We are swimming in low-hanging fruit
Politicians, scientists, journalists, and everyone wonders how to bring third-world communities to first-world standards of living without destroying the environment.
It’s 22 F (-5 C) outside. I just closed a window in one place in this building. In another I turned off an air conditioner.
I turned off an air conditioner when it’s 22 degrees outside and we’re wondering how to bring others to this way of living?
A backward view
In An Inconvenient Sequel, India’s government says you used coal to get where you are, we want to get there so we’ll use coal.
History should have told us to respond, “we will use less—a lot less.” Gore couldn’t because he personally doesn’t use less, nor does anyone he knows or works with. Nearly no American does.
Increasing efficiency is important, what people trendily call a circular economy, distracts us from what works: reducing consumption. Recycling at best mitigates the problem, but it promotes more use, more upstream waste, and more consumerism.
On a low-level, it reduces waste, which makes understanding all the effects of recycling more subtle, not just the effects we want. The big picture is that promoting efficiency, recycling, and a circular economy before producing less supports the system causing the problems.
How about some humility?
Instead of asking how to make others like us, I suggest we could use a heavy dose of humility: we shouldn’t be like us!
Instead of recycling more, how about producing less that can be recycled? Getting rid of things means we don’t want them. Why did we get them? How much can we avoid getting?
Experience has taught people for millennia that wealth doesn’t come from how much you have but how little you need.
In a world where we air condition 22 degree air, changing ourselves will help more than promoting that others should emulate us.
Why not start by wasting less? I bet it will improve your life.
Efficiency is different than consuming less. Efficiency leads to Jevons paradox and rebound effects. Each motor uses less energy but we use more motors for more things, increasing overall use and pollution. Measurement shows we’ve been growing more efficient and polluting for centuries.
Efficiency can’t compete with not getting something in the first place—either for a clean world or a simpler, more rewarding life.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees