Catherine Mohr's TED talk on "Building Green" started a wonderful discussion between Arnab and I regarding this project of mine. In the talk, she gives an example of wiping away yogurt with a paper towel (that you later throw away) versus a sponge (that you wash), and says that the amount of energy it takes to wash the sponge (water, heating, etc.) is more than the "embodied" energy in the paper towel. This gives the impression that using the paper towel, and throwing it away, may not be as bad as you think it is. Maybe. But maybe not. Here are some of my thoughts and concerns.
1) It seems where this leads to is saying that if we reduced the amount of energy it took to produce the paper towel, we can continue to use paper towels. Optimising production of paper towels (and other products), or "efficiency" makes us feel better about what we do, and allows us excuses to continue using the products longer.
3) These issues become very technocratic, data/number driven, and confusing because at times, it can be unclear as to how energy accounting can be done - in the end, whose numbers are more convincing? Also, how do you account for things that cannot be quantified? Social impact? Environmental impact? What may be more easy to agree upon is the philosophy of the issue.
4) This leads to what I think is the most salient issue at hand - problem definition. Depending on where in the flow of problems/responses/thoughts/outcomes we define where the underlying problem is will influence how well we address the problem. I think defining the problem as "using X is alright, let's just find a more efficient way of making them" is defining the problem downstream of defining it as "the fact that we use X may be the problem." Defining the problem upstream allows us potential solutions that would not have been possible had we defined the problem downstream.
Does this make sense to you? What do you think?