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Frank Lee 01-09-2011 06:54 PM

Jevon's paradox

In economics, the Jevons paradox, sometimes called the Jevons effect, is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.[1] In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.[2]

The issue has more recently been reexamined by modern economists studying consumption rebound effects from improved energy efficiency. In addition to reducing the amount needed for a given use, improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource, which increases demand for the resource, potentially counteracting any savings from increased efficiency. Additionally, increased efficiency accelerates economic growth, further increasing the demand for resources. The Jevons paradox occurs when the effect from increased demand predominates, causing overall resource use to increase.

The Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation is futile, as increased efficiency may actually increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use will decline if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax that keeps the cost of use the same (or higher).[3] As the Jevons paradox applies only to technological improvements that increase fuel efficiency, policies that impose conservation standards and increase costs do not display the Jevons paradox.
Jevons paradox - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cd 01-09-2011 06:59 PM

Good read Frank.

Frank Lee 01-09-2011 07:04 PM

Food for thought.

UFO 01-09-2011 07:57 PM

What a vicious circle. I guess it's only a paradox if you don't think about it.

cfg83 01-09-2011 08:10 PM

Frank -

Een-tay-rest-ink. As I read the first two paragraphs I was thinking of a solution to the paradox. Then I read the last paragraph and realized that it was the same solution. It also sounds like an argument for the EU fuel tax that keeps gas prices high.

It's nice to have a name for something that allows for a concise explanation.


jamesqf 01-09-2011 11:00 PM

Yeah, if I had Jevon's Paradox and a manure spreader, I could go fertilize the back 40 :-)

Consider a practical example. The Prius uses gasoline about 3-4 times more efficiently than a typical SUV, so if Jevons' Paradox was correct, Prius owners should drive many more miles in a year than the owners of less-efficient vehicles, and should drive their new Priuses much more than the less-efficient vehicles they replaced. Is there any sign of this behavior in the real world? (In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Prius owners drive rather less, on average, than the typical SUV owner.)

Frank Lee 01-10-2011 12:17 AM

So how many miles do Prius and SUV owners put on/year?

The Rooster 01-10-2011 01:48 AM

Interesting, the Javons paradox, founded on the study of actual data reveals a trend in coal consuption 150 years ago.

So sombody takes that data, then universally applies it, without further study, to all forms of fuel, including gasoline.

Great pseudo science to make pseudo arguments with. Well done.

So I did my own rather unscientific study using the internet to come up with this.

I found two graphs that look very official. The first is a graph of Total US Gasoline Retail Deliveries by Refineries from 1985 to 2010;

U.S. Total Gasoline Retail Deliveries by Refiners(Thousand Gallons per Day)

The second is a pdf file with a number of graphs on it, but the one I like is on page 5 and it shows the fleet CAFE standards observed from 1976 to 2010

As far as I know, this exclusive study is the first one of it's kind in 150 years attempting to corelate the Javons Paradox to what I will now call, Rooster's Paradox.

My exhaustive study which took me about 15 minutes, mostly searching with Google has led me to a conclusion about gasoline and the Javons Paradox.

They don't line up.

In the graph concerning fuel deliveries (I have to believe that all the fuel delivered was used, so fuel delivered = fuel consumed) you can see some wild swings in fuel consumption. And on the graph concerning fleet average fuel economy, you see a much more steady track. In fact, between 1985 and 2005 there appears to be no corelation at all between the two, as if consumption of fuel was driven by some factor that excludes efficiency alltogether. The graphs do corelate after 2005 however, in that there was a dramatic increase in fleet fuel economy between 2005 and 2010 while fuel useage dropped significantly over the same period.

There, I've done all the work I want to for now. As I see it, the Roosters Paradox states that either there is no corelation at all, or fuel efficiency actually does lower fuel consumption. So the Roosters Paradox is actually a paradox of Javons paradox...sooo...crap I think I just made a black hole with that sentence.

I'm sure we can find more graphs elsewhere and change the argument. However, because I'm the first, by default my Paradox is right, and it must remain so for at least 150 years...until someone tries to correlate the Rooster's paradox with peak unicorn tear consumption.

But as Mark Twain once said "There are three kinds of lies. Lies, Damned lies and statistics." Or something to that effect.

jamesqf 01-10-2011 12:48 PM


Originally Posted by Frank Lee (Post 214146)
So how many miles do Prius and SUV owners put on/year?

About the same. Though I don't know of any source for exact numbers, if the difference was anywhere near as great as predicted by Jevons' Paradox, there would be an obvious difference, and there's not.

In fact, as Rooster suggests, fuel consumption is primarily driven by factors other than cost. The major factor is time: people use their cars mostly for commuting, plus travelling for recreation & vacations, etc. There are only so many hours in a day, people are only going to spend just so much time commuting, and once they're settled in a house/job, commuting time isn't easily changed. So if they start with an SUV and trade for a Prius, their daily drive doesn't change even though their driving cost has gone way down, because the primary cost of driving is time, not fuel.

roflwaffle 01-10-2011 01:16 PM


Originally Posted by The Rooster (Post 214161)
Interesting, the Javons paradox, founded on the study of actual data reveals a trend in coal consuption 150 years ago.

So sombody takes that data, then universally applies it, without further study, to all forms of fuel, including gasoline.

Yeah, some people tend to do that. The last time we saw Jevon's paradox, ie the increase in efficiency is more than offset by an increase in consumption because of that increase in efficiency (not anything else), was the early 1900s during the expansion of the grid. The rebound effect is common, but efficiency improvements still cut consumption in that context, they just don't cut it "perfectly" so to speak.

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