angle of croquet shots, rattled by idleness and attempting always to save time. Working and writing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he divided tasks into specific actions and applied his stopwatch, attempting to demonstrate that the lazy rhythms of workers, left over from artisan days, could be efficiently reformed by the application of fractionated time analysis. “In the past,” said Taylor, ominously, “the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.”
Frank and Lillian Gilbreth took the concept further in the early 1900s, analyzing workers’ body movements and isolating basic patterns—reach, move, grasp, release and combinations thereof. Then they took efficiency home and applied it to their large family, a funny if flawed effort immortalized in the book and film “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which confirmed that attempts to apply efficiency to domestic life are fraught with peril. It’s a lesson we seem to have forgotten.
How often do we stop to consider that one person’s efficiency can be another person’s burden? Voice mail may be efficient from the business perspective, but it has ended the receptionist’s job and transferred the work to the caller, for whom it is often very inefficient. The filling station’s efficiency now has granny trying to figure out how to pump gas and check her oil. Production in America has increased partly because a great deal of work is being transferred to the consumer, as we serve ourselves and clean up after ourselves. Now we are told we must learn how to check ourselves out at the supermarket. It’s the great labor transfer that makes us all feel out of breath all the time. Perhaps we’ve just about reached the limit of what we can take on to save somebody else’s time.
Most of us today are caught between the efficiency we have been conditioned to aspire to and the emotional, impulsive, creative, quirky natures we humans are gifted with—the very natures that have guaranteed our somewhat frightening success on the planet. The result is inevitably frustration. Perfection is never achieved because the machine standard is not only unachievable, it’s undesirable. We don’t operate that way, and we shouldn’t. Yet in the end we poor, besieged humans, forgetting our own advantages yet no match for the tireless, unemotional machines and systems that have become our models, feel constantly obliged to apologize for our inadequacies.
Here and there, though, are healthy signs of real rebellion against the efficiency model. It’s obviously more efficient to buy a machine-knit garment, but across the country I have friends telling me they’ve joined knitting groups. The renewed affection for gardening in the past decade or so is another sign of rebellion—there’s nothing efficient about herbaceous borders or growing your own vegetables. It’s about pleasure. Those who scoff at the busy working mothers who are nevertheless devoted fans of Martha Stewart don’t recognize the longing for the traditional pleasures of craft and home and hearth that still flicker in these super-efficient, multi-tasking moms.
What we are missing is the time to waste time—on things that really count, like handwritten letters, the thump of a baseball in a leather glove on a summer evening, lemonade from lemons and flowers on the table. Advertisers know this. Notice how often a high-tech sales pitch will be backed by sepia-tinted, nostalgic, hometown, farm-fresh images. There is a huge gap between what we think we want to be and what we really are.
My own preference would be for simply banning certain super-efficient technologies. We could outlaw the fish-finding sonar on the trawlers, return to traditional fish-finding skills and let the inherent inefficiency of the small fisherman help preserve our oceans’ fish, not to mention the families and communities and related businesses that depend upon them. Ban the feller bunchers from the forests, localize electric production, go back to telling airplanes what towns they have to serve, put people and their needs before systems, and reduce the risks of massive systemic failure in the bargain.
I don’t underestimate the challenge of finding a way to incorporate other values into corporate bottom-line equations, given charters that require companies to maximize profits ahead of other priorities, and a culture that encourages pleasing the short-term expectations of analysts. But it can more easily be accomplished by privately or family-held companies that can do as they please, practicing less profitable but sustainable forestry on their lands for environmental reasons, for example, or putting employee satisfaction and better working conditions ahead of profit. I myself am the proprietor of a determinedly inefficient bookstore where the cash is kept in a drawer and the accounts are maintained on a ledger. My 14-year-old Lab sleeps on a rug in the corner, I pick titles on the principle that someone will like what I like, and I have time to prescribe for a customer who needs a book but doesn’t know which one.
Challenging efficiency is easier still for individuals willing to prioritize. Buying locally grown or produced fresh foods, for instance, could save transportation costs, keep farmland open, preserve a way of life, revive cooking, family dinners and dormant taste buds, and perhaps, as a bonus, limit large food-borne disease outbreaks. The rewards of inefficiency have undoubtedly only begun to be explored.
Author’s e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org Nicols Fox, the author of “Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art and Individual Lives” (Shearwater Books), lives in Maine. She is
writing a book about efficiency.
Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992 Pages 183-85
A resistance fighter understands that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things, that every technology—from an IQ test to an automobile to a television set to a computer—is a product of a particular economic and political context and carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore require scrutiny, criticism and control. In short, a technological resistance fighter maintains an epistemological and psychic distance from any technology so that it always appears somewhat strange, never inevitable, never natural…. [Resistance fighters]
pay no attention to a poll unless they know what questions were asked, and why;
refuse to accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal of human relations;
have freed themselves from the belief in the magical powers of numbers, do not regard calculation as an adequate substitute for judgment, or precision as a synonym for truth;
refuse to allow psychology or any “social science” to pre-empt the language and thought of common sense;
are, at least, suspicious of the idea of progress, and who do not confuse information with understanding;
do not regard the aged as irrelevant;
take seriously the meaning of family loyalty and honor, and who, when they “reach out and touch someone,” expect that person to be in the room;
take the great narratives of religion seriously and who do not believe that science is the only system of thought capable of producing truth;
know the difference between the sacred and the profane and who do not wink at tradition for modernity’s sake;
admire technological ingenuity but do not think that it represents the highest possible form of human achievement.
From “The Next Industrial Revolution” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in The Atlantic Monthly October 1998
Eco-efficiency is an outwardly admirable and certainly well-intended concept, but, unfortunately, it is not a strategy for success over the long term, because it does not reach deep enough. It works within the same system that caused the problem in the first place, slowing it down with moral proscriptions and punitive demands. It presents little more than an illusion of change.
Relying on eco-efficiency to save the environment will in fact achieve the opposite—it will let industry finish off everything quietly, persistently, and completely…. The reduction of potentially harmful emissions and wastes is another goal of eco-efficiency. But current studies are beginning to raise concern that even tiny amounts of dangerous emissions can have disastrous effects on biological systems over time. Consider the cherry tree. It makes thousands of blossoms just so that another tree might germinate, take root, and grow. Who would notice piles of cherry blossoms littering the ground in the spring and think, “How inefficient and wasteful”? The tree’s abundance is useful and safe. After falling to the ground, the blossoms return to the soil and become nutrients for the surrounding environment. Every last particle contributes in some way to the health of a thriving ecosystem. “Waste equals food”—the first principle of the Next Industrial Revolution.
Eno, Brian. “The Revenge of the Intuitive.” Wired January 1999, Page 176
The trouble begins with a design philosophy that equates “more options” with “greater freedom.” Designers struggle endlessly with a problem that is almost nonexistent for users: “How do we pack the maximum number of options into the minimum space and price?” In my experience, the instruments and tools that endure (because they are loved by their users) have limited options.
Intuitive actions confine the detail work to a dedicated part of the brain, leaving the rest of one’s mind free to respond with attention and sensitivity to the changing texture of the moment. With tools, we crave intimacy. This appetite for emotional resonance explains why users—when given a choice prefer deep rapport over endless options. You can’t have a relationship with a device whose limits are unknown to you, because without limits it keeps becoming something else.
Indeed, familiarity breeds content. When you use familiar tools, you draw upon a long cultural conversation—a whole shared history of usage—as your backdrop, as the canvas to juxtapose your work. The deeper and more widely shared the conversation, the more subtle its inflections can be.
Krishnamurti, J. “Listening to the Silence.” Parabola May, 1990, Page 79
If you listen both to the sound of the bell and to the silence between its strokes, the whole of that listening is attention. Similarly, when someone is speaking, attention is the giving of your mind not only to the words but also to the silence between the words. If you experiment with this you will find that your mind can pay complete attention without distraction and without resistance.
If technology becomes a tyrant, she ousts itBy Ross Atkin Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor From the May 14, 2003 edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0514/p21s01-lihc.html
Nicols Fox, a professional reviewer and essayist, writes on a computer and submits her work to editors by e-mail. She is, after all, a citizen of the 21st century. But stop by Ms. Fox’s home in Bass Harbor, Maine, and you may see her clothes drying on the line – even in winter. Drop in at night and you might find her reading by candlelight or oil lamp. Television? Well, she has one with rabbit ears, but a layer of dust covers the top.
“What I find is, too much technology is very unpleasant,” she says, speaking from her Rue Cottage Books shop in Southwest Harbor, Maine. “If we’re having to think all the time if our mechanical screwdriver or cellphone is charged, where the batteries are for this and where the batteries are for that, it’s a very stressful life. If we can just get rid of some of these things, we can get rid of stress.”
When she had to deal with peeling paint on her house, she opted for unfinished cedar shingles, just as she chooses organic bread rather than the prepackaged variety.
“The idea is not to give up something just to give it up,” Fox explains. “It’s to give it up to get something better. I’m not for self-denial for its own sake. I’m for finding a better life, a more enjoyable and pleasant life. The idea is not that one has to be pure and live in a mud hut,” she explains. “The idea is one can pick and choose, that one does have choices.”
Fox abstains from using a mechanical clothes dryer, since the sun and wind can do the job naturally, and line-drying encourages her to see what the day’s like. “There’s something about the fact that I have to cope with this reality of weather and my need for clean clothing and figure out a way to do that that makes life more interesting to me,” she concludes.
Both Fox’s residence and workplace reflect her values. Her bookshop has no cash register, only a cash drawer. The lighting is incandescent, not fluorescent. The counters and display cases, which are worn, are all made of wood. The only plastic is the kind customers flash, and Fox completes the transaction by calling in their credit card numbers. Her home frequently elicits visitor comments such as, “Oh, it’s so cozy. It feels so good. It feels so lived in.”
It’s also simple. Her kitchen contains no microwave oven or any of the usual small appliances. In their place are simpler, manual gadgets like a hand coffee grinder and a heavy, cast-iron griddle for cooking pancakes. What the home lacks in modern decor and conveniences it offers in simple, useful objects, possessions and handicrafts that express what Fox calls a transference of love to those who visit.
In looking at any technology, Fox believes it’s important to step back and ask who’s in charge: person or machine? If the latter, some rethinking may be necessary. To illustrate, she cites an experience a group of Amish families had trying the telephone. When placed in the kitchen, it led to gossip and wasted time. To make phones more productive, the phones were moved into the fields, where a person could call into town to ask about a wagon part, but did so standing, exposed to the elements. This enforced a certain discipline. Fox says with admiration, “That’s really controlling technology.”
Edward Luttwak, cited in Corey Robin’s “Ex-Cons: Right-Wing Thinkers Go Left!” Lingua Franca 11,1 (February 2001), Pages 24-33, 32.
I believe that one ought to have only as much market efficiency as one needs, because everything we value in human life is within the realm of inefficiency – love, family, attachment, community, culture, old habits, comfortable old shoes.
Activity is the goods for true satisfaction http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/02/17/1076779970333.html
By Ross Gittins February 18, 2004
Doing things, not buying stuff, has proved to be a superior pathway to pleasure in life.
A strange thing about economists is that although their ministrations exalt consumption above all things, they show remarkably little interest in it. They’re obsessed by maximising it, but utterly uninterested in studying it. They have no interest, for example, in increasing the efficiency of our consumption. It’s assumed to be satisfying and that’s it.
But I think if we’re going to live in a society so preoccupied with consumption – as we surely do – it makes sense to give attention to the efficiency of the act. And for this, we have to turn to the psychologists. They’ve become quite interested in consumption as part of their burgeoning study of happiness.
Did you know, for instance, that you’re likely to gain more satisfaction (utility, as economists call it) from buying services than from buying goods?
That’s the useful conclusion Professor Thomas Gilovich, of Cornell University, and Dr Leaf Van Boven, of the University of Colorado, come to in a paper published late last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Actually, they don’t put it quite that way. They say that “experiential” purchases – those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience – make people happier than material purchases.
The good life, they say, is better lived by doing things than having things. They came to this conclusion after undertaking surveys and lab experiments in which they asked people how they felt about the two kinds of purchases. (And note that it applies not to poor people, but to people in developed countries with a fair bit of discretionary income; that is, you and me.)
By “experiential purchases” they mean paying to do things – going to a concert, skiing, going on a holiday, even going out to dinner. By “material purchases” they mean buying tangible objects – clothes, jewellery and all manner of “stuff”.
In a way, this is a surprising finding. When you’ve spent money on an experience, pretty soon you’ve got nothing tangible to show for it. When you buy something material, however, it lasts for years. So why should doing things be so much more satisfying than having things?
First, because experiences are more open to positive reinterpretation. When we look back on the things we’ve done, we tend to forget the minor annoyances (how hot it was, all the flies, busting to get to the toilet) and the boring bits. It takes on a rosy glow, becoming better in recall than it was in reality. We even laugh over misadventures we found most unpleasant at the time.
In contrast, one of the core findings of the happiness research is that people quickly adapt to material advances.
We soon get used to owning the new lounge suite and it becomes part of the furniture, so to speak. So we need continuous material purchases to maintain the same level of satisfaction.
Second, because experiences are more central to our personal identities. A person’s life is the sum of their experiences. The accumulation of rich experiences thus creates a richer life.
Third, because experiences have greater social value. We enjoy talking about our experiences much more than about our possessions. Talking about our experiences – including our shared experiences – is the stock in trade of our relationships with family and friends. And good relationships are strongly associated with happiness.
This finding about experiencing rather than possessing is refined by the finding of another psychologist, Professor Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, in his wonderful book, Authentic Happiness, published by Random House Australia. Seligman warns against the snare of pursuing “short cuts to pleasure”. Such as? Drugs, chocolate, loveless sex, shopping, masturbation, television and spectator sport.
The point is not that these things are necessarily bad for us, nor that we should give them up entirely. It’s that they yield only the briefest spurts of good feeling.
Every wealthy nation produces more and more of these short cuts, forms of instant pleasure that require a minimum of effort on our part.
And that’s what’s wrong with them – they’re too easy. They’re passive rather than active. We seem to have been built in such a way that things requiring more effort yield more satisfaction. It’s the old story: you get out what you put in.
Seligman tells of an academic colleague who kept an Amazonian lizard as a pet in his lab. It would eat nothing he could think of to feed it – not lettuce, mango, minced meat, swatted flies. It was starving before his eyes. One day he offered it a ham sandwich. No interest. He began reading the paper, finished the first section and allowed it to drop to the floor on top of the sandwich.
“The lizard took one look at this configuration, crept stealthily across the floor, leapt onto the newspaper, shredded it, and then gobbled up the ham sandwich,” Seligman writes. It needed to stalk and shred before it would eat. And we turn out to be a bit like that. How does Seligman know we gain so little pleasure from these short cuts?
From the findings of extensive research by the noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (which means St Michael of Csik, a town in Transylvania). St Mike gave pagers to thousands of subjects and then beeped them at random times during the day and evening. Whenever beeped they had to record what they were doing and how they felt about it. It’s from such research we learn an unsettling fact: the average mood while watching sitcoms on television is mild depression. Reading a book, however, gets a tick. It’s a lot less passive than being slumped in front of the box.
So what’s the alternative to short cuts to pleasure?
In Seligman’s schema, what lies beyond the pleasures is the gratifications, which are not feelings but activities we like doing: reading, rock climbing, dancing, good conversation, volleyball or playing bridge, for example. The gratifications absorb and engage us fully. They block consciousness of self and felt emotion, except in retrospect (“Wow, that was fun!”).
When we progress to the gratifications, however, we’re still in the foothills of satisfaction. Beyond conventional consumption in search of the good life lies the meaningful life in which we use our strengths in the service of something much larger than ourselves.
Celebrating Consumption, Bruce Nordman, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 90-4000, Berkeley, CA 94720 USA Phone: 510-486-7089; Fax: 510-486-6996; BNordman@LBL.gov http://eetd.LBL.gov/BEA/People/bnordman.html
This paper describes consumption as I have come to see it, presents some background on why, and what this may suggest for the future. The underlying assumption is that we can significantly improve well-being and reduce environmental damage by changing consumption processes in ways not necessarily apparent from production measures. Drawing attention to these benefits will require acknowledging the importance of consumption efficiency and investing resources to increase it.
The point of engaging in production is to add value by consuming some resources (land, labor, capital, etc.) to create useful materials or products. Production usually involves much trade and many institutions to conduct, organize, and facilitate it. Measurement is readily accomplished by counting both mass and dollar quantities that are traded. The fraction of the process that is industrial in nature is usually high. Production is costly in both economic and environmental terms. Efficiency of production is measured as productivity, and assesses how effectively resources are transformed into products (or commercial services).
In contrast to production, the essence of consumption is that it destroys the value of materials and products. It subtracts value, or rather, transforms it from product to service value. Production of commercial services still adds economic value, but many such processes have more in common with consumption than with industrial production processes. Trade is usually absent from final consumption, or when present, difficult to measure. Measurement of consumption is difficult with conventional measures since the lack of trade makes it unclear what mass to count, and dollar aggregation (as with production measures) has limited application. Most activities in consumption have a low level of industrial content; rather they are dominated by social processes. Costs of consumption are usually ambiguous. Defining the boundaries of a consumption activity can be problematic, and a particular product may be used in multiple activities. Environmental costs that occur in consumption vary greatly.
Consumption efficiency is measured as Consumptivity, which is how effectively materials and products are translated to services that people value. While in some cases the connection between a material input and the resulting service is clear, in other cases one must assess an entire activity with a multitude of inputs and resulting services. Consumption is also tied to how we ‘spend’ time in activities. Activities organize a ‘top-down’ analysis of consumption (e.g. clothing, health care, information). A ‘bottom-up’ approach begins with individual objects.
Consumption is a complex transformative process. It is important to remember that a separate process of satisfaction occurs after consumption, to translate services to well-being.
A key to understanding consumption in efficiency terms (as we do energy) is to treat materials and products as a flow, not as discrete objects (again, just as we do with energy). Reducing industrial materials use through increased ‘materials efficiency’ is defined as reducing the “mass of paper per unit of service delivered”.
Conventional views of our economy and society rely on and result in several myths. Myths are stories that are not true, but are useful to treat as true to help explain reality. For example, while the earth is ultimately spherical, for local purposes we treat it as if it were flat. The burden of calculating and applying the sphericality would not be worth the trouble for most purposes (such as building design). However, it is critical to know the limits of such myths, or wrong conclusions will be drawn. Several myths problematic for consumption are that:
Well-being follows directly from production (e.g. GDP)
This allows the typical belief that the “standard of living” (presumably a measure of well-being) is to be measured by production. A corollary is that “consumption efficiency” (if the term were used) is constant, in individual circumstances, across space (regions and countries), and across time. A further corollary is that there is no need to measure consumption, since production (and trade) measures will capture all that is important. The only way to increase well-being is to raise production.
Consumption occurs at acquisition
This is most often put forth by those who believe that society has insufficient guilt about consumption. Consumption is equated to shopping, and it is implied that much of what people buy is irrelevant to their well-being (this is consistent with the idea that there is ‘good consumption’ and ‘bad consumption’). This myth also avoids needing to articulate how people use products.
Consumption occurs in disposal
This is most commonly articulated by those involved with disposal (such as recyclers), and presumes that minimal value is lost during use, and so long as materials are recycled, they are not “wasted”. This makes it difficult to associate consumption with all but a few costs of production, undermining most arguments for consumption efficiency.
Note that the “production implies well-being” approach neither requires nor prohibits the equation of consumption and acquisition, as one can believe that products are useful for a long period of time without acknowledging that there is any question of efficiency. A common problem with all of these myths is that they imply that consumption is uninteresting and that understanding it better is not a priority.
Amongst these myths, several truths emerge from the consumption view
Production == Consumption
(always in the long run, often in the short run)
This is similar to the identity between precipitation and evaporation of water, or the conservation of energy and mass in the laws of physics. Two corollaries are that “Everything that gets produced eventually gets thrown away” (with a few minor exceptions), and that “the interesting question is not if, or how much, is consumed, but is how well”. Any guilt or pride in production or consumption must be transferred to the other.
Production interferes with consumption
(not always, but more often than not)
Physically, socially, and economically, the presence of additional productive capacity and all that it entails makes it more difficult for people to consume well. This can be due to use of land, resulting pollution, or disrupted social relations. For much of production, the benefits of the consumption it allows outweigh the costs, so it is socially worth doing. However, this doesn’t alter the fact of interference with consumption.
Consumption is a complex transformative process
As noted before, consumption is a process, not a static fact. Discussions and analysis of consumption that fail to build on this will generally come to wrong conclusions.
Consumption analysis must be science-based to succeed
The success of energy efficiency indicates the power of good science to overturn myths and shed light on topics that previously seemed unknowable. The application of LCA to some consumption processes suggests that science will be applied-the challenge is to insure that the correct methods and good science are used.
Consumption is inherently linear
For those fond of materials recycling, the fact that consumption obeys different law is disappointing. Nevertheless, there is no way to map the linear path of the transformation of value as it moves through industrial production, consumption, and on to satisfaction.
Truths about consumption have evolved considerably over recent decades and centuries. Figure D expresses this schematically-consumptivity or well-being can’t currently be quantified this way (any more than utility in conventional economics can be), but the concept is useful. Ever since production began climbing at the beginning of the industrial revolution, quantitative gains in production have been tempered by declines in consumptivity. While this effect was small in comparison to rises in production, there was little harm in ignoring it. However, industrialized countries may have reached the point at which consumptivity declines match or exceed production gains. There is a danger of a long period of diminishing well-being. However, attention to consumption could facilitate rising well-being (whether production continues to rise, or preferably falls).
Rising rates of production are likely for the foreseeable future, particularly for developing countries. For developing countries to avoid the high production levels of industrialized countries, their best option is to aim for high levels of consumptivity. The fact of past falling consumptivity need not be of concern so long as the rate is low enough. For industrialized countries, with our consumptivity as low as it is, we can reasonably expect to be able to raise it considerably (if we try).
A consumption-based perspective does not deny the usefulness of others and should be used in addition to, not instead of, them. It provides an additional way to understand and improve the world, so is essentially optimistic (this is part of the motivation to “celebrate” it). Consumption may be particularly useful for those wanting to reduce environmental damage, as it can help identify significant changes that may not change well-being, but that allow significant reductions in destructive production.
The prospects for consumption analysis are unclear. It calls into question several widely held assumptions, and takes away some (not all) of the moral imperative for production, and in particular, rising levels of production. It also conflicts with many other social and governmental goals that call for increasing production and increasing the aggregate work (jobs) that needs to be done. There is increasing recognition of the disconnect between rising levels of production and most people’s sense of individual and social well-being. Many responses to this look for scapegoats or put blind faith in some system (e.g. religion or the market). Improving consumption may be one of several mechanisms of social transformation that have few losers and a wide array of co-benefits, and so be worthy of further consideration and investment.
A key to understanding the importance of consumption is that it is a process, not a static fact. Consumption is usually ignored or denounced, both of which obscure its true nature. If we are to improve consumption, we should feel good about it, pay attention to it, do it well, have fun-“celebrate consumption”.
The Dubious Rewards of Consumption by Alan Thein Durning New Renaissance magazine Vol.3, No.3
The avarice of mankind is insatiable,” wrote Aristotle 23 centuries ago, describing the way that as each desire is satisfied, a new one seems to appear in its place. That observation forms the first precept of economic theory, and is confirmed by much of human experience. A century before Christ, the Roman philosopher Lucretius wrote: “We have lost our taste for acorns. So (too) we have abandoned those couches littered with herbage and heaped with leaves. So the wearing of wild beasts’ skins has gone out or fashion….Skins yesterday, purple and gold today—such are the baubles that embitter human life with resentment.”
Nearly 2,000 years later, Leo Tolstoy echoed Lucretius: “seek among men, from beggar to millionaire, one who is contented with his lot, and you will not find one such in a thousand….Today we must buy an overcoat and galoshes, tomorrow, a watch and a chain; the next day we must install ourselves in an apartment with a sofa and a bronze lamp; then we must have carpets and velvet gowns; then a house, horses and carriages, paintings and decorations.”
Contemporary chroniclers of wealth concur. For decades Lewis Lapham, born into an oil fortune, has been asking people how much money they would need to be happy. “No matter what their income,” he reports, “a depressing number of Americans believe that if only they had twice as much, they would inherit the estate of happiness promised them in the Declaration of Independence. The man who receives $15,000 a year is sure that he could relieve his sorrow if he had only $30,000 a year; the man with $1 million a year knows that all would be well if he had $2 million a year….Nobody,” he concludes, “ever has enough.”
If human desires are in fact infinitely expandable, consumption is ultimately incapable of providing fulfillment—a logical consequence ignored by economic theory. Indeed, social scientists have found striking evidence that high-consumption societies, just as high-living individuals, consume ever more without achieving satisfaction. The allure of the consumer society is powerful, even irresistible, but it is shallow nonetheless.
Measured in constant dollars, the world’s people have consumed as many goods and services since 1950 as all previous generations put together. Since 1940, Americans alone have used up as large a share of the earth’s mineral resources as did everyone before them combined Yet this historical epoch of titanic consumption appears to have failed to make the consumer class any happier. Regular surveys by the National Opinion Research Centre of the University of Chicago reveal, for example, that no more Americans report they are “very happy” now than in 1957. The “very happy” share of the population has fluctuated around one-third since the mid-fifties, despite near-doubling in both gross national product and personal consumption expenditures per capita.
A landmark study in 1974 revealed that Nigerians, Filipinos, Panamanians, Yugoslavians, Japanese, Israelis, and West Germans all ranked themselves near the middle on a happiness scale. Confounding any attempt to correlate material prosperity with happiness, low-income Cubans and affluent Americans both reported themselves considerably happier than the norm, and citizens of India and the Dominican Republic, less so. As psychologist Michael Argyle writes, “There is very little difference in the levels of reported happiness found in rich and very poor countries.”
Any relationship that does exist between income and happiness is relative rather than absolute. The happiness that people derive from consumption is based on whether they consume more than their neighbours and more than they did in the past. Thus, psychological data from diverse societies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Brazil, and India show that the top income strata tend to be slightly happier than the middle strata, and the bottom group tends to be the least happy. The Upper classes in any society are more satisfied with their lives than the lower classes are, but they are no more satisfied than the upper classes of much poorer countries—nor than the upper classes were in the less affluent past. Consumption is thus a treadmill, with everyone judging their status by who is ahead and who is behind.
That treadmill yields some absurd results. During the casino years of the mid-eighties, for example, many New York investment bankers who earned “only” $600,000 a year felt poor, suffering anxiety and self-doubt. On less than $600,000, they simply were unable to keep up with the Joneses. One despondent dealmaker lamented, “I’m nothing. You understand that, nothing. I earn $250,000 a year, but it’s nothing, and I’m nobody.”
From afar, such sentiments appear to reflect unadulterated greed. But on closer inspection they look more like evidence of humans’ social nature. We are beings who nced to belong. In the consumer society, that need to be valued and respected by others is acted out through consumption. As one Wall Street banker put it to the New York Times, “Net worth equals self-worth.” Buying things becomes both a proof of self-esteem (“I’ m worth it,” chants one shampoo advertisement) and a means to social acceptance—a token of what turn-of-the-century economist Thorstein Veblen termed “pecuniary decency.” Much consumption is motivated by this desire for approval: wearing the right clothes, driving the right car, and living in the right quarters are all simply says of saying, “I’m OK. I’m in the group.”
In much the same way that the satisfaction of consumption derives from matching or outdoing others, it also comes from outdoing last year. Thus individual happiness is more a function of rising consumption that of high consumption as such. The reason, argues Stanford University economist Tibor Scitovsky, is that consumption is addictive: each luxury quickly becomes a necessity, and a new luxury must be found. This is as true for the young Chinese factory worker exchanging a radio for a black-and-white television as it is for the Sherman junior executive trading in a BMW for a Mercedes.
Luxuries become necessities between generations as well. People measure their current material comforts against the benchmark set in their own childhood. So each generation needs more than the previous did to be satisfied. Over a few generations, this process can redefine prosperity as poverty. The ghettos of the United States and Europe have things such as televisions that would have awed the richest neighbourhoods of centuries past, but that does not diminish the scorn the consumer class heaps on slum dwellers, nor the bitterness belt by the modernised poor. With consumption standards perpetually rising, society is literally insatiable. The definition of a “decent” standard of living—the necessities of life for a member in good standing in the consumer society-endlessly shifts upward. The child whose parents have not purchased the latest video game feels ashamed to invite friends home. Teenagers without an automobile do not feel equal to their peers. In the clipped formulation of economists, “Needs are socially defined, and escalate with the rate of economic progress.”
The relationships between consumption and satisfaction are thus subtle, involving comparisons over time and with social norms. Yet studies on happiness indicate a far less subtle fact as well. The main determinants of happiness in life are not related to consumption at all—prominent among them are satisfaction with family life, especially marriage, followed by satisfaction with work, leisure to develop talents, and friendships.
These factors are all an order of magnitude more significant than income in determining happiness, with the ironic result that, for example, suddenly striking it rich can make people miserable. Million-dollar lottery winners commonly become isolated from their social networks, lose the structure and meaning that work Formerly gave their lives, and find themselves estranged from even close friends and family. Similarly, analysts such as Scitovsky believe that reported happiness is higher at higher incomes largely because the skilled jobs of the well-off are more interesting than the routine labour of the working class. Managers, directors, engineers, consultants, and the rest of the professional elite enjoy more challenging and creative pursuits, and therefore receive more psychological rewards, than those lower on the business hierarchy.
Oxford University psychologist Michael Argyle’s comprehensive work The Psychology of Happiness concludes: “The conditions of life which really make a difference to happiness are those covered by three sources-social relations, work and leisure. And the establishment of a satisfying state of affairs in these sphere does not depend much on wealth, either absolute or relative.” Indeed, some evidence suggests that social relations, especially in households and communities, are neglected in the consumer society; leisure likewise tares worse among the consumer class than many assume.
The consumer society fails to deliver on its promise of fulfillment through material comforts because human wants are insatiable, human needs are socially defined, and the real sources of personal happiness are elsewhere. Indeed, the strength of social relations and the quality of leisure—both crucial psychological determinants of happiness in life—appear as much diminished as enhanced in the consumer class. The consumer society, it seems, has impoverished us by raising our income.
No denying the costs of efficiency
Business forum Star Tribune.com Minneapolis – St. Paul – Published April 11, 2004
Every day, Gary pedals past our house on a decked-out three-wheel bike that hauls all of his work gear behind him. My kids have become expert Gary spotters—running to the window and pointing him out as he rides by. They are especially excited in the winter, when an unrecognizable, bundled-up biker passes us.
Gary has chosen to use his bicycle as his only means of transportation. This amazes me for two reasons. First, this is someone who, at least on this particular issue, is living his values. And second, giving up something so convenient as a car is virtually unfathomable to me. But that is where my problem lies.
I am at a crossroads when it comes to efficiency. As much as I love the thought of doing something in less time with less work and better results, I am also repelled by it. After more than 20 years in financial planning, it is apparent that there are unrecognized costs that arise from this approach. More importantly, the outcomes might not be those that we desire.
Quick stock market gains lead to unrealistic expectations that inevitably result in inappropriate investments and ultimately disappointment. Business books such as “The One Minute Manager” devolve into books like “One Minute Parenting” and help contribute to the breakdown in our time-starved families. Zoning has created a chance to conveniently visit the pet food superstore situated next to the grocery superstore, which, of course, is adjacent to the hardware superstore, which is in the same development as the anything-you-can-imagine superstore. This also means that there are fewer neighborhood businesses where you bump into people you know. Is it any wonder that coffee shops are now our community centers?
Farmer and philosopher Wendell Berry has written extensively on a “properly scaled human economy.” Some of our desire for progress and efficiencies has resulted in our unique human inability to know when to stop. It also has resulted in our not truly recognizing the costs of some of our growth.
In a chapter titled “Six Agricultural Fallacies” from his book of essays, “Home Economics,” Berry points out that “the free market is bad for agriculture because it is unable to assign a value to things that are necessary to agriculture. It gives a value to agricultural products, but it cannot give a value to the sources of those products in the topsoil, the ecosystem, the farm, the farm family, or the farm community.”
This issue is not limited to agriculture. As profits are shipped away from the source of their production, we will continue to care less about the real cost of producing. Aesthetics, environment, community are less likely to be adequately valued in the cost of a product by a business whose only connection to the community is a faceless plant, rather than a business owner who is also your neighbor.
It is interesting that part of the reason it is efficient to ship jobs overseas is because many other countries pay even less attention to some of the non-financial costs of production than we do.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Personal History,” former Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham wrote that her husband (who was the Post publisher before her) “…was acutely aware of the dilemma that arose from the fact that ‘a newspaper must be a successful commercial enterprise in order to survive. Yet, the publisher must realize that he has obligations which transcend any commercial interest.”
These dual objectives are critical to all that we do. In our lives and our businesses, there must be a concomitant responsibility to do well and do good.
Striking a balance
We must look at ourselves and recognize that, to put it crassly, our lives are our product, and our time and efforts are the sources of this product. Spending our lives focused on things that in the end don’t matter much is like shipping the profits away from the production. We must pay attention to some of the hidden costs in what we are doing rather than just the obvious ones.
The money you earn is not your product. The choices that you make and the decisions about what to do with the money is your product. Most importantly, it is the little things that matter. So let’s look at some choices:
Are you dealing with your aging parents in a manner in which you want your children to ultimately deal with you? Are they a burden or a gift? Does it make sense to spend some of your resources to call or spend time with them? Have you spent enough time determining where they will live when they can no longer manage on their own?
Are you spending your money in a manner that is consistent with what you really want? Are you an environmentalist driving an SUV? Are you buying your children the things that you never had and depriving them of the satisfaction in earning them for themselves? Are you buying presents to make up for your unavailability at home?
Are you working to make anyone else’s life better? Have you found some causes outside of yourself that matter? Are you spending your time and your money to make the community better for you and your family?
Are you writing or calling people to let them know that you are happy or concerned for them? Are you walking your dog in your neighborhood with your head up and your iPod off so you can say hello to people?
As I write these things, I realize how inconvenient many of them may be in the short term and yet how in the long run these are the things that make what we do in life more important than what we do for a living.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden. New York: Putnam Penguin, ISBN 0142004235, originally published by Viking in 1952 Pages 130-1
Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then – the glory – so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.
I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing al are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into out thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea of God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are not good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repression, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad, suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religious, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is the one thing which by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
Dan Charles “Leaping the Efficiency Gap” from Science, 14 AUGUST 2009 VOL 325, pages 804 – 811
Experience has shown that there is more to saving energy than designing better light bulbs and refrigerators. Researchers say it will need a mixture of persuasion, regulation, and taxation
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO IN BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA, TWO YOUNG physicists named Steven Chu and John Holdren were present at the birth of a campaign to curb Americans’ appetite for energy. They saw their colleague Arthur Rosenfeld abandon a successful career in particle physics and set up a new research division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) devoted to energy efficiency. Then- Governor Jerry Brown and state regulatory agencies adopted Rosenfeld’s ideas with astonishing speed. California canceled planned nuclear power plants, passed pathbreaking efficiency standards for refrigerators and buildings, and ordered electric utilities to spend money persuading their customers to use less power. Today, Chu, now the U.S. secretary of energy, cites Rosenfeld as a model for scientists and California as a example for the nation. He points out that per capita electricity consumption in California stayed flat for the past 30 years yet rose 40% in the rest of the United States….
Alan Sanstad, an LBNL researcher who also worked with Rosenfeld, looks at the same data and concludes that California’s efficiency offensive wasn’t nearly effective enough. He points out that California’s total energy use over the past 3 decades grew at almost the same rate as it did in the rest of the country, while the state’s population soared. Anant Sudarshan and James Sweeney of Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC) recently calculated that the state’s energy policies can take credit for only a quarter of California’s lower per capita electricity use. The rest is due to “structural factors” such as mild weather, increasing urbanization, larger numbers of people in each household, and high prices for energy and land that drove heavy industry out of the state. For Sanstad, there’s a clear lesson: Meeting the more ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require more aggressive measures that cause some economic pain. “The real potential of energy efficiency is not going to be realized until we get away from the idea that it has to pay for itself,” he says.
The biggest challenge is not inventing new technology but persuading more people to adopt technology and practices that already exist. A new generation of researchers and government officials is now examining new strategies for energy efficiency, looking for the key—or a whole ring of keys—that will unlock its full potential. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to which we have to rise,” says Ashok Gadgil, an energy technology researcher at LBNL. “We were preparing for this for 20 years; now come under the spotlight and sing!”
The human dimension Rosenfeld and Edward Vine had a friendly, long-running argument during their 2 decades as colleagues at LBNL. Rosenfeld believed in technology. When he testified before the U.S. Congress, as he did frequently in the early 1980s, he always came with props in hand: compact fluorescent light bulbs, heat-shielding windows, or computer programs for predicting the energy use of new buildings. But Vine, whose Ph.D. is in human ecology, wasn’t convinced of technology’s power. “We can’t assume, if we have a great technology, that people will rush to stores and buy it,” Vine says. “We need to find out how people behave, how they make decisions, how they use energy, and we need to work with them.”
For the most part, energy-efficiency programs around the country have followed Rosenfeld’s line. They offer financial incentives for adopting energy-saving, cost-effective technology, and trust that consumers will follow their economic self-interest. Yet many researchers are now coming around to Vine’s point of view. Consumers don’t seem to act like fully informed, rational decision-makers when they make energy choices. Many avoid making choices at all. Give them a programmable thermostat, and they won’t program it. Offer them an efficient light bulb that pays for itself in 2 years, and they won’t buy it. Builders don’t take full advantage of the cheapest source of lighting, the sun. Even profit-seeking businesses sometimes make little effort to control their energy use, says Ernst Worrell, who teaches at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and studies companies all over the world. “There are companies that spend 20% of their operating cost on energy, but upper management doesn’t know where that money is going,” Worrell says. “They see energy costs as an act of God….”
Research has produced some intriguing insights. For instance, people believe that others waste energy because of their inner characters, but they regard their own wasteful practices as the product of circumstances. More information doesn’t usually produce energy saving behavior; experts leave the lights on, too. The concrete example of a friend or neighbor who walks her children to school is much more powerful than any impersonal exhortation to drive less. And don’t tell someone that he needs to save energy because nobody else does. “It could end up backfiring,” Armel says, because most people don’t like the feeling of being in the minority.
When people are asked to choose among options that they don’t fully understand, such as a list of investment plans, they tend to select the “default option”: the one that doesn’t require them to change anything or that seems most popular. Right now, that tendency works against efficiency. In appliance stores, says LBNL’s Jonathan Koomey, who also works as a consultant for companies, the most efficient “Energy Star” machines are usually aimed at high-end customers. They’re manufactured in low volumes and come with additional features that drive up the price. The marketing strategy sends a clear signal that these are not appliances that the store expects most customers to buy….
Frustratingly, “green” buildings often don’t deliver what their designers promised because of mistakes in design, shoddy construction, or poor maintenance. “No one measures building performance,” says Stephen Selkowitz, head of the Building Technologies Division at LBNL. “I’ll ask 100 architects, ‘How many of you design energy-efficient buildings?’ Almost all of them. Then I’ll ask, ‘How many of you know the measured performance of your last building?’ Not a soul! If you don’t know how well you did, how will you ever do any better?….”
Paying the cost Lee Schipper of Stanford’s PEEC is a grizzled veteran of campaigns to save energy around the world. And after many years in the trenches, he’s changed his mind. In the early 1970s, when Schipper was studying astrophysics at Berkeley (where he shared a graduate student office with Chu), he started teaching classes and giving lectures on the physics of energy. When the energy crisis hit, he quickly earned a reputation as an efficiency enthusiast of the most irrepressible sort. He eventually joined Rosenfeld’s research team at LBNL. Schipper couldn’t restrain himself when, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter urged Americans to conserve energy using arguments that Schipper considered unfounded. Carter said that conserving energy “will demand that we make sacrifices and changes in our lives. To some degree, the sacrifices will be painful.” Schipper wrote an angry letter to Representative John Dingell (D–MI), arguing that conserving energy did not, in fact, require painful sacrifices. He explained that new energy-saving lights, windows, and car engines allowed consumers to live just as they always had yet burn less oil and coal. “You know what?” Schipper says today. “I was wrong. Carter was right….”
Schipper’s views are shaped by his own particular specialty: transportation, including cars. Since 1980, new cars have doubled the amount of mass they move with a gallon of gasoline, but U.S. car manufacturers used most of that efficiency gain to make cars bigger and more powerful, not more fuel conserving. The simplest and cheapest way to reduce energy use in transportation, Schipper says, is simply to require cars that are lighter, smaller, and less powerful. But because of fierce resistance to that idea, “we get all these interesting technological fixes, like plug-in hybrids, that are actually quite expensive.”
So Schipper has come around to the idea that conserving energy really does demand that people change their attitudes and the way they live. The single most important step in that direction, he says, is to make energy more expensive. “We’re still playing 1970s games, thinking that we don’t have to confront consumers and industries with the real price of energy and carbon,” he says….
Rosenfeld, the man who once provided a professional home to many of these efficiency researchers, quietly agrees with Schipper. “Of course we need an energy tax,” he says simply. The “father of energy efficiency” is modest in physical stature and demeanor….