Waste Is Efficient?

Michael Giberson

Tyler Cowen, at Marginal Revolution, says he’s been reading a new book by Peter Huber and Mark Mills called The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy. Cowen cited a few of the “seven great heresies” that the book asserts, including #2:

“Waste” is virtuous. We use up most of our energy refining energy itself, and dumping waste energy in the process. The more such wasteful refining we do, the better things get all around. All this waste lets us do more life-affirming things better, more clearly, and more safely.

Obviously Huber and Mills are being deliberately cute here, no doubt why they felt the need to put quotes around “waste.” Sure, we use a lot of energy resources in the process of turning coal, oil, and gas into consumer value. If doing that conversion efficiently involves discarding excess heat or other byproducts, then it isn’t really wasteful.

Just like all of the “excess” food packaging that surrounds single serving sizes — it looks like a waste compared to the package-to-content ratio of the mega-family size packages. But when you consider how much food spoilage is prevented by that extra package, and how much more valuable the food saved is compared to the additional packaging, it turns out that the excess packaging isn’t wasteful but rather more efficient.

Or, to quote from Huber and Mills, “All this waste lets us do more life-affirming things better, more clearly, and more safely.”

Hmmmm. A little time on Google reveals that Huber and Mills are co-founders of DC research firm The Digital Power Group, among other things. A number of related writings are available from the Digital Power Group website, including the table of contents for The Bottomless Well.


One thought on “Waste Is Efficient?

  1. >>Just like all of the “excess” food packaging that surrounds single serving sizes — it looks like a waste compared to the package-to-content ratio of the mega-family size packages. But when you consider how much food spoilage is prevented by that extra package, and how much more valuable the food saved is compared to the additional packaging, it turns out that the excess packaging isn’t wasteful but rather more efficient.

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