Input efficieny: consumption per unit of consumption

If we were to make a generic unit of resource, such that all units of energy, matter, space, and time could be converted to this standard unit, we could more easily analyse how efficient our processes are. I’ve written a couple of articles over the last few weeks about this ( just have a look back through the blog roll ), but I want to in this article discuss the general concept of efficiency itself from an input resource perspective.

Now you may recall me talking about a case by Amery Lovins of The Rocky Mountain Institute, whom wrote an article some years ago about the efficiency failures of the modern motor vehicle. Basically what they did was analyse all of the efficiencies of the vehicles electromechanical systems ( not just the engine ), it’s aerodynamic structure, it’s internal heating/cooling and insulation, and all of its losses in terms of heat and vibration etc. What they found was that ( at the time ) the standard production motor vehicle engine, used only 0.2% of the available energy in the fuel to move the mass of the driver.

Now, this did not include all of the inefficiencies in traffic, road planning, our reasons for driving, our driving style, nor all of the additional resources consumed in vehicle design and manufacture, the mining and processing of the raw materials for the design and manufacture process, nor any of the other support industries to do with transportation infrastructure or vehicle maintenance, nor does it include such other factors as cars blown up for movies, stolen and trashed, or collected by people who don’t always drive them but just love cars. So all in all, even though we may have made improvements in engine efficiency since the time of that analysis, it’s still only a tiny part of the picture of the total waste. Not to mention also the fact that we mass manufacture redundant models of vehicles as part of capitalist competition, and then market the hell out of them in order to sell as many as possible, even where they’re not really needed – ie: manufacturing of “need” via advertising. Oh yeah, then we race them too, and people drive their cars for many miles to go watch someone else racing another car.

It seems I can’t finish editing this, because I can’t stop thinking of new things to add to the list, so let’s also add the number of cars destroyed through warfare, and that have failed to be maintained properly, because the people who owned them were struggling to survive, and couldn’t afford the maintenance … not to mention all the car crashes that result from how easy it is to get a driver’s license, even if you’re a shit driver.

So let’s say for example that engine efficiency has increased on average from 0.2% to 0.25% – a 25% increase – in the use of the available energy in the fuel for moving the mass of the driver … that’s still a ratio of 400:1 units consumed per unit consumed for purpose – ie: the purpose was to move the mass of the driver, which in fuel alone consumed at a 400:1 ratio.

Now, you’ll never get a 1:1 ratio, that’s just not physically possible nor circumstantially feasible – at best ( in a perfectly frictionless and massless machine ) you can get a 2:1 ratio – but if you add in all the other factors mentioned ( other than just the fuel usage ), you can see that we use anywhere from thousands to millions of units of consumption of our generic resource, versus the ideal. So it’s impossible to argue that capitalism is “efficient” on any scientifically valid basis.

If you look across society, you’ll see this everywhere, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find the worst ratios of resource consumption to be in the range of billions to 1.

This is why we are running out of resources:

  • not because the planet couldn’t have sustained our population;
  • not because the planet couldn’t have sustained a larger population;
  • but because we waste more than we actually use.

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