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THE Jevons Paradox Thread (merged)

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The Return of the Jevons Paradox

Unread postby davep » Sun 07 Nov 2010, 15:45:13

Here's an interesting article on the historical perspective and current status of the Jevons Paradox, including the context of the paradox within his overall view.

Capitalism and the Curse of Energy Efficiency

The curse of energy efficiency, better known as the Jevons Paradox—the idea that increased energy (and material-resource) efficiency leads not to conservation but increased use—was first raised by William Stanley Jevons in the nineteenth century. Although forgotten for most of the twentieth century, the Jevons Paradox has been rediscovered in recent decades and stands squarely at the center of today’s environmental dispute.

The nineteenth century was the century of coal. It was coal above all else that powered British industry, and thus the British Empire. But in 1863 the question was raised by industrialist Sir William George Armstrong, in his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, as to whether Britain’s world supremacy in industrial production could be threatened in the long run by the exhaustion of readily available coal reserves.1 At that time, no extensive economic study had been conducted on coal consumption and its impact on industrial growth.

In response, William Stanley Jevons, who would become one of the founders of neoclassical economics, wrote, in only three months, a book entitled The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines (1865). Jevons argued that British industrial growth relied on cheap coal, and that the increasing cost of coal, as deeper seams were mined, would lead to the loss of “commercial and manufacturing supremacy,” possibly “within a lifetime,” and a check to economic growth, generating a “stationary condition” of industry “within a century.”2 Neither technology nor substitution of other energy sources for coal, he argued, could alter this.

Jevons’s book had an enormous impact. John Herschel, one of the great figures in British science, wrote in support of Jevons’s thesis that “we are using up our resources and expending our national life at an enormous and increasing rate and thus a very ugly day of reckoning is impending sooner or later.”3 In April 1866, John Stuart Mill praised The Coal Question in the House of Commons, arguing in support of Jevons’s proposal of compensating for the depletion of this critical natural resource by cutting the national debt. This cause was taken up by William Gladstone, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who urged Parliament to act on debt reduction, based on the uncertain prospects for national development in the future, due to the anticipated rapid exhaustion of coal reserves. As a result, Jevons’s book quickly became a bestseller.4

Yet Jevons was stunningly wrong in his calculations. It is true that British coal production, in response to increasing demand, more than doubled in the thirty years following the publication of his book. During the same period in the United States, coal production, starting from a much lower level, increased ten times, though still remaining below the British level.5 Yet no enduring “coal panic,” due to exhaustion of available coal supplies, ensued in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Jevons’s chief mistake had been to equate the energy for industry with coal itself, failing to foresee the later development of energy substitutes for coal, such as petroleum and hydroelectric power.6 In 1936, seventy years after the parliamentary furor generated by Jevons’s book, John Maynard Keynes commented on Jevons’s projection of a decline in the availability of coal, observing that it was “overstrained and exaggerated.” One might add that it was quite narrow in scope.7...

See full article for the rest. Thanks to Keith Addison's biofuels list for the link.

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Re: The Return of the Jevons Paradox

Unread postby ralfy » Sun 07 Nov 2010, 21:48:27

Very good share. Thanks!
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Re: THE Jevons Paradox Thread (merged)

Unread postby autonomous » Wed 23 Jan 2013, 20:44:56

The 'rebound' effect of energy-efficient cars overplayed

The argument that those who have fuel-efficient cars drive them more and hence use more energy is overplayed and inaccurate, a University of California, Davis, economist and his co-authors say in a comment article published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Critics of energy efficiency programs in public policy debates have cited the “rebound effect” as a reason that hybrid cars and plug-in electric vehicles, for example, don’t really save energy in the long run.

The “backfire” concept, a more extreme version of “rebound,” actually stems from a 19th century analysis in a book titled “The Coal Question,” by Stanley Jevons. The book hypothesized that energy use rises as industry becomes more efficient because people produce and consume more goods, according to the Nature article. But the article’s co-authors found that in the modern economy, the effect is not supported empirically.

“If a technology is cheaper to run, people may use it more. If they don’t, they can use their savings to buy other things that required energy to make. But evidence points to these effects being small — too small to erase energy savings from energy efficiency standards, for example,” said David S. Rapson, assistant professor of economics at UC Davis.

Rebound effects are therefore “no excuse for inaction,” the article states.

Energy efficiency standards will once again be a topic of debate — and a potential target for attack — with the renewed focus on climate change and the possibility of federal regulatory action, Rapson explained: “From an economic perspective, a carbon tax or well-functioning cap-and-trade market is still optimal. But if the political reality doesn’t allow these, efficiency standards should be evaluated based on the balance of costs and benefits. Rebounds are an important consideration, but are often overblown and misunderstood.

“Even though increased efficiency may prompt changes in behavior, energy is still saved overall,” said Rapson. “Energy efficiency policies should therefore continue to be considered as a way to address greenhouse gas emissions.”

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