I listened to a wonderful interview with efficiency guru Amory Lovins on Science Friday recently and was so impressed with Mr. Lovins techno-optimism. With the effects of Peak Oil becoming more obvious on a daily basis we clearly need to pursue energy efficiency at all costs. However we need to do all we can to avoid the pitfalls of the Jevons paradox, whereby the increased energy, money, time etc available to us are not reinvested into pointless consumerism and wasteful energy, money, time etc expenditures, thereby cancelling out the gains from efficiency. Here is the Wikipedia definition of the Jevons paradox:
"In economics, the Jevons paradox (sometimes 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.
The issue has more recently been reexamined by modern economists studying consumption rebound effects from improved energy efficiency.
In addition to reducing the amount needed for a given use, improved
efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource, which increases
the quantity demanded
of the resource, potentially counteracting any savings from increased
efficiency. Additionally, increased efficiency accelerates economic growth,
further increasing the demand for resources. The Jevons paradox occurs
when the effect from increased demand predominates, causing an increase
in overall resource use.
The Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation is futile, as increased efficiency may actually increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use declines if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax that keeps the cost of use the same (or higher). As the Jevons paradox applies only to technological improvements
that increase fuel efficiency, policies that impose conservation
standards and increase costs do not display the Jevons paradox."
So as we pursue more sustainable lifestyle choices it is important to reinvest in sustainability rather than consumerism. Examples might be; purchasing rainwater harvesting equipment instead of a new flat screen TV, going solar instead of going nuclear or fossil (a choice you can make at home), repairing that old car rather than buying a new one (even if it is a more efficient one), choosing to work less for money and thus have more time to grow food or hang out with family (and also pay less taxes), designing car free days into your schedule to reduce energy use while also encouraging fewer shopping trips, etc, etc.
In short, we need to develop a personal relationship with Jevons.
Check out the second half of the Radio Ecoshock Episode I've posted in
the audio above for more on these ideas. Or you can click here for that
audio file: http://www.ecoshock.net/eshock11/ES_110629_Show.mp3
What have you done today to lower your impact?
We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.
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