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Design Impact » Blog Archive » David MacKay on Energy

David MacKay on Energy


I just had to share with you a great article from CNN: David MacKay, physics professor from Cambridge University, is urging us to actually look at the numbers when it comes to conserving energy. He explains that ’small actions will not deliver a solution’ to our energy problems, and that ‘our failure to talk straight about the numbers is allowing people to persist in wishful thinking, inspired by inane sayings such as “every little bit helps.” ‘. As I discussed in Feeling Green, doing small things to conserve may help us feel better, and are important to pay some attention to, but in many cases have imperceptible impact. We certainly should do everything we can, but we need to keep things in perspective. If we actually look at the numbers, and get a feel for what a kilowatt-hour is, then we can think more critically and focus our efforts on activities that will make a big difference. For example, we need new energy production, energy distribution, transportation, and agricultural systems. Small actions are not going to remake these systems. We need to come together as a society and voice our desire to make these transitions happen. Important policy changes are being debated right now, and we need to urge our representatives to think long-term and instigate policies that will bring real change. We can amplify our voice by talking about these issues with others and sharing our insightful enthusiasm for the solutions. Perhaps we can inspire others to speak up as well.

Looking at the numbers behind issues allows us to make objective comparisons and leads us to more solid decisions. This is part of why I devote a lot of my writing to quantitative modeling and design issues. I try to show how look at things quantitatively (without diving into crazy math). I’m pretty much keeping it to simple algebra and arithmetic. My purpose in writing the more quantitative posts is not to train you to become an engineer, but to help you get a taste of what’s involved, and to understand a little about engineering design so you can see how it is linked to your own life, and to the future of our society. I’m striving to present quantitative posts in a way that is accessible. It’s a real challenge. I want to keep posts from getting too long, but I also want to make sure I explain things in enough detail. If you have ideas on how I can explain things more clearly, I welcome your feedback (you can email me or post a comment). I also aim to give enough context for the quantitative posts so that readers know why these topics are important, in hopes that some readers who might be put off by equations are willing to read and think about them. Let’s become informed about energy and sustainability issues, and do something with this knowledge.

Posted: May 16th, 2009 | Filed under: Energy, Policy, Sustainability, Vision |

2 Comments on “David MacKay on Energy”

  1. 1 Design Impact » Blog Archive » Earth Decade said at 7:46 pm on May 22nd, 2009:

    [...] goes beyond green choices one day per year, or even green daily choices year-round. We need to get familiar with the numbers that help us quantify and compare the impact our decisions make, and focus our efforts on things [...]

  2. 2 Free Power said at 8:58 pm on November 27th, 2009:

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment on this post. It was very insightful. It may also serve as interest to you to know that some of the topics that have been mentioned here I will take to the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting) being currently held in my country where the issues of climate change as well as alternative forms of energy will greatly discussed at the People Forum

    Kevin Castle


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