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Terribly efficient

Paul AndersenAspen, CO Colorado

The grim spectacle of Anna Nicole Smith’s death and entombment caused me to consider the phenomenon of her infamy. Anna Nicole’s fame was based on big boobs, red lips and blond hair. She was a caricature of Marilyn Monroe and parlayed her sex appeal into a personal fortune – then misfortune.Anna Nicole Smith represented the super-sizing of the female as sex object for a world that loved to hate her for an incredibly alluring and titillating expression of excess. Anna Nicole’s essence said, loud and clear, that there are no limits to either personal gratification or the myth of that gratification. The bounds of her reality were stretched like her triple-D cups.What does this say about America? It confirms to the world that we love to flaunt limits, that we celebrate and reward cartoonish caricatures, and that opportunities for fame and riches for young women are only as far away as the cosmetic surgeon and the silicone injection machine.The abolition of limits is rife in American culture and is the antithesis of sustainability. Flaunting the limits of the human body goes gland-in-gland with flaunting the limits of nature, and it all relies on technology.An illustration recently appeared in the newspapers, titled “Engineering a cooler planet.” Techno-fixes for global warming include launching millions of “refractive screens” from satellites to block the sun’s rays, erecting artificial trees to absorb CO2, creating a “volcano effect” by filling the stratosphere with sun-filtering sulfates, dumping millions of tons of iron ore into the oceans to stimulate blooms of CO2-consuming algae, etc. Technology is widely seen as the salvation of mankind, a perpetual hope that springs eternal from our fertile minds. Technology holds the promise of our future, a means of getting around limits by engineering them into irrelevance. I’m reminded of the foodaholic eating to excess and obesity, but instead of dieting, having the fat surgically removed in a flaying process akin to stripping blubber from a whale. I’m not making this up; it is done today in absurd obeisance to the symptom, not the cure; to the result, not the cause.Efficiency has become the latest mantra for excess. It foists the idea that as long as we make things efficient, we can continue ignoring limits. According to Alec Dubro, efficiency promotes even greater consumption of resources:”In the 19th century, inventors and engineers were noticing a peculiar phenomenon: As machines in general became more efficient, they used more fuel, not less. That was because efficiency brought the cost down and more people than ever bought them, and used them more often.”Efficiency as a stimulant to consumerism is overlooked today. Perhaps denial is the more appropriate word as efficiency experts cheer the savings of a particular machine. The hybrid car is a perfect example, allowing us to drive more with less care, where you want to go for a drive just to feel good about all the fuel you’re saving.”There is only one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Dubro wrote, “and that is to use much, much less energy and to have far fewer things. But that’s the problem.”And what is the problem? The problem is limits and our refusal to accept them, either in our personal lives or in the global economy. Infinite growth, as the foodaholic learns, is unsustainable, but that’s what we live for, work for, pray for.Dubro’s advice is: “Do less. Go slower. Go less far. Get less. Use less. Work less. Can we do it? Can we really slow down the pace of life without returning to drudgery? I don’t know, but I do know we haven’t tried.”Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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