Jevon's Paradox

Traditionally we think the more efficient a product is, the less of it's underlying resources we will use. As light bulbs become more efficient, it requires less electricity to light our homes; As ovens are built with lighter components less material is needed to build one; And as a kid becomes faster at texting, it takes them less time to type out "I'll be back before dinner!" But of course as light bulbs became better, they were more widely distributed; lighter components of ovens allowed them to be made more cheaply, driving up demand; and we spend way more time with thumbs-to-mobile-keyboard with each passing year. In general, technological progress enables increases the efficiency of a product, and often its improvements lead to a wider customer base, or an increase in the usage of the product. When this results in a net increase in usage of the underpinning resources (despite the improvements in efficiency,) the situation is referred to as the Jevon's paradox. Gains in fuel-efficiency can decrease the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per mile traveled, but it also lowers the price to travel per mile and so recruits more travelers onto the road. This oddity has been used as an argument against technological progress many times and it's not entirely without merit. But the situations it can be applied to are limited to only those where the increase in usage from the change in efficiency out-stripes the gains in per-usage efficiency. I.e. only when rebound effect is > greater than 100% [1]. This is typically not the case when the product has already saturated the market and there is no additional benefit in having multiple. Technological innovation may also work to directly reduce demand. Though companies have operated under the umbrella of planned obsolescence, the right to repair [2] may be forcing a change that will require companies to develop lasting products. If major international players can be made to play by these same rules, technological innovation should start to increase the life expectancy of products. [1] Rebound effect is (expected - actual) / expected [2]

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

I believe it was One World Now, by Peter Singer, where I first read the analogy summarized below. Most reasonable people come to the same conclusions: The person that has produced the most waste shoul