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A Taxonomy of Efficiency

Updated: Oct 22, 2018

Brian Stewart


Wesleyan University

Middletown, CT


The work of educating the public about the multiple interlocking issues faced by humanity is a daunting task, unsupported by government, the media, or the educational system. I have given public lectures on environmental issues for a decade and am now experimenting with a new approach to directing people’s attention to the importance of the limits faced by society. 

Using the example of efficiency, I can talk about desirable and undesirable efficiencies, externalities, diminishing returns, EROI, and a host of other important concepts. Efficiency is ordinarily understood as desirable and positive; this approach can jar audiences into reflection and introspection with examples of harmful “efficiencies”. 

In my presentation, I will give details of my efforts, report on my experience with this new organizing narrative, and engage the session participants to strengthen the approach.

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