Ever wonder where all that uneaten food goes at the end of a meal? Or how much paper is printed only to go onto a pile at work? Or why the light is on in a room where no one is in it?
In my lifetime, I will personally throw away about 600X my body weight worth of products. That would mean I would leave a legacy of 81,000 pounds of trash at the end of my lifetime. And that’s not counting how much wastewater I cause to flow down a drain.
To put things into greater perspective, Americans represent 5% of the world’s population… and generate 30% of the world’s trash.
We can’t help it. We want too much stuff. We want more material wealth. But to have everything takes a lot of energy.
Now I can’t force you to stop having the good things in life. You can have as much of it as you want really. After all, Ayn Rand did say “If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth overdoing.” And I wish all of you that abundance in life. Just don’t turn it into garbage.
Inevitably though, excess can lead to an equivalent amount of waste. This is a disaster.
We turn energy into matter and matter back into energy.
So much so that we treat energy as a product we can use, throw away and buy again.
We think it’s something we can buy in a store and when it’s finished, we can just grab another one off the shelf – without worrying why it went so fast. That’s not very good management. When it comes to energy management, living an abundant life actually means that we have to save and conserve.
Take your body for instance. For 16 hours of the day it is being bombarded by unending stimulants from the external world. Just by walking down the street, you have signs that tell you where you should go. Advertisements on buses that tell you what to check out. But nothing that tells you when to stop. There is a constant stream of information throughout the day that determines how you behave, work and play.
Your body naturally needs to relax and rejuvenate. It can no longer go on after 16 hours and sleeps for the next 8. This is how the world works. Or atleast it should.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the average American now spends 40 minutes a day checking a Facebook feed. That is 20 hours on Facebook each month. To put it another way, the American people spend 360 billion minutes per month on Facebook.
According to the Financial Times back in 2012, the world spent 300 million minutes a day on a single computer game called Angry Birds. The Internet loves cats too. There are so many kitty pics and videos cluttering up the Web that millions of minutes more are spent just looking at them.
Viewers spend 6 billion hours per month on YouTube according to Digital Marketing Ramblings. And the hours keep going by. That is how much time we are wasting per month just on the Internet alone.
The truth is we don’t sleep 8 hours a day. We like to expend more energy by being awake. And burn fuel at a faster rate just to keep going – producing and consuming. Our bodies can keep going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny. So we keep thinking…
If everyone in the entire world lived like an American, we would need 2 Earths.
We think we have an unlimited supply of energy to grow. This is a mistake. We repeat it everyday. It becomes hardwired into our structure. “Use, throw away and buy again.” This is our mantra.
Look at the iPhone 6. Today, everyone wants to buy the smart phone. It’s better than last year’s predecessors, the iPhone 5s and 5c. What’s the difference? It has a bigger chip and faster wireless. It is better, but only marginally. If you want to take it a notch further, you can get the iPhone 6 Plus and look like you have a Samsung. Then again, you can buy another not-so-different iPhone next year.
The progress we are making comes in little steps and spurts. You have to put in a certain amount of energy before you can get any payoff at all. The problem is the payoff becomes less and less since your first initial investment in energy. In other words, your first inputs produce greater results than your later inputs. The first iPhone was a great achievement, worthy of the energy we used to produce it. Its upgrades are not worth the same amount.
This is the law of declining marginal utility. The law states that as consumers obtain more of something, each additional unit of that thing brings progressively less utility. It’s like going to the buffet line 10X. The food tamed your hunger the first time. Each time you went back for more gave you less satisfaction. In the end, all that food just made you sick.
We tend to think that fossil fuel is an exception to this law. Oil has become the primary expression of wealth in the world. It finances economies. It funds political regimes. Fossil fuel generates economic booms. It guarantees manufacturing success in the U.S. It props up the standard of living wherever it is plentiful. But is this true for all?
Look at Iraq or Venezuela. We don’t think the people of these countries are well-off, even though they do have an abundance of energy in the form of oil.
Yet make no mistake: Energy is wealth.
It takes energy to turn wood into lumber and to nail them together to make a house. Your house is real wealth. So, energy is a key part of making wealth. But your house can one day be reduced to a pile of garbage, a product of accumulating too much energy.
The world already uses too much fossil fuel. This fills up the sky with noxious greenhouse gases, causing temperatures to rise and polar ice caps to melt. The concentration of greenhouse gases is increasing at a faster rate. Thanks to the constant availability of fossil fuels and leveled pricing.
But what are we getting in return? New energy-using machinery that will be marginally better? A new car that is not necessarily as productive as the last one? How about that new iPhone?
As a whole economy, are we growing at the same rate we did at the beginning of the 20th century?
Over the last 100 years, we’ve extracted oil. That brought us great prosperity until the 1970s. There was an oil crisis then and this country went into a funk. We went from the gold-backed dollar to fiat currency. Wages and GDP growth rates started on a decline and really haven’t changed since.
In the last 10 years, we came up with new technology to frack out more oil and gas – only to produce more of the same thing. So when energy becomes abundant, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re better off. Actually, when energy is used it produces less real output. The U.S. has reached a point where additional inputs of fossil fuel energy do NOT substantially produce higher levels of output.
Wouldn’t it make sense to use solar for those everyday items that generate little output? And focus precious fossil fuel for those that potentially produce large output?
The amount of your REAL wealth depends on how you actually use your energy.
Human progress comes from using energy effectively. When we use energy aggressively, we run out of it faster. When a country becomes less productive and creative, it runs out of energy. Real effective energy is in limited supply right now.
We need new approaches to energy to enable our society to develop without difficulty. The energy market must focus on renewables, sustainability and efficiency to liberate the aging energy sector. To succeed, we can change the entire energy sector in 3 ways:
- move from fossil fuels to new fuels;
- shift from centralized to decentralized power generation;
- go from fixed-line to mobile transmission and distribution.
These changes will only be possible when your energy is put to good use. Change will only come when you stop wasting your energy. And start cultivating your energy like we prepare our crops for food.