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Waste not, collapse not.

by Colman Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:20:44 AM EST

As pointed out by bruno-ken in the Salon, Jared Diamond, who is much quoted by the end-of-worlders around here, apparently doesn't think we're quite done yet:

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.
Other aspects of our consumption are wasteful, too. Most of the world’s fisheries are still operated non-sustainably, and many have already collapsed or fallen to low yields — even though we know how to manage them in such a way as to preserve the environment and the fish supply. If we were to operate all fisheries sustainably, we could extract fish from the oceans at maximum historical rates and carry on indefinitely.
The same is true of forests: we already know how to log them sustainably, and if we did so worldwide, we could extract enough timber to meet the world’s wood and paper needs. Yet most forests are managed non-sustainably, with decreasing yields.(New York Times)
I've been saying this for ages now: most of our consumption is waste even within the terms of the consumer society. A lot of it is waste even within the status competition that passes for pursuit of happiness in these advertising saturated days.

I suspect we can drop our resource consumption by at least 75% - maybe more in the US - with little hardship over a couple of decades.

We waste because it's cheaper and easier: we need carbon and environmental taxes.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:22:17 AM EST
We need them, and they should be published as being incremented annually upwards to introduce urgency in people's thinking.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:56:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The cigarette addict in me warns you, a regular price hike doesn't kick addiction off - the price of cigarettes has risen fivefold since I started smoking. But if it had risen fivefold overnight, it would have been more effective...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 09:44:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not sure that apparent wealth causes the release of mind-bending biochemicals in the same way ;-)

The addiction is more to do with wanting to belong to the majority (at least as far as the Nordic countries). The spread of satellite dishes, plasma screens, and the like could, I am convinced, be mapped like the spread of influenza. Thus by influencing neighbours you can game the system i.e energy saving has to be seen as a status symbol of some kind. It is already happening in my neck of the woods.

This produces increasing group happiness, whereas shock taxes do the opposite.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 11:14:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is discussed in some detail here.

Warning: some of the posts are of the wingnut kind. That site is more insanelibertarian infested than Eurotrib.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:38:45 AM EST
On a quick scan, half those posters can't tell the difference between consuming resources and economic consumption.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:42:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The place is called Economists' View, what did you expect?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:51:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunity. -Pogo
by smattoon on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:12:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome to European Tribune, smattoon!

Could you elaborate?

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:16:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The winger Ron-Paulites got word of the Economist's View long ago, although they tend to show up in waves.  Have to hit it at the right time.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 09:13:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About 6 or 7 years ago I was on a flight from Paris to the U.S. and I sat next to an American man who was returning from India. He was some kind of energy consultant; I no longer remember, perhaps atomic energy. I asked him how much of America's energy consumption was waste. He thought the U.S. could reduce its consumption by 25% without even noticing.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:50:02 AM EST
And if you did that by cutting down on the coal, you would eliminate much more than 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:51:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Pity, humankind is so suicidal!

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:55:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There have been lsits around about what really one would need...

SoI think we could do a list about how we could cut the waste...

My main problem is...
let's forget about eenrgy consumption (which it can be redcued with noa ctual effect int he economy).. what happens if we reduce consumption of the other stuff? Would it mean less jobs? would it mean less grow?

Are we able to get a society where no GDP growth does not mean less jobs?

In other words, is the capitalism system soe asy to ajust? or do we need to get tot he point where we "invent" a cheap source of energy which does no contaminate. so taht we can consume infintely things taht are complete waste but taht are not hurtful tyo the environment? or would the system reamin healthy and in place by cutting the non-sense consumption?

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 09:08:17 AM EST
Well, if we can produce all goods and services we need for survival plus some for entertainment, pleasure and comfort with N standard labour input hours, and we have M  people in this society, each should do N/M hours of work, and all would have jobs and sufficient stuff as well. Now, if we produce less, with less waste and less planned obsolescence and less wasteful 'progress' in terms of new, stupid blinky shit, this could well mean fewer hours of work for each. But not fewer jobs.

(However, if one holds some old fashion notion that a 'job' constitutes 40h payed wage labour each week, the 'jobs' would presumably be fewer. I cannot see why or how one would advocate for this, though.)

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 10:21:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lump of labour fallacy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The lump of labour or lump of jobs fallacy is an argument generally considered to be fallacious that the amount of work available to labourers is fixed. Contending that the amount of work is flexible not static, most economists oppose such arguments. Another way to say this is that it treats a quantity as if it were an exogenous variable, when it's not. It may also be called the fallacy of labour scarcity, or the zero-sum fallacy, from its ties to the zero-sum game.
Is it really a fallacy? Some of the counter-arguments are probably correct when applied to a national economy but maybe not to the global economy.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 10:34:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is a nice Orwellian touch that we now try to maximize the amount of work put into the economic system, and see it as a good thing.

And I kinda doubt the fallacy, with the way UK and France have about the same amount of hours worked ; the greater UK work participation rate due to, well, shorter weeks on average.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 01:25:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Suppose you have a lump of labour. Then, the higher the (weekly) minimum wage the longer the average week and the larger the unemployment rate.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 04:54:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That depends on how the labour week length is flexible... I'm not so sure many people would work more if they earnt more. I know I wouldn't.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 06:31:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know about 75%, but the big picture here doesn't surprise me at all.  And if we started taxing the hell out of those things that destroy the environment, we could cut it down pretty quickly.  But right now the American government is signaling that it doesn't take taxation of carbon seriously, and consequently businesses are assuming lower energy costs than they would otherwise.

We have to send a clear signal that age of the 8mpg Hummer is over.  If that means Detroit goes bankrupt, well, it's their own damned fault for being so incompetent for so long.  Time to innovate, or go the way of the dodo.

We could certainly do ourselves a lot of good with a proper regulatory regime and tax system.  Everything from cap-and-trade to mandating efficient light bulbs should be part of it.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 09:28:39 AM EST
from Scientific American

A Solar Grand Plan
By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions

High prices for gasoline and home heating oil are here to stay. The U.S. is at war in the Middle East at least in part to protect its foreign oil interests. And as China, India and other nations rapidly increase their demand for fossil fuels, future fighting over energy looms large. In the meantime, power plants that burn coal, oil and natural gas, as well as vehicles everywhere, continue to pour millions of tons of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, threatening the planet.

Well-meaning scientists, engineers, economists and politicians have proposed various steps that could slightly reduce fossil-fuel use and emissions. These steps are not enough. The U.S. needs a bold plan to free itself from fossil fuels. Our analysis convinces us that a massive switch to solar power is the logical answer.

Solar energy's potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation's total energy consumption in 2006.

To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.'s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today's rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation's electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

I don't think the words "efficiency" or "savings" are written once in there.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 09:43:03 AM EST
I moved into the campus dormitory at the beginning of October, and (silly me) assumed that electricity consumption was included in the monthly rent fee.

Well, when my electricity was suddenly cut off a few weeks later, I was told that 60 RMBs' (about 6 euros) worth of electricity was included in each month's rent, but if you ran out of that, then you had to pay extra on top.

The meters for all the rooms on each floor are prominently displayed in the hallway, right in front of the elevator/stairwell, and you can tell at any time how much electricity credit you have left.

I may just be a really cheap bastard, but I was surprised by how fastidious (and creative) I quickly became about how and how much energy I am using -- and more recently about how much cold I could force myself to endure.

The interesting thing is, it's not a matter of affordability -- as I think with 15 euros, or at most 20 euros, per month, I could use the electric heater in my room quite liberally.  It's just a matter of being aware of how much I am using, and most of all, how much I have left.

(A swedish kind of death, I can relate to you much better now! -- although I guess I still have the more favorable situation, since at least I can control how much cold I want to put up with, while you are at the mercy of your landlord's economic whim.)

Side-note: When a pack of U.S. students moved home early just before Christmas, and I jumped at the chance to move into one of them (as my previous room had unpleasant plumbing issues.)  To my great luck, I got a room facing south -- i.e. bathed in daylight sunshine -- and I was amazed by how much that heat was stored up in the room over the course of the day, in contrast to my previous north-facing room, which was bitter cold throughout the day.  It's one thing to know the sun's power, it's completely different to feel it!

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 04:22:11 PM EST
We live in a south facing apartment. Wonderful in the winter, not so wonderful in the summer. Amazing amount of heat also from neighboring units.

Last night it got down to -19. We still haven't turned on our heat. We did close the windows though.

I would not be surprised if we spend more on air conditioning than heating.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 05:51:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, I could get an electric heater but that would feel really silly. Heat is included in my rent and electricity is not, so it would be more expensive, but more importantly it would be wasteful.

See, the heating is district heating which makes much more sense then direct electric heating. Now how to get the landlord to crank it up on cold days is another question.

This is regrettably not the most wasteful situation I have encountered. In a dorm I lived in, both heat and electricity was included in the rent, however the landlord was cheap with the heating on cold days. Thus the students got electric heaters and used more expensive electricity. So in summation: energy was wasted, the students had to buy electric heaters and the landlord lost more on the electricity bill then they saved on heat. Stupid company.

On your wider point of metering, I think that is a key. If people don't know how much they use and when they use more (does the computer or TV use more? how much do you save on changing the lightbulbs?), it is hard to expect them to cut down even if power gets really expensive.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 07:31:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The diffference between our north and south facing rooms is sufficient that we got the double glazing put in only on the north facing ones to conserve cash flow (because we were still waiting for the old house to sell). The south facing rooms are much, much warmer even in the dull Irish winter.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 06:52:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No quarrel with the waste proportion, but Jared Diamond's suggestion to reduce consumption is ultimately an idle hope. Other inputs are needed to cause a major shift in market structures and modes of commerces.

Further contrary to Diamond's Op-Ed, I believe living standards are tightly coupled to natural resource consumption in the long run.

by smattoon on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:24:09 PM EST

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