Yes But…the illusion of efficiency

In ancient Aramaic, “yahzbuht” was a hex word used to invoke magical powers to help someone in time of need.  Over the years, it morphed into “yes, but” and still carries the same function.  I found it’s use quite prevalent recently during the “10:10 global work party” that saw a manifestation here in Canmore.  The group “350” claims that 350ppm is the “safe limit for CO2”  and do various things to correct other people’s behaviors.

The Illusion of Efficiency

On 2010 10/10, “ten-teners” were supposed to engaged in various activities to address the 350 problem (as they see it.)  The Canmore group decided to do some trail improvements and a gardening project.  Naturally, I support trail improvements and am pleased with their efforts.  Their thought was that the trail improvements between Canmore and the Nordic Center will encourage skiers to walk rather than drive to the Nordic Center.  Whether the new trail means less driving or not, it does create  options and only took elbow grease to accomplish.  So what’s my beef?

My beef is twofold.  The project was led by locals Thomas Grandi and Sara Renner, both world class skiers I’ve been lucky enough to watch compete.  Being a competitive skier involves constantly flying around the world even before you add up the fuel burnt hauling skiers up hills and  burning gas in 2-stroke snow machine engines.  These two have used more fuel in their lives then most of us will in a dozen lifetimes.  Burning oil gave them a living and the reputation they now use as a platform to tell the rest of us to use less energy than we already do.  Forgive me if I excuse myself from the lecture.

Does this hypocrisy keep them up at night?  I suspect it doesn’t since Grandi has used his muscle to get the Alberta Ski Team to buy “carbon dioxide offset credits.” This is Grandi’s get out of jail card  for his past gluttonous oil dependency. It’s his “Yes, But.”  Yes I flew around the world every week for 14 years burning oil for the noble purpose of racing other people on skies, But…..I now buy credits.

If you are unfamiliar with how fraud dominates the co2 offset market, read here or here. But let us put aside the problem that offset credits are largely fraud.

Even if most of the offset market wasn’t fraud, the offset principle is flawed.

Energy efficiency passes across everyone’s lips but few seem to understand or follow through it’s consequences.  Lets follow through with an example.  I decide to replace a widget with a newer one that is 50% more efficient.  “Wow, I’m going to save lots of money with my new widget! It pays for itself and then some! Plus, it has a sweet flux capacitor.”  Yes, but what happens to the money I save?

case 1:  I spend the new saved money on something else that required energy to produce.  If I look at what I spend money on, it is essentially energy in the form of food, gas, shelter, transportation.  In other words, if I spend the money I saved, my efficiency has been substituted by some other energy use that I couldn’t afford before.  Given how most people govern their finances, this seems pretty common. End result: efficiency is an illusion.

case 2: Instead of substituting, I put the money in the bank or purchase stock or RRSPs etc.  It then gets loaned out to someone else who can now afford the energy they couldn’t before. End result: efficiency is an illusion.

case 3: I save money by lowering the operating cost of my widget.  I take this money each month and burn it in an auspicious and somber ceremony. End result: efficiency realized.

The problem not understood is that the modern world is one where money and energy are so closely dependent.  Spending money is spending energy and vice versa.   In people’s minds, after they think of  energy savings, they disassociate energy and money.  They go on to spend one and forget they are spending the other.

Back to the 10/10 project in Canmore.  The trail has value in itself.  As a form of efficiency it is an illusion since anyone who decides to save money/energy by not driving will spend that on something else they previously couldn’t.  It’s the “Yes-but” they never thought of.


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3 Responses to Yes But…the illusion of efficiency

  1. Kevin says:

    Since carbon credits are only $0.05/tonne on the Chicago Climate exchange, for the same cost of airport gum and a muffin, I can buy 10 tonnes of CO2 and then smugly claim my supriority over my fellow man or appease my guilt to Gaiaiiaiaia through the purchase of these indulgences. I actually prefer to call these oxygen credits because for every 44 tonnes of “Carbon” I buy, I am actually contributing to the “elimination” of 32 tonnes of oxygen and only 12 tonnes of carbon.

  2. Kevin says:

    Oh, and the thing on the myth of energy efficiency is the most brilliant thing I have ever read. How can we arbitrage this gap and make a fortune?

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