Jevons Paradox: More on current controversies

Michael Giberson

In the comments on yesterday’s post on the Jevons Paradox, Rick Lightburn notes an article on the rebound effect by the Rocky Mountain Institute, “The ‘Rebound Effect’: A Perennial Controversy Rises Again” (and see a follow up on the RMI blog). The RMI article links to and responds to, among other things, a comprehensive analysis by The Breakthrough Institute, “Energy Emergence: Rebound and Backfire as Emergent Phenomena” (link is to overview, full report here in PDF format).

RMI is a longtime proponent of energy efficiency policies–founder Amory Lovins famously said, “Energy efficiency isn’t just a free lunch; it’s a lunch you are paid to eat”–so it is not surprising that they’re somewhat critical of arguments suggesting large rebound or backfire effects from efficiency improvements. Breakthrough’s report seems a more straightforward review of the literature on the topic, mostly with an aim of making technical economic work done on the subject accessible to the non-economist.

To school yourself on energy efficiency rebound effects, I’d suggest starting with  Breakthrough’s report, then consider the RMI article’s critique and follow its links for further commentaries. For increased depth, read from the literature surveyed in the Breakthrough report and then tackle The Myth of Resource Efficiency: The Jevons Paradox book which I discussed here yesterday. And, by all means, check out Jevons’s The Coal Question.

MORE: The RMI’s article was mostly prompted by David Owen’s article in The New Yorker, “The Efficiency Dilemma” (subscription req’d). Owen further developed his work into a book, The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse. You can listen to Russ Roberts interview Owen at EconTalk.


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