How many light bulbs does it take to change a man?

 David McKay’s book has been  highlighted on this Blog before  and the video at the link below makes an excellent contribution to the debate on the conundrum we face.

Unfortunately, the video, being short gives the impression that the problem is how we expand supply to meet demand. However, the real question is how do we reduce the ‘resource intensity of society’ to match, realistically available supply.

Another unfortunate aspect of the light bulb analogy is that it gives the impression that the use and waste of energy is in ‘things’, when in reality much is wasted in how we organise  these things to run the society we have.

The gains obtainable by this ‘effective’ use of energy are probably an order or two in magnitude greater than making ‘things’ more ‘efficient’.

The critical test of this fact is being made in the UK Parliament at the moment, where the lack of understanding of the risks and possible costs of external failure has created pressure for ‘change’.

However, the pressure is to change the system to make it more efficient not more effective, which can only be achieved by asking ‘what are we here for’  – to which the answer can only be “we are here to improve the ‘quality of life’ of UK citizens by reducing the resource intensity of the goods and services they consume per unit of consumption per capita.

Arguments about preserving democracy etc., in a society constrained by the ‘first law of sustainabilty’, are unsustainable in themselves and will only lead to its loss in the not too distant future.

What we have to create is a proactive process of government that ‘protects its citizens freedoms as far as possible in such a resource constrained world’, whist working to enable the continual reduction in the resource intensity of the goods and services that they create, consume and dispose of.


Prof. David MacKay’s book, “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”, has been published, and it’s an instant success. Now there’s a video, a radio interview, a Guardian editorial singing his praises … and a bafflingly inscrutable criticism from the Sustainable Development Commission.

More information and a video can be seen at


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