UPDATED with new photo on May 6, 2011
Let’s say you’ve sold your old, leaky house and moved into a new, well-insulated home with Energy Star appliances. With all of its efficiency improvements, your new home requires 30% less energy than your old home. That’s got to be good for the planet, right?
Well, maybe not — especially if you save so much on your energy bills that you decide to fly to Florida for your next vacation.
A new book, The Myth of Resource Efficiency, casts serious doubts on the idea that efficiency improvements will lead to lower levels of energy consumption. The book focuses on the “rebound effect” — the increase in energy use that often follows energy efficiency improvements. (For more on the rebound effect, see “Getting More Efficient, But Using More Energy”.)
The authors of The Myth of Resource Efficiency — John Polimeni, Kozo Mayumi, Mario Giampietro, and Blake Alcott — identify William Stanley Jevons as the first economist to describe the rebound effect. In his 1865 book, The Coal Question, Jevons explained the mechanism whereby energy efficiency improvements lead to increased energy consumption: “If the quantity of coal used in a blast-furnace, for instance, be diminished in comparison with the yield, the profits of the trade will increase, new capital will be attracted, the price of pig-iron will fall, but the demand for it increase; and eventually the greater number of furnaces will more than make up for the diminished consumption of each.”
“Let’s use more!”
One hundred and forty-four years ago, Jevons wrote, “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.” Economists now refer to this principle as the Jevons Paradox.
The Jevons Paradox takes many forms: