Shift from efficiency to sufficiency
We have hailed the ability of efficiency for a long time.
A person being efficient is someone that in today’s society is highly revered. Maybe because as described before the efficiency is the way for secular person to cheat death and find heaven on earth. It could also be that efficiency is one of the underpinnings of our current economic system and therefore promoted by our culture and our institutions.
Efficiency however is a trojan horse both in our personal life and in our economy. Being managerial efficient the Fredrick Taylor-way in our social life means destroying empathy as social relations needs nurturing time. As Jeremy Rifkin asks
“Would we express our love and affection and extend our warmth and attention by maximizing our output in the minimum amount of time, with the minimum expenditure of labor, energy, and personal capital? Can one experience true intimacy or joy efficiently?”
In our economy, where work is sacred, efficiency, the driver for growth, causes the fear of all fears, unemployment. More on the dreaded automation of work and the absurdity of creating work here.
Considering this praise for efficiency it is not that strange that it was called upon to save the day from our human environmental self-destruction. However unless we have acquired the ability to become angels we are once again faced with limits, as we humans and our economy are dissipative structures. This means we need to consume resources to survive and we leave waste behind when consuming. We cannot escape it, it is physics.
That’s why efficiency cannot solve our environmental predicament and that’s why leaning on efficiency as a savior when evidence show that our economy still is growing is
“trying to brake while accelerating in front of an obstacle.”
That obstacle, that limit is that our human bodies and our economy's metabolism are quite physical and less angelic when consuming for survival.
Looking at all the food, technology and human time wasted in todays society it can also be questioned how efficient our economy really is. This efficiency waste problem arises because efficiency hasn’t been properly defined and that in order for efficiency to be efficient for us human beings it needs a goal. History is a stark reminder of the importance of a human well-being promoting goal for efficiency.
It’s again like Yogi Berra said “We are lost, but we’re making great time” To survive and prosper we now have to be efficient in using resources to promote prosperity within limits.
But even that isn’t enough. Earth limits requires us to shift our priorities from efficiency to sufficiency, and as the brilliant Donella Meadows said "we got to have an enough!" An enough that respects the limits set by entropy, our finite planet and our purpose of creating a better world for all.
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