The Efficiency Trap by Steve Hallett (book review).

The whole point of Steve Hallett’s book, ‘The Efficiency Trap’, is pointing out things that we think are ‘green’ or healthy to the environment tends not to be on closer examination. Reading this book, you do suddenly realise that he does have a point. Using one of his examples of the battery driven or hybrid car, Hallett points out the expense of collecting the various materials and its maintenance actually makes a bigger depression on the environment than petrol driven cars. Although he doesn’t offer any alternative solutions, I do wonder that if there were cheaper materials available for the batteries that the car manufacturers would jump at using them if only for their own economy. Efficiency is only effective if issues as he points out here actually do make a difference and a lot of the time they don’t and often make it worse.


Rightly, Hallett points out that every time we find a cheaper energy resource that because of the rise in population, it gets over-exploited and less of it in return. Considering the planetary resources aren’t unlimited and even the likes of China are running out of coal, one has to question why more isn’t done to exploit the tides and wind for energy as well as nuclear. I wonder if Hallett has read Richard Martin’s book ‘Super Fuel’ and the use of thorium in preference to uranium because I’m sure he would be a firm advocate. He does point out quite correctly that coal has other uses than burning and we would be seriously lost without keeping some stock to fall back on.

When it comes to equipment, Hallett uses the example of how the new LCD televisions might not use so much voltage but rather than replace the one or two sets you use to have, they appear all over the house instead. The rare earth elements used in making them are an even more finite resource so we’re not exactly gaining anything from such behaviour. The pattern of conserving on one hand and having more with the other hand shows a key weakness in humans which really does need to be addressed so people think before buying in extreme.

Hallett moves away from Man to explaining how nature looks after its own efficiencies before pointing out how much our species messes up by interfering, even when it’s done with good intention.

I did find it rather amusing that Hallett admits to hardcopying his book drafts to edit it as being a bad habit that he can’t break. I hope he’s using a dot matrix printer than inkjet though. I wonder how many others of you out there do this as well? It is possible to break the habit. The eye adopts to a different format to spot mistakes. That being the case, give yourself a break from the material for a few days and when you look at it again, change the font so it looks different. Your brain will then determine that things are different enough to spot the mistakes. If you’re really clever, then you might not even need the font change just a few days break.

Hallett’s discussion point using Walmart as the example of poor efficiency of them buying in product reminds me of a virus gone mad, especially as it feeds into its customers needs for cheap product at the cos of putting the product makers out of business. This business model is slowly seeping into the UK, which being a smaller country has already had a detrimental effect on the milk industry. If no one is producing then there will be a finite supply of what can be sold.

His examination of the early empires such as we Brits had makes some good points. However, in balance, a lot of countries annexed other countries and it was only when they become civilised, for want of a choice of a better word, that they wanted to go alone. Unlike other countries, the UK has kept fairly good relations with its former colonies or we wouldn’t have a Commonwealth.

A sharp reminder that pharmaceutical companies not creating some drugs because it is not profitable should give scary moments to all of you who read this book, especially as it puts lives in danger by putting profit over cure. I would make a very strong argument to nationalise such companies as like many of the utility companies which have been denationalised, these should be seen as being essential to everyone and not profit.

Hallett does give some pointers in how to be more efficient. I suspect those who are efficient will nod that they’ve done these things but what about the rest? Will they apply this or only give a nodding acquaintance to it before finding something else to take their interest. Efficiency, especially in these days of austerity, is really more a matter of thinking before you buy or not buy something and how to make the most of anything you have. It would also help if more people looked at how to repair something that is damaged before getting a complete replacement. Likewise, this can also apply to manufacturers as well. Granted that they make more profit by selling a new model but, equally, selling the replacement parts also ensures good will and some profit as well. This would contribute to sustainability. People will still need to buy new models sooner or later and come back to them, confident that they can get spare parts, so everyone wins.

There is also some discussion on recycling. It’s now a definite practice in the UK although it is still worrying that technology scrap is sent abroad rather than smelted down to its basic elements for recycling here.

A rather potent statement Hallett makes about US politicians who are swayed more by political belief over commonsense is something that must apply all over the world but it’s always been like that. If anything, because so many are career politicians now is that they don’t have any experience of regular life to make any other kind of decision which is rather disturbing.

One thing that does get confusing that Steve Hallett hails from Manchester, England and although the UK is mentioned a lot, the orientation targeting the USA because this publisher’s chief market is over the pond. It does tend to send mixed signals as to Hallett’s nationality and I suspect will confuse some Americans when they really should be reading the message from this book.

Although I don’t think Hallett has much in the way of answers, I do think he does make a very good point for everyone to balance up the good and bad points in what you use and what is the better choice. You should also be wary of advertisers who say something is more efficient without applying some commonsense and asking yourself if they are right or not. This book might not make you more efficient but it might help you avoid some traps.

GF Willmetts

September 2013

(pub: Prometheus Books. 337 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-61614-725-9)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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