10 01 14 What is Efficient?

My house is three km. from the Clearspring Mall. I can walk that distance in 35 minutes.  If I’m in a hurry, I take my car. It then takes me six minutes.  So walking is really quite inefficient. After all time is money.

But wait a minute.  Doesn’t this approach involve some cultural brainwashing? This approach to  efficiency assumes that the only significant measure is the time it takes to do the task [getting to Clearspring Mall].  But it’s not really that simple. 

If I walk, I need (burn, consume, use) 185 cal.  If I use my car, I will consume about 0.3 litres gasoline which converts to more than two million calories. In addition to that, one ought to take into account all the energy that went into the manufacturing of the car, so the total calories consumed during that little trip with the car are approaching three million.  By that measure, walking is quite efficient. Is such inefficiency in the use of cars serious?  Well it all depends.

It all depends on whether we view oil and oil products as a precious resource or something with little or no value.  It all depends on whether we view gasoline as something worth no more than the price we pay for it, or whether gasoline may in fact be worth a lot more.  It all depends on what would or will happen to that gasoline if it were not used for that trip to the Clearspring Mall. 

I happen to think that gasoline is worth a great deal more than the price I pay at the pump.  I believe in the marketplace – kind of.  The marketplace says that the person willing to pay the highest price for a product should get it.  I’m competing with my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren for that gasoline.  I’m offering more than they are, so I get it.  That’s how the market works!  Of course the reason my great grandchildren are not competing with me at the pump is that they are not yet born, but that is the way the market works.

The amount of fossil fuel on this earth is finite. The fossil fuel that is easily accessed is already used up – gone – burnt. The fossil fuel we are using now is coming from the tar sands, where exaction is much harder, more expensive and more polluting. We may yet find other oil, but count on it, it will be even harder to get at. So the fossil fuel we are burning now, we are taking from future generations. Our cultural decision to drive (or fly) on a whim (and isn't that what we do?), ensures that future generations will have expensive oil only. 

What's unfortunate is that this flippant use of energy has been so unnecessary. Those of us old enough to remember the oil shock of the 1970s remember the creativity and determination that went into finding ways of reducing oil consumption. Imagine what would have happened had that trend continued? But the price of oil went down again, and "the rest is history."