Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why "Jevons Paradox" is an Argument for Stronger Action on Climate Change not Weaker

The 19th century economist William Jevons suggested that improvements in the efficiency of energy use devices could increase energy use rather than reduce it. The more efficient machines etc. would reduce the cost of production thereby increasing the amount demanded and sold and, therefore, the energy used to produce the products. The rebound effect is a modern statement of this idea: "Efficiency improvements will reduce energy use by less than the efficiency improvement". In the case of consumers, the rationale is that efficiency improvements are equivalent to reductions in the price of "energy services" such as heating, lighting, air-conditioning etc. The law of demand tells us that this will increase the demand for these services and, therefore, for the energy used to produce the services. The size of this rebound effect is an empirical question.

There have been some articles in the popular media about Jevons' paradox recently. The Economist argued that we would be better off without lighting efficiency improvements because they will result in increased energy use and hence pollution. Roger Pielke argues that Jevons paradox tells us that we both need to increase energy efficiency and energy supply in the future. On the other hand, the Climate Progress blog tries to debunk the Jevons' paradox while admitting that the rebound effect is real.

Instead, I argue that the rebound/Jevons' effect tells us that the results of direct action on climate change are likely to be disappointing. Efficiency improvements would need to be bigger than the desired savings in energy use. But, by contrast, a cap on carbon use would eliminate the "carbon rebound effect" due to efficiency improvements. We really do need improvements in energy efficiency as part of the solution to climate change and they make us better off. But a carbon price can be part of a more effective policy.


  1. Thought you might be interested in the following SSPP Blog post "The Jevons Paradox and Energy Efficiency"

  2. Rebound-effect is true because no value is under consideration (money alone cannot value products) and thereby not empirical. Its just empirical for small views and perspective. In Davids perspective, he think that carbon use could be stopped with money? Its the opposite way, money cannot work here.

    We must focus on energy and money together, which will say that the amount of money-circulation must be the same until the sequence. this sequence is when total energy in input is less.

    In the next sequence we can draw out money from the circulation if there is not done in the naturally way. It should be natural.

    If we just look in the energy-perspective to make society sustainble, we must use feedback mechanism when we make the efficiency patterns of society. Remember here that environment does this before we do it. Environmental production efficiencies is the key to copy and they do it as a coupled system. As long as we do not understand this, it will collapse.

  3. the rebound effect is not modern because it is about 40 years old.