the rebound effect
July 18, 2011, 11:47 pm
Filed under: betaCITY, Cities, Energy | Tags: ,

Somehow, over the past 40 years, as the equipment we use to do our daily chores and to heat and cool our houses have become more and more efficient, we have continued to use the same levels of energy.  That’s because there’s a big difference between energy efficiency and energy consumption.  Duh.  Or maybe not.

These distinct ideas are consistently conflated in our conversations about the new green paradigm.  They’ve been so thoroughly confused that the phenomenon has been named the Jevons paradox:  which explains how increased efficiency makes us consume more, not less.

That was then; what about going forward?  The conventional wisdom tells us that Energy star and now LEED and rumours of a reverse migration into America’s cities should affect both our efficiency and consumption levels.  Recession and city living no doubt will affect both.  But, the draw to the high consumption, low efficiency suburb continues unabated as lifestyles are still subsidized and markets manipulated.

The root question is how can we have an expanding economy and at the same time consume less per capita.  Europe does it somehow, as do the roaring engines of South Asia and China.  No doubt it is possible, but it will take a radical recast of at least some of the structures we hold dear.

The silver bullet, though, has to be the city; the task of rebuilding once abandoned city cores in America will expand economies while also providing living environments that are truly efficient.

Here are some ironic numbers on efficiency and consumption by Bjorn Lomborg:

Here’s something to think about. Back in the early 1970’s, the average American expended roughly 70 million British thermal units per year to heat, cool, and power his or her home. Since then, of course, we have made great strides in energy efficiency. As The Washington Post recently reported, dishwashers now use 45% less power than they did two decades ago, and refrigerators 51% less. So how much energy do Americans use in their homes today? On a per capita basis, the figure is roughly what it was 40 years ago: 70 million BTUs.

No You Can’t, Bjorn Lomborg, Project Syndicate

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