Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

Jevons Paradox: Increasing our Energy Efficiency and Consumption at the Same Time November 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — jdkmsw @ 4:43 pm

In keeping with the topic of energy, check out this NYT article from a few months back:

It is an interesting proposition that by becoming more energy efficient we may be using more energy than before, but it makes sense. That extra few dollars in your pocket after you pay your utilities and fill up your tank has to go somewhere.  And I’m sure none of us mind having more disposable income.

But is this really a bad thing?

While you can say the old adage “mo’ money, mo’ problems” by the great philosopher Notorious B.I.G. has been proven correct again, doesn’t the fact that as we’ve become more efficient and consequently purchase more, strike at the heart of our consumer mentality and growth as a society?

While I like the premise of this article, I’d like to emphasize a few things.

First, lower energy costs benefit everyone, wealthy or poor. This means that those with lower incomes can take that extra money and put it towards food, their children, or their savings.  It raises the standard of living for all.

Second, we all derive great enjoyment from our gadgets and they make our lives safer. Your cell phone puts emergency services at your finger tips, cheaper energy makes lighting our streets and buildings after dark easier and safer, and our computers allow us to stay connected and up-to-date with news from across the country and the world.

Third, greater energy efficiency allows for the development of new and innovative products. Within the past 10-20 years, our greatest advances have occurred in the field of technology and medical sciences. Cheaper energy allows these innovators and researchers to put money saved back into R&D, paving the way for new advances in the years to come.

Fourth, I do not believe an energy tax with the purpose of reducing consumption is the answer. Education, I believe, is the best answer. If you feel strongly about curbing our energy consumption then remind people that our consumption has consequences. That you must keep in mind another adage, “there is no free lunch” (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Biggie who said that), and that our energy needs require the burning of fossil fuels, nuclear fission, and wind/solar/hydroelectric etc. And for those who feel strongly about climate change, they must balance their enjoyment with their beliefs on environmental policy. If carbon emissions are your enemy, then perhaps don’t buy as much. Save your money and plant a tree, inform your neighbors about the effect of their actions on the environment, or more importantly invest in the development of cleaner forms of energy.

But most importantly, we should not seek to tax the innovative spirit that has allowed civilization to advance to where it is today.

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