Today, the editors of the Charleston Daily Mail just had a revelation. They headlined the resulting editorial “Energy-efficiency promotes energy use.” In their editorial, the editors said:
It is simply taken on faith that this [improvements in energy efficiency] will produce lower energy bills and reduce the environmental costs of energy development and consumption.
Alas, those who would guide individual behavior fail to take human nature into account.
Actually, it is not “simply taken on faith” that increased efficiency leads directly to reduced energy use. Although the Daily Mail’s editors apparently managed to read only one article in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal before they ventured into the new world (to them) of energy efficiency, William Jevons, a famous English economist, wrote about this same phenomenon in 1865. The Jevons Paradox has been the subject of thousands of studies and arguments since then.
All the editors had to do was google the term “Jevons Paradox” and they would have discovered a Wikipedia article on the subject as well as a number of very good articles written since 1865 showing the weaknesses and problems with the Paradox, also called the rebound effect. Just to help out the editors, here is a link to that Google search.
Under certain conditions and in certain situations, there is a rebound effect in energy efficiency programs. It’s funny (or pathetic, depending on how you look at it) that the example from Mexico, cited in the editorial, documented a rebound effect, but electricity use in the study still declined by 7%. For the Daily Mail to attribute the Jevons Paradox to “human nature” when there is so much controversy about the theory is just silly.
For the Daily Mail to be promoting such drivel in the state ranked 44th in the US in energy efficiency is (1) ignorant and (2) irresponsible. Better luck next time guys.
The fact is that the long term decline in electricity demand growth, including an absolute decline in demand after 2006, has largely been due to improvements in the efficiency of US electrical use. I could give the Daily Mail some Google links to that story, too, but I’ll let them figure that out on their own.