Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Energy Efficiency and The Jevons' Paradox

Given all the concern over rising oil prices, global climate change, and the overall energy crisis we are facing in this country there has been a large scale movement towards energy efficiency. Whether it be in the use of energy, the transportation of energy, or the simple production of energy, it is believed that if there is an increase in efficiency then there will be an increase in savings and thus a decrease in all the environmentally harmfully effects the use, transportation, and production of that energy brings. For example, it is believed that the more energy efficient a car is the less oil it needs to run and thus the less CO2 or pollution that car releases into the atmosphere and as a result the less affect that car contributes to the environment. In concept, increase energy efficiency can in fact have this effect of decreasing our overall energy consumption and ultimately reducing our carbon footprint; however, this is just in concept and when it comes to the real world the concept doesn’t always hold true (especially in our American economy).

The reason for this is something called the Jevons’ Paradox also known as the rebound effect, which is the phenomenon in which increased efficiency paradoxically leads to increased overall energy consumption. This phenomenon can be seen all throughout the U.S economy. For example, (keeping the same car example ) the more energy efficient a car is the less oil is needed to run the car and thus the more miles you can go in that car for the same prices as before (when you had a car that was not as efficient). Now it is cheaper to go the same distance, but instead of putting aside the oil or money you save by this efficiency in usage what ends up happening is that oil or money just gets put right back into the system by 1) being encouraged to drive more miles now because it is cheaper to do so as a consequence using up more oil then you normally would 2) allowing more people to buy and drive the same energy efficient car (people who may have not been able to do so before) again using up more oil 3) taking the money that is saved and buying or doing something else with it that again may use lager amounts of oil or may not be as energy efficient as the car like buying food imported from another country.

The biggest factor contributing to the Jevons’ paradox is the fact that we live in an economy that is based on growth, meaning the economy only does well if it grows. Every quarter more and more jobs must be created, more and more products must be produced, and more and more consumer goods must be purchased in order for the economy to do well and prosper. Therefore, whatever energy is saved through efficiency will almost automatically be put right back into the system to create new economic growth because without it, the economy declines. This is why so much emphasis is placed on consumer spending because it is one of the only ways to insure continued economic growth. If people are continually spending money, purchasing products, then more products will need to be made, more jobs will need to be created, and more economic growth will occur.

Another factor contributing to the Jevons’ paradox is this strong concept of self present in the American society, the concept of self interest, self greed, and self preservation. In this society, there is very little sense of community and instead of acting as a whole we act as a “sea of selves” which in turn helps lead to consume more energy. Every individual person in the sea of selves consumes energy to his or her own liking or ability regardless of what the person besides them is consuming (they eat as much as they want buy as much as they want and use as much as they want or can afford). Thus, leading to a mentality of – “if I like to or can afford to consume more energy why wouldn’t I do so” versus – “I can afford to consume more energy but I would rather give that energy to someone else who needs it more than I do or truly save it so it does not go to waste because other people need energy too not just me”. If there was a stronger sense of community then we would not only be able to save more energy but share more energy among our community thus limiting the waste or the need for excess.

One solution to the Jevons’ paradox, as mentioned by Jeff Dardozzi, is to do just that - increase the sense of community through the use of the elements of the civic and divine. Civic in the sense of community and responsibility and divine in the sense of a having a higher purpose one that is about more than just taking care of yourself. If you know for a fact that the energy you save goes directly to another person who needs it; then, you will be more inclined to save. Similarlly, if you know what the energy you use and waste can do for someone else, (i.e. if you know how important that energy is) then again you will be less inclined to misuse it. But in today’s society there is such a huge disconnect between people. They are not aware of these things and are in a sense completely isolated from each other leading to many of the problems we are facing today with respect to energy consumption.

For this reason, I strongly believe in Jeff Dardozzi’s analysis of the Jevons’ Paradox. The only way to truly decrease our overall energy consumption and ultimately reduce our carbon footprint in despite of the Jevons’ paradox is to renew this concept of community and higher purpose. This is not something that is hard for Americans to do. In fact, we do it all the time when it comes to other thing besides energy. The best example of this is our U.S military and all the men and women who enlist and serve our country and fight for a purpose that is greater than themselves. They take their most valuable form of energy – their own human bodies, their own lives and risk it putting it on the line for the safety and well being of others (their fellow Americans). We even honor them every year for their service and devote this day to them and their service. However, over the year this day has continued to become more and more transformed into a day that is about cheap deals, discounts and sales, which according to the Jevons’ paradox translates into more overall energy consummation and the continued gap between those who have money and the ability to buy and use energy and those who don’t. This day has become more and more about greed and selfishness versus community and higher purpose. The two very things we need more of if we are to solve the energy crisis. What we need is to truly honor the military and take the sayings like “UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL” and “WE ARE AN ARMY OF ONE” to heart and apply them to more than just the military. It can be done, we know we have the capacity, all that is needed is the motivation. Unlike the military where it is easy to see the need to unite against a common threat overseas, it is hard to see the need to unite against the threat that is present right here under our very noses- the threat that is energy consummation. Once we realize this, the threat it is not hard to see. We can stand up unite and put our energy consummation on the line the same way our veteran put their bodies and their lives on the line for the safety and well being of their fellow Americans. All we have to do is remember the concepts our veterans understood very well – the concepts of community, unity, and having a higher purpose.

Reference Jeff Dardozzi – The Spector of Jevons’ Paradox

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