Posted by Michael Kubler on December 22, 2012
The aim of this post is to show how your perspective on a problem can alter your approach to solving it.
Lets take water as an example.
You live in South Australia, the driest state in one of the driest continents in the world where there is constant water shortages.
You are having a shower, you find your brain works well in the shower, coming up with some of your best ideas, but your partner or parents complain that you are using up all the water. Let’s take the shower as the most zoomed in level.
Let’s zoom out a level to the bathroom. Out of the washing machine, toilet and hand basin your showers may very well be using up most of the water.
Zoom out again to the whole house. You might find that the garden getting watered through automatic sprinklers during summer might use more than your showering during summer, but that the bathroom in total uses more water than any other part of the house, including washing the dishes or having cooking and drinking water from the kitchen.
Zoom out to see a block of houses and you might find that the house with the biggest lawn might use more than the one with the most people.
Zoom out again and see a group of blocks and you might find that your previous findings vary, some blocks have houses with more people which use more water but on a water per person basis you might find that the richer the people the more water from the tap they use. For example they are more likely to have a pool in their backyard, however lower socio-economic classes might be more likely to drive to a community pool or the beach to enjoy their summer and are less likely to wash their car.
Zoom out further and you start to see some industrial areas, mainly factories, which on a per sq meter basis use a lot more water than residential areas. This would likely be a similar finding if you were to analyse the water usage from the reservoirs for standard tap water.
Zoom right out to the state basis and you find that whilst agricultural farming areas use less water per sq meter than factories or residential but there is simply so much more of it that they use up the vast majority of water. Although decent amounts of this come from the main river running through the state, or from underground aquifers. The problem is that the River Murray is running dry.
You could then zoom out again and look at the whole continent (of Australia in this example) and all the states and territories with which feed the River Murray and see that South Australia’s part of the River Murray is just the end of it and it is actually supplied water from three other states and that their agriculture and industries are taking more than their fair share.
If you wanted to reduce water usage at any of these levels you can see that your policies and tactics would change. It might however need a coordinated effort of water reductions in residential, industrial and agriculture with major reforms in other states (a very hard thing to do politically) in order to address the problem. If the water reservoirs are low then the approach will be different to the problem of there not being enough water in the river and these approaches will be different again if there is a desalination plant which can take up some of the slack or if the reservoirs can be filled with water from the river.
The same process can be applied to electricity. Changing every light bulb to LEDs (which are even better than compact fluros) might make only 2% reduction in overall electricity usage in the country, whilst shutting down a single aluminium smelter might make a 3% difference. But changing to renewable energy or zooming out to a global scale can change things yet again.
Note : These numbers are very inaccurate examples.
If you want to know about the level of production of renewable energy generation needed then check out the great presentation by Saul Griffith.