A lot of posts come about as a result of emails, conversations, or reading/editing other people’s articles on the site. The following is an example of the latter. While editing Nick’s book review of Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air, I started to think about energy consumption and the great white hope of renewable energy.
To think that we can consume at the same levels and just swap out for renewables is insane. Did he address the “over consumption” issue? Efficiency isn’t the answer, since we’ll continue to add more devices that draw electricity. Renewable energy is limited (by physics). The total amount of energy consumed has remained level for the last few decades. Increased demand has been offset largely by improvements in efficiency. While this is great, efficiency has only managed to stem the tide, not bring about reductions in the amount of energy consumed. In essence, it has given us carte blanche to continue consuming. Arguably, the economic downturn of the Great Recession played a larger role in the diminished demand for energy.
Efficiency still depends on energy being consumed. As I’ve written before, efficiency is not the key to sustainability. Conservation, or the lack of energy consumption, has to be first. It doesn’t matter how efficient a device is (car or otherwise) if it’s still going to consume nonrenewable resources (not just gasoline, but materials to build cars, which takes electric vehicles into consideration). Neither conservation or efficiency are “sexy.” However, the former must trump the latter in a battle of ugly. Yes, we need both, but to think that efficient machines are going to help lead the way into a sustainable future is to ignore the fact that they are manufactured to consume resources. This is not an argument for pre-industrialization, but rather a pause for contemplation. Efficiency measures provide tacit consent to continue consuming while assuaging people’s guilt by giving them a false sense of “doing good” because they are using efficient devices.
Yes, efficiency (like the Energy Star rated appliances) has been important to curb further depletion, but the number of devices which we use has skyrocketed, with many being “energy efficient.” We need to push conservation measures as well.