How DO we reduce our economic footprint?

On Nov 12, 2:44 pm, Vera wrote:

> And I would add to Joan’s request: people respond to resource
> depletion by advocating frugalizing responses in part because
> it makes sense of a personal level, and because they don’t
> know what else to do.
> So given Jevons Paradox, what does a person or a small
> community do instead? Escalate their use instead? Some have
> suggested that, sort of tongue in cheek, but sort of seriously…
> but it is ethically repugnant at the same time, nah?


Well, it’s truly a conundrum, especially given the odd consumption logic of the greens that says what you buy matters more than how much you spend.  The “reality math” tells more or less the exact opposite story.

Since the total energy the economy uses for your spending is closely proportional to your total money use, what you spend on doesn’t really alter your economic footprint. Your economic footprint is closely proportional to your income, the share of the economy at your command.

So to reduce your footprint by personal choices you could go off the grid and enjoy living simply. The only things wrong with that are that 1) other people would still be multiplying their footprints, at your expense and 2) you can’t maintain a complex society with people off the grid living simply!

So, it seems that personal lifestyle choices are personal choices and probably wouldn’t alter the footprint of the system as a whole. If it lets you clear your head and be more effective in communicating your values, whatever is comfortable and works for that lets you be more effective. I don’t think anyone’s real impact on their environment is in what they buy, but in what they use it for.


On Nov 13, Vera replied:

> So it does not look like there is a way out of the paradox,
> huh, Phil? It bugs me, though… because it seems to say that the
> only way to end an unsustainable system is to crash it… :-(

Though I grant there’s that appearance, I think it’s just a feature of the myths that built up in the absence of good information on the subject. If money represents one equal share of the whole economy, our share of the impacts are paid for by the money we spend.

Only if the economy stops growing will improving efficiency then begin to slowly reduce the total impacts. There’s no physical reason a business or an economy can’t stop growing and work just fine.

To see the direct connection between money and impacts you need to go through the paces of proving to yourself that “average spending really has average impacts”.

Just start listing things that the people who get a small piece of your $1 have to do and spend on to perform the tasks that bring the product to you, and see how it quickly becomes “lists of lists” of things that fan out all over the world. Then ask yourself if it’s reasonable that doing all those things might require the economy to use 8oz of gasoline in the process. That’s the world average energy use per $.

As to whether some spending is way above or below average, the science seems to say that the largest categories of spending would be 10% below average. Most people will use a similar wide range of different kinds of spending, including a few high energy content things, and so their total energy budget is likely to be close to average in the end. That’s why your impacts are proportional to your income not your spending choices.

Once you become convinced that every dollar has to be assumed to contain lots of energy use, “just hidden from view” and “not zero because we don’t see them”, then you know that the problem of growing impacts has always been the growing economy. There are simply no economic impacts we don’t directly pay for, widely distributed in the services that produce goods and services.

I think we’ve been using other myths about the sources of impacts for not thinking through why how we directly pay for them might be hidden from view.

Does that help?



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