Jevon’s Paradox

A chill is in the air, peppermint is infiltrating our beverages, and holiday lights are on gutters, trees, and yards. Many of us remember, not so fondly, searching for a burnt out incandescent bulb that single-handedly brought down the entirety of a holiday light display. Today’s LED light strands not only save us time and frustration, but they are more energy efficient as well. Throughout our homes and businesses, incandescent bulbs have given way to LED and CFL bulbs, which individually use a fraction of the energy of a traditional incandescent and last longer. Despite these benefits, some experts doubt we will see any reduction in energy use over the long term.

How can this be?

During the industrial revolution, a British economist named William Stanley Jevons predicted that increased efficiencies in burning coal would not lead to less coal consumption, but more. Known as Jevon’s paradox, the basic premise is that technological efficiencies lead to lower costs, and these lower costs lead to higher consumption. 

Take vehicle fuel efficiency as an example. A driver with a more fuel efficient car might choose to drive more because they spend less per mile. In addition to the gas consumed, increased mileage leads to increased vehicle wear, which in turn increases emissions from manufacturing of new tires and car parts. Longer road trips might also lead to more hotel stays and meals on the road, which requires more energy inputs as well. In the end, a fuel efficient car can lead to greater emissions based on driver behavior.

What can you do?

Technological efficiencies can provide significant cost and time-saving benefits but only if we truly take advantage of them: hang the same number of holiday lights as before and watch the smaller bill roll in because they are LEDs. Increase your savings by turning them off at a time when no one will see them (timers are inexpensive and you don’t have to remember or go out in the cold) and continue to invest in energy efficiencies.

A great way to keep yourself accountable is to take a page out of the Med Center’s book; set goals for yourself! Try to decrease your energy usage 10% compared to last December, or find another measurable, achievable goal your household can reach. Fighting Jevon’s paradox is good for your wallet, the planet, and your health

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