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Energy efficiency and reduced consumption are not exclusive. But is it possible that we focus too much on the former and not enough on the latter?

To expand on my question, I live near a very wealthy area. People in this area will own electric cars, solar panels, energy efficient dishwashers, etc. At the same time, they own a huge house, with lots of stuff (electronics, furniture, additional vehicles, etc.), will take expensive vacations, etc. Many own second homes.

I don't have the numbers to back me up, but I can't help but wonder how much energy they consume. Sure, they will use less hot water because of their energy efficient dishwasher. But the energy that went into building, furnishing, and maintaining their extra large house can't be insignificant.

It's great to pat ourselves on the back when we reduce our electricity bill be $x/month, but does it really make a dent in reducing our energy footprint if we are consuming way too much?

Or am I just being pessimistic? Do the gains made from energy efficiency cars, appliances, houses, etc. outweigh the cost of our massive consumption?

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    I think you are right; the mantra is 'reduce, reuse, recycle' and it's in that order for a reason. Reduce is always the best option. – THelper Jun 10 '16 at 7:04
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    Though the question is an interesting one, it's not a good fit for this site, as this site is best suited for actual problems rather than generalised discussions. Measuring energy used per person (dependent on age, health requirements and region) might be a good start to get some useful information on how to solve the problem of wasted resources. – Highly Irregular Jun 10 '16 at 9:30
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It's a different version of the capital cost vs cost of operation. The classic case is New vs Used car. The new car is more expensive, but the maintenance costs are generally low for the first several years.

An example closer to the issue: High efficiency windows. Triple pane, low e, argon filled windows are the rage, but when you simulate their performance relative to a standard double pane sealed unit, they never pay for themselves in energy savings.

Another extreme is the tiny home movement. I have friends who live in a house that measures 8 x 24 feet with a half loft. Even with R-12 walls it is cheap to heat.

The downside of the tiny house is the very limited amount of stuff you can keep. Being able to lay your hands on a book saves a trip to the library. Being able to store a month's food saves trips to the grocery store. (This is our habit now: Shop once a month -- it's an hour each way to a decent grocery store.)

The accountants have a term: Total Cost of Ownership. This takes into account the initial capital cost, the lifetime costs, and the disposal costs, as well as costs that are extrinsic to the actual item itself. A similar approach needs to be used for energy. The Big House would fare badly here.

On the other hand, a house built to last and be maintainable for a thousand years may be initially expensive, but still have a reasonable TCO/year. (I don't think we can build such a house right now.)

Energy and money are not the same, but in a given domain you often find they are proportional. Very often something that costs twice as much will use twice as much energy to make it.

Exceptions:

A: Fashion items.

B: Innovative products.

C: Price differences due solely to marketing.

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