Does Greater Efficiency Encourage Greater Waste?

Jevon's Paradox is the idea that the more efficient a resource becomes, the more it is consumed. With new future fuels in the works, those promoting sustainability and conservation find themselves at odds with innovation.

Greg Lindsay at Fast Company delves into the clash between those advancing future cars running future fuels and those hoping to get beyond the automobile era.

"Jevons' peak coal reckoning was postponed by a new fuel source discovered a few years earlier in the Pennsylvania hills: oil. Today, there is another liquid fuel source on the horizon, provided it can scale: next-generation biofuels. Peak Oilers take it as an article of faith that biofuels won't work (and for now they have both physics and economics in their corner). But reading books like the ones mentioned above (or watching films like The End of Suburbia and Collapse) one gets the feeling they're actively rooting against them as well."

Full Story: Jevons' Paradox and the Perils of Efficient Energy Use



The Bliss Point

Lots of sloppy thinking in this article. Eg, he talks about "The urban consequences of a potentially endless, cheap(er), greener source of liquid fuel." In fact, there is no reason to think that biofuels will be cheaper than oil was in the days of cheap oil. And it is absolutely certain that biofuels are not endless: we already farm almost all the arable land on earth, you can calculate the energy contained in agricultural waste, and we are not going to get more energy than that from biofuels made from agricultural waste. If they genetically engineer some crop that can grow in the desert and be a source of biofuels, the land available to grow it is still limited, and solar energy is a competing use for that land.

But this sloppy article does have a link to a very interesting article at

Here are some quotes from that linked article:

Is it really possible that, in a given period of time, the more we consume the better off we are? The answer is obviously NO! How can you accept as an axiom that individuals, if they could, would drive cars 24/7 the whole year round? Also, how could anyone assume that people, if they could, would be better off with 120 kg of meat per day than if they ate only 1 pound per day? It is pretty clear that the Piggy Principle is a long way from reality.

What we need to admit is that beyond some level of consumption, Utility peaks and then begins to decrease.

This concept is only sketched in some economic texts (Hoffman, Binger). The point beyond which utility decreases is called the ‘bliss point’.

Charles Siegel

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