Dear Dr. Lovins,
I have read (and replied to) your responses to David Owen regarding the Jevons Paradox at the New York Times, Room for Debate and the Rocky Mountain Institute blog. I have also written a blog post at Ecological Headstand and EconoSpeak, which has received over 700 views so far today. I remain unsure about what I perceive as inconsistencies in your position and would appreciate clarification.
At the RMI blog you referred to the energy rebound argument as "this old canard":
"There is a very large professional literature on energy rebound, refreshed about every decade as someone rediscovers and popularizes this old canard."In 2005, however, you wrote, "Far from dampening global development, lower energy bills accelerate it."("More Profit with Less Carbon," Scientific American 293, 74 - 83). By "lower energy bills" I assume you were referring to lower prices resulting from improved energy efficiency and by "global development" I assume you meant economic growth. Although the increased efficiency would lower the energy intensity of each dollar of GDP, the "accelerated" development would inevitably offset at least some of those efficiency gains with respect to total consumption. Leaving aside the proportions between energy saved through efficiency and energy consumed through accelerated development, that sounds to me like a rebound argument. If it walks like a paradox, swims like a paradox and quacks like a (Jevons) paradox, can we not conclude that it is a version of "this old canard"?
I understand your position is that potential energy efficiency gains are large enough to more than compensate for increased energy demand from economic growth, thus implying the possibility of an absolute "decoupling" of growth and resource consumption. The index you cite in support of this contention expresses the energy intensity of GDP. However, I would suggest that a more salient index would measure the energy intensity of employment. I make this suggestion because Jevons in his original statement of the paradox referred to "a principle recognised in many parallel instances," and cited specifically the eventual expansion of employment after "the introduction of new machinery, for the moment, throws labourers out of employment." Thus the energy rebound argument is explicitly based on the parallel idea of an employment rebound. Nor is this a merely conceptual analogy because fuel is consumed running the machines that, according to the principle, displace labor (momentarily) but eventually expand the demand for it. The fuel consumption, economy of fuel, machines, labor demand and economy of labor are thus united in a continuous cycle.
I have extensively researched the original principle upon which Jevons's "parallel" paradox is based and have traced it to a pamphlet, "Thoughts on the Use of Machines in the Cotton Manufacture" written in 1780 by a Lancashire magistrate, Dorning Rasbotham, esq. I must confess that I find the original conception to have been a hasty generalization and a post hoc fallacy, so I would have to concede that the Jevons version must indeed be somewhat of an "old canard", as you call it. But, as Cecil Pigou pointed out a hundred years ago, "If it were a good ground for rejecting an opinion that many persons entertain it for bad reasons, there would, alas, be few current beliefs left standing!" Therefore the investigation must be carried further, specifically to the linkage between the energy rebound argument and the employment rebound.
I have compiled indexes based on U.S. employment and energy consumption data from 1949 to 2009 and world data from 1980 to 2006. My calculations show that the energy intensity of per person employed in the U.S. increased substantially from 1949 to 1973, decreased from 1973 to 1986 and hovered around the 1986 level for the next 23 years. Globally, energy intensity per labor force participant (employment only data was not available) was around five percent higher in 2006 than it was in 1980. Thus, when examining the energy intensity of employment, there has been no sustained relative decoupling of employment from energy consumption. Without evidence of sustained relative decoupling, it is difficult to imagine how absolute decoupling could be achieved without a radical, fundamental change in economic paradigm.
I have posted a chart at my blog showing my calculation of the energy intensity of employment [see below] and would welcome any criticism you might have of my analysis.
|Sources: World Bank, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Energy Information Agency|