The Efficiency Trap

The Efficiency Trap

Finding A Better Way to Achieve A Sustainable Energy Future

Book - 2013
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Random House, Inc.
One of the key tenets of the environmental movement is the need for greater efficiency in our use of dwindling natural resources, especially coal, natural gas, and oil. If our products are designed to be more energy efficient, so the thinking goes, our environmental impacts will be reduced and our fossil fuels will last longer. In this surprising new look at sustainability and conservation, environmentalist Steve Hallett argues that this thinking is fundamentally flawed. In fact, based on the example of coal use throughout the Industrial Revolution, more efficiency leads to more consumption, faster depletion of resources, and ultimately more stress on the planet. This is the efficiency trap.

How do we avoid this trap? Hallett suggests that we focus on protecting natural resources, ecosystems, and social systems by making them more resilient. Knowing that we have reached limits to growth, we should work to decentralize energy-delivery services to give homes and communities some measure of independence. We can also build more sustainable food systems by diversifying the food-production landscape to address the vulnerabilities of the current supply chain.

Efficiency does have its place in specific areas such as recycling and home insulation, but it will not work as a long-term approach to our energy dilemma. Yet recognizing the inevitable limits to our growth and the shortcomings of our current approach to addressing our dwindling resources is a necessary first step toward the establishment of sound environmental policy.

This realistic appraisal of current environmental thinking will challenge environmentalists and industrialists alike.

Book News
Hallett (botany and plant pathology, Purdue U.) interrogates the contemporary obsession with efficiency. He shows how fetishization of the concept by environmentalists in particular undermines their efforts and the integrity of the biosphere. The book is organized into four sections. He first explains the present situation in terms of petroleum's distorting effect on technological development and the imperative to pursue economic growth. The next section outlines various "efficiency traps" we fall into when, in the name of efficiency and ostensibly using less energy, we justify more consumption. The third section turns to "thinking in systems" where he explores what we really learn from nature about organizing our own affairs, the reproduction of oil-dependence, neoliberal business practices and their counterparts in public institutions, and the ecology of collapse. The last section is more hopeful and inspired. Hallett shows us what might point the way beyond efficiency: resilience beyond "sustainability"; strengthening vital systems through ecological and social triage, recycling and downcycling, and building sustainable food-systems; and building resilient communities that are grounded in democracy and sustainable practices. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Amherst, NY : Prometheus Books, 2013
ISBN: 9781616147259
Characteristics: 337 p. : ill. ; 23 cm
Alternative Title: Sustainable energy future


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

There are no comments for this title yet.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at MenloPark

To Top