Dec. 5: The Paradoxical Waste From Efficiency

Where: Olin 130

When: Wednesday, December 5, 7:30 PM


America is built on innovation and ingenuity. So IBM, GE, Google and Microsoft have all made a strong case for harnessing our ingenuity to help conserve global water supplies. But so far, these titans of industry and information technology have failed miserably. Worse, without the right political foundation, the very efficient technology they seek may drive humanity to use more water and energy. This paradox emerged in 1865, when industrial England ruled the world, thanks to coal. But as "peak coal" grew scarce, the country feared it would deplete its own lifeblood, and called for ‘smart’ efficiency (sound familiar?). Enter a 29-year-old who found technology would actually speed up depletion as more people could afford more machines to burn more cheap coal. Over 146 years, coal's alternatives - wind, oil, gas, nuclear, solar, hydro, geothermal - all stepped in to literally fuel growth. But his underlying logic about efficient technology remained incontrovertible. What's more, the steam engine burned up another element, which in 1865 England seemed negligible but is today both precious and scarce. And unlike coal, water has no substitute...


Jamie Workman graduated cum laude in history from Yale and Oxford in 1990. As a prize-winning investigative journalist in Washington, D.C., Workman was recruited as special assistant to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, where Workman pioneered river restoration through national dam removals. Moving overseas as senior adviser to the World Commission on Dams under Nelson Mandela, Workman advised corporations, governments and international NGOs on natural resource policy, valuation, mitigation and adaptation. He has published dozens of articles and several books on how to unlock the true value of water, including the award-winning dramatic non-fiction narrative, Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought.

Sponsored by the O'Donnell Visiting Educator Series. This event is part of a series of lectures by Professor Workman called "Three Things Your Parents Didn't Tell You About Water Conservation."