Doing better with less
Globally energy (especially from fossil fuels) and many other resources that we take for granted, like clean freshwater and food, will become scarcer and consequently more expensive. By consuming less resources we reduce resource use better position to live sustainably on renewable resources.
Conserving is a matter of using less. This very simple concept can be very difficult to implement because of habits and ingrained attitudes and systems – personal, social and economic. There are many things that you can do.
From a personal point of view altering basic habits may be difficult to begin with but eventually they become second nature. In particular we should make an effort to teach good habits to our children. It is difficult to teach children if you aren’t setting a good example.
You can reduce the amount of goods you consume by:
- sharing – lending and borrowing
- renting – if you can’t borrow – there is no need to buy something if you are only going to use it once or twice.
- buying durable, quality goods that last longer
- taking good care of things so that they last longer
- simply choosing to do without
Being efficient can lead to reduction. However efficiency is paradoxical because it is often counterproductive. There is no doubt that efficiency in itself is very good but unfortunately efficiency often leads to more consumption and there is no absolute reduction. This problem with efficiency is known as Jevon’s Paradox or more often called the ‘rebound effect’. In a nutshell ‘rebound’ happens when the savings made from being resource-efficient lead to the use of more resources. Put frankly: efficiency usually leads to growth. Efficiency is only good if the ‘savings are saved’ and not ‘spent’ on more consumption.
So, the really important thing about efficiency is that you couple it with conservation. Conserve first, be efficient second.
Efficiency is defined as the ratio of useful output to the input of any system.
In New Zealand in 2002 196.21 petajoules of fossil fuel energy was used for transport use. However, only 28.84 petajoules of that energy was useful output. In other words the efficiency, shown as a ratio, was a paltry 14.7%. Internal combustion engines are very inefficient because most of the energy used is lost as heat and, to a lesser extent, friction.
In this case efficiency is a technological issue. New technologies are continually being developed which are much more efficient. We can make a difference by always choosing the most efficient options whether they are houses, appliances, cars or machines.
Another example of inefficiency is in house size. The size of the average New Zealand house is approximately double what it was one hundred years ago and yet there are fewer people living in houses. What is all the extra space used for? If we are honest much of it is wasted.
An outcome of efficiency is less waste. In fact this is another way of defining efficiency. We need to look at ways to minimise waste – including emmissions and wastewater.
The main strategies for efficiency are to:
- reuse – buy second hand, fix and rennovate,