The non-dilemma of efficiency

Obviously, the highest type of efficiency is that which can utilize existing material to the best advantage.
~Jawaharlal Nehru

Sadly, I can’t read the whole article because I don’t have a subscription to the New Yorker. Basically, it’s a guy who makes the case that as we gain in efficiency, we lose out because then we demand more, more, more. Grist offers a rebuttal, with graphs.

But does the “dilemma” sound kind of…familiar? Increased efficiency, increasing size and demand for power…

But Mr. Owens seems to be suffering from the correlation/causation fallacy, if he’s not dead wrong (Grist’s argument). We’re not buying bigger trucks and bigger houses and MOAR refrigeration because it’s more efficient or cheaper. Cost has never managed to fully regulate our purchases. House size is not increasing simply because people can afford more, in fact, they cannot, which is how we got into this “housing crisis” in the first place. House size is increasing due to more variables than I care to list off without turning this into one of those bullet-point posts. (I’m trying to kick the habit.) Efficiency may very well be one of them, but it’s not at the top of the list.

Yes, we are throwing away massive amounts of food, but I’m not convinced that it’s caused by increased efficiency of refrigeration. Increased efficiency of food production in general, yes, would be a valid argument…food is ridiculously cheap and therefore seen as “disposable.” There’s also something else to consider, though…we aren’t as close to our food producers as we once were. Few people have vegetable gardens or know where their food comes from. Fewer still are the people keep pigs around to eat scraps, and while more common, fewer people are feeding their dogs primarily on scraps. The wasted food has to go somewhere. We also eating out at an increasing rate, and restaurants, especially buffet- or cafeteria-style places, generate a lot of food waste. Believe me, I used to live off the chicken I saved from going into the trash can when I worked at a burrito joint.

Are we having an “efficiency dilemma?” Yes, but it’s not caused by efficiency itself. It’s caused by a number of factors, including, prominently, the societal push for bigger, better, and more impressive. But I’m really wondering what Mr. Owen’s final statements were…did he advise we quit our relentless pursuit for a computer that can be powered off a potato battery?


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