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Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Visit from Jevon

The subject of much debate, and more than a little misunderstanding, Jevon's Paradox is a simple observation with terrible consequences.

In a single stroke, Jevon has savaged the notion that conservation & efficiency are desirable, and are in fact at the root of the very problem we would like to overcome.

Peak Oil


"...to suppose that the economic use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption.

The very contrary is the truth.

As a rule, the new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumption according to a principle recognized in many parallel instances…. The same principles apply, with even greater force and distinctiveness to the use of such a general agent as coal. It is the very economy of its use which leads to its extensive consumption…. Nor is it difficult to see how this paradox arises….

If the quantity of coal used in a blast-furnace, for instance, be diminished in comparison with the yield, the profits of the trade will increase, new capital will be attracted, the price of pig-iron will fall, but the demand for it increase; and eventually the greater number of furnaces will more than make up for the diminished consumption of each.

And if such is not always the result within a single branch, it must be remembered that the progress of any branch of manufacture excites a new activity in most other branches and leads indirectly, if not directly, to increased inroads upon our seams of coal….

Civilization, says Baron Liebig, is the economy of power, and our power is coal. It is the very economy of the use of coal that makes our industry what it is; and the more we render it efficient and economical, the more will our industry thrive, and our works of civilization grow.

The contemporary significance of the Jevons paradox is seen with respect to the automobile in the United States. The introduction of more energy-efficient automobiles in this country in the 1970s did not curtail the demand for fuel because driving increased and the number of cars on the road soon doubled. Similarly, technological improvements in refrigeration simply led to more and larger refrigerators. The same tendencies are in effect within industry, independent of individual consumption. "


"...to the extent you make any useful commodity more affordable, you encourage it's consumption by that same margin."

Another way to put this is by looking at the difference between what any given commodity costs today, and what it would have cost absent the additional supplies which conservation & efficiency have provided.

Lower relative cost = greater relative consumption.

And unless you plan on invading China, India, South America & Africa and force them to comply with your conservation plans, the net effect will be generating energy subsidies for these emerging energy consumers in the form of lower energy commodity prices.

This is why all efforts at conservation & efficiency are actually counterproductive, and lead us even further into the quagmire of Hubbert's Peak.

It is indeed this sobering analysis, coupled with the notion that so many believe otherwise, which makes me the pessimist I am today.

I have said so many times, but it bears repeating...

Be aware of peak oil.
Be afraid of how your neighbors will react to it.

1 comment:

Philip Bogdonoff said...

Jeavons Paradox:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox