On the Jevons paradox


Have you heard about the Jevons paradox ? Or the rebound effect ? Neither of them ? However they both refer to an interesting fact related to energy, efficiency and conservation.

In a nutshell : we have been using more and more energy since the Industrial revolution, centuries ago, however, appliances and processes are more and more efficient. Look at incandescent light bulbs and CFLs or even better, LEDs.

This, however, have fueled debates at PlanetSafe, ClimateProgress and many other websites, including the Oil Drum. Factor five also mentions this phenomenon, hence my article today…

But first a small introduction from Wikipedia :

In economics, the Jevons paradox, sometimes called the Jevons effect, is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.

In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.

Here is what PlanetSave think about it :

Jevons Paradox Doesn’t Hold Up in Real Life

While people may increase usage some after switching to a more energy-efficient technology, research has shown pretty conclusively that they don’t do so nearly enough to considerably offset the energy savings. Thus, they do end up decreasing energy usage, not increasing it, in the end.

ClimateProgress is agreeing in broad terms with them :

The “Jevons paradox,” asserts that increasing “the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.”

It is mostly if not entirely bunk, as the scientific literature and leading experts have demonstrated many times (see “Efficiency lives — the rebound effect, not so much“).

To conclude, the authors of the book Factor Five – read my laudatory review there – believe we can overcome the Jevons paradox by three approaches (page 310) :

1. Reducing or removing the damages done by resource consumption ;

2. Investing in capital funds for future prosperity ;

3. Making resource consumption ever more expensive.(this is the subject of chapter 9)

And you, what do you think ?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *