effect, or Jevons Paradox (after economist William Stanley Jevons who correctly predicted that the invention of the steam engine would result in more coal use, not less). 140 Efficiency, thus, frees up available resources to build the entire civilizational mousetrap bigger. It is by being more efficient that we can grow faster, with growing energy requirements and new energy resources. The key point here is that everything in a society that generates GDP first requires an energy input, so most savings due to efficiency end up being spent on something else that also requires energy. The two in combination (whatever was more energy efficie nt plus whatever the “savings” was spent on) together take up more energy, which is the opposite of saving energy. Paradoxically, higher efficiency results in more energy use. At the civilization scale new interconnections and dependencies can arise. Air conditioning allows grandma to move to Arizona instead of living near the grandkids, who now must fly in an airplane to visit her. More broadly, this “rebound effect” can also refer to the general effect of reallocating resources within a society, such that one person using less tends to make it cheaper for another person to use more, thereby buffering or negating the effect of individual conservation efforts. If I give up air conditioning to reduce my carbon footprint, somewhere in China that will free up the energy to make 20 new cubic meters of cement, etc. Note that this only holds true if we are optimizing profits and GDP. If a country (or world) capped their throughput and pursued a different cultural goal and, for instance, allocated all efficiency savings towards protecting other species, or building basic infrastructure for the next generations, then the technology rebound effect would be smaller, or even non-existent. TaaL: How many humans does it take to screw up a light bulb? You keep making things more efficient, and your total energy footprint keeps getting bigger. You make advanced lightbulbs which use 15% of the energy of older bulbs, and then use ten times as many. You’ll buy a Prius to get high gas mileage, and thereby subsidize cheaper fuel for your neighbors with SUVs, and you feel you’ve lessened the impact on your planet. You resort to mass production to bring down the price of electronics, which makes them so cheap you throw them away and upgrade every six months. Rather than becoming mor e energy efficient, you’re really just getting more efficient at receiving dopamine hits in a novel, technology rich context. The Bottom Line: In a free market system focused on optimizing profits, the net effect of making things more efficient is to increase total energy and resource use.
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