Do energy-saving measures actually increase overall energy use?
Having worked in the environmental field for 30 years, I’ve watched the situation get worse every year, to the point that it might already be irreversible, and we don’t know what damage it’s going to do to us, exactly. That’s pretty insane, and so as the cause of the environmental damage is the human economy, I’ve been trying to connect the environmental world with the economic, to give an ecological rationale for building a new economy to replace this one. And I think this might be the way to do it. I’d like your opinion.
Why isn’t fuel consumption falling if technology is becoming more efficient?
I was recently writing our new ‘Low-impact transport’ topic introduction when I came across this graph:
It shows that since 1970, the fuel efficiency of cars and vans in the US has gone from around 14 miles per gallon (apologies if those units are nonsensical to you) to 25, due to fuel-saving technology. Great – so that means they should be using less fuel then? Well, no – in the same time period, fuel consumption for cars and vans in the US has risen from around 230 million gallons per day to nearly 400 million gallons per day.
OK, the population of the US has risen from 203 million in 1970 to 331 million in 2020. That’s a rise of 63%. But fuel consumption has risen by 74% in the same period. So if the aim of all the fuel efficiency technology was to conserve fuel, they’ve completely failed. Why is that, and does the same thing happen with other energy-saving measures?
The Jevons Paradox
Turns out that it does. I remembered that somebody called William Jevons had something to say about this in the 19th century – the Jevons Paradox was named after him.
At the end of the 18th century, James Watt built a new steam engine that used far less coal for the same work as the old Newcomen engine. He promoted it as a coal-saving device, and actually asked for his payment to be the money they saved on coal. Did it work? Of course not – Watt’s engine was responsible for a massive hike in the use of coal. Why? Because it became relatively cheaper to use, so people used more of it, and it caused the economy to grow overall, so everyone had more spending power, so they bought more stuff, which required more fuel to produce and transport, and so on.
Even if people don’t use more of the resource because it’s relatively cheaper, they’ll spend the money saved on other things, that may actually require more energy than was saved; plus if people are getting more bang for their buck, it stimulates GDP growth, which means that consumption increases overall (it’s not possible to have GDP growth that doesn’t result in a growth in material consumption, because GDP growth also means an increase in overall spending power, which can’t be ring-fenced so that it’s not spent on material things).
Turns out that books have been written about this. John Polimeni, 2008 – The Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements.
Attempts to dismiss the Jevons Paradox
But some people disagree. This study seems to dismiss the Jevons Paradox, and this one says that it’s debatable – they insist that energy-saving measures can and do indeed reduce overall energy use. But – in the real world, technological efficiency is constantly improving, but fuel use and ecological destruction is still rising. They seem to be wrong in reality, rather than theory.
Some studies, like this one, admit that energy efficiency measures contribute to economic growth (and they see that as a good thing, of course), but without any discussion as to how we consume less energy or fewer materials in a bigger economy, which in the real world, doesn’t happen.
The UK Energy Research Centre produced a report in 2007 that was honest about the Jevons Paradox / rebound effect – they said that much of the data necessary for quantifying the rebound effect is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Too right – You’d have to follow the path of money spent around the economy, and include ever-more-complex knock-on effects that really have no end. So all we can do in those circumstances is to look at what happens in the real world – materials and energy use is constantly growing, when at the same time, the energy efficiency of our transport, electrical applicances and manufacturing processes is constantly improving. Something’s going wrong, and we can’t just keep assuming that something’s working, when in reality, it’s not.
Why attempts to dismiss the Jevons Paradox have failed
I believe that the reason that the above studies are wrong is that they only consider the initial spend of the money saved by increased energy efficiency. Their studies show that only 6-8% of money saved is spent on energy. But the other 92-94% is still sloshing about in the (growing) economy, and a) nothing it is ever spent on requires zero energy to provide, and b) even if it’s spent on storytelling or massage, those providers will then spend it on something else. It’s going to be spent on energy or something destructive at some point (like pesticides, or something that causes habitat removal).
These studies also claim things like: “Overall, energy efficiency moderated growth in energy use, which has resulted in energy in the U.S. growing slower (sic) than GDP since 1973”. Leaving aside the fact that growing energy use is the problem, regardless of whether it’s growing more slowly than GDP or not, the crucial part of this analysis is ‘in the US’, so what they leave out is:
- energy required to manufacture their fridges, cookers and other goods made in factories on the other side of the world, and..
- transporting those goods to the US.
Nature doesn’t care about your country’s per capita energy use, it cares about global energy consumption, which is rising relentlessly:
… along with raw material use:
See Jason Hickel’s blog.
… because the global economy keeps getting bigger.
There have been other studies, like this one, that, in my opinion, are more comprehensive, in that they look more closely at the effects of overall economic growth, rather than just the immediate destination of the money saved by energy efficiency. They seem to confirm what I’m saying here.
Why energy-saving measures are still beneficial in the right circumstances
Now I’m not suggesting that energy-efficiency measures are a bad thing. If we can find a way to stabilise the economy (unlikely at the moment in the face of hostility from states and the business world), then energy-efficiency measures are exactly what we need. In that case, we’ll be able to get ‘as much’ from less, rather than ‘more’ from less. ‘More’ is not something we can keep having, if we want our planet to remain habitable for humans. Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees (the folks behind the ecological footprint concept) have suggested an energy tax that removes the monetary gain from energy-saving measures, and then removes this tax income from economic circulation, this preventing economic growth. It seems to me that that would work, but would be equally improbable because of state / corporate opposition.
What conclusions can we draw from all this?
Energy saving also saves money, and that money will be spent somewhere else, and re-spent, giving that tiny extra bit of spending power to the economy, so that it’s impossible to save energy overall, unless you don’t earn and don’t spend the money saved by the energy saving measures. In that case, the economy shrinks by a miniscule amount, and that’s what saves energy overall. In a growing economy, the energy becomes relatively cheaper, because people have more spending power, and so they use it more generously (cars are more fuel-efficient, so everybody drives everywhere; people switch to energy-saving LED lights, but have lots more of them), making the economy grow even more, and so on. It seems to me that Jevons was absolutely right.
Have I gone wrong somewhere? I’m not proselytising – I’m curious. This seems to be common sense, rather than ideology. So I don’t care if you’re right-wing or left-wing – where have I gone wrong?
If I haven’t, that has big implications for the economy. Global material resource use and energy use are constantly rising. It’s not possible to stop them rising in a growing economy, and so we have to build and shift to an economy that doesn’t need to constantly grow. That’s going to need a level of international co-operation that it’s very difficult to imagine happening, and so it’s probably be down to groups of pioneers in communities to kick-start it.
About the author: Dave Darby lived at Redfield community from 1996 to 2009. Working on development projects in Romania, he realised they saw Western countries as role models, so decided to try to bring about change in the UK instead. He founded Lowimpact.org in 2001, spent 3 years on the board of the Ecological Land Co-op and was a founder of NonCorporate.org. and the Open Credit Network.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1John Wood October 18th, 2020
Are energy saving measures counterproductive? Not necessarily. There’s a major and pretty obvious flaw in this argument:
“ In a growing economy, the energy becomes relatively cheaper, because people have more spending power, and so they use it more generously (cars are more fuel-efficient, so everybody drives everywhere; people switch to energy-saving LED lights, but have lots more of them), making the economy grow even more, and so on. It seems to me that Jevons was absolutely right”.
This assumes that a ‘growing economy’ means people have more spending power and that they use that to buy more stuff. Neither of these things are a given. In reality, the American dream is dying.
First, the wealth of a few is actually based on the poverty of the many. Until recently, the wealth of the West was based on the exploitation and poverty of the Third World. However as in Monopoly, as wealth is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, more and more players find themselves out of the game. Third World conditions are now arriving in the West, while the pandemic has made Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and others the richest people who have ever lived, able to buy entire countries. Eventually, when one person ‘wins’ Monopoly, everyone loses because the game is over.
Consumer demand has to be constantly stimulated through advertising and various forms of psychological manipulation such as fearmongering. In fact a whole industry has grown up to persuade people to part with their money, starting around the time of the first world war with the Freud family and Edward Bernays. One thing the pandemic has done is cause a lot of people to stop and think about what really makes them happy. An increasing number of people are deciding to work less and enjoy quality time rather than spend money they don’t actually have.
Second, capitalism is disappearing up its own backside. A few years ago, we might buy a camera, various sorts of music players and records / tapes / cds to play on them, a watch, a TV, a DVD player, etc, whereas a single mobile phone will fulfil all these functions. So all the embodied energy in the production and distribution of all these products is no longer required. As everything moves online, there’s less and less stuff to tempt people, and working from home requires less travel, less offices, less city centre coffee bars etc.
Third, it is becoming more and more difficult to actually buy anything. Everything is now merely rented or leased to the public. The economy is driven entirely by debt – credit cards, bank loans, mortgages, as soon as you earn your increasingly pitiful wages, the money disappears back to the financial sector. The ‘cashless society’ is merely the next stage in this takeover of our freedom. As I and others are already discovering, payments will be automated and taken whether we agree or not. You no longer own anything, not even the money you fail to earn.
Fourth, because capitalism is driven by an addiction to making money and individualism, jobs and wages for 99% of people are seen merely as costs to be reduced, so jobs are destroyed and automated, The 1% see us merely as ‘human resources’ to feed their greed and be discarded if not ‘economically active’. We are viewed in exactly the same way as factory farmed animals, the rainforest, the ocean, all ‘natural resources’. ‘It don’t count unless it sells’. So the poor, the weak, the elderly, the disabled, are simply expected to die. The real economy is not growing at all, only the wealth of a smaller and smaller group of people. Statistics are damned lies.
Fifth, as we saw in the banking crisis a few years ago, the whole structure is collapsing. When people simply cannot or will not pay their debts, the debts are worthless. And debts are what the entire system is based on.
The idea of ‘economic growth’ has simply run its course. It is now simply a hollow shell that disguises the reality – that
a system that destroys people as well as planet to hoover up all the wealth and power into the hands of a very few simply has no future. If we let it, it will destroy us all – including the wealthy themselves. Their belief that they can somehow separate themselves and create a utopia on Mars or wherever is beyond stupidity. They are part of the ecosystem too.
The answer is very simple,
We have to start with the acceptance that we are not separate, competing individuals struggling for the supposed ‘survival of the fittest’. We are the planet – we are atoms, molecules, electromagnetic energy, we are a part of an ecosystem that do far seems unique in the universe. We are made of DNA like other living beings, we have evolved to care for and benefit the evosystem as a whole, not become a cancer on it.
The planet is billions of years old. It will survive us and move on. But idiot capitalism will have been a disaster that will take a very long time to heal.
So what has all that to do with energy saving measures?
Energy saving measures save energy. They improve peoples’ lives directly. They reduce demand and empower ordinary people to be less dependent on corporate bullies and pirates. They are therefore a good thing. And they do not necessarily drive spending elsewhere if people wake up to what really matters to them.
2Dave Darby October 18th, 2020
John Wood – thanks.
“Are energy saving measures counterproductive?”
– I’m only saying this is true in a perpetually-growing economy.
“This assumes that a ‘growing economy’ means people have more spending power”
– Yes of course – that’s just a tautology. If spending power doesn’t increase (overall, regardless of how it’s shared), then GDP doesn’t increase. In other words, GDP is an increase in the output of goods and services, but that’s not possible if there’s not a corresponding increase in spending power to purchase them.
“and that they use that to buy more stuff.”
– Again, this isn’t my opinion – humanity uses more energy and raw materials every year (unless there’s a glitch, like this year), because we have more stuff – more clothes, flights, cars, gadgets etc. I’m not arguing with your attack on capitalism. It’s capitalism’s perpetual desire for a return on investment, and as you say, ubiquitous advertising, that causes the quest for perpetual growth.
“First, the wealth of the few….. “
– Agreed, but that doesn’t address my points.
“Second, capitalism is disappearing up its own backside…. “
– But global energy and materials use is rising relentlessly, so this theory doesn’t work in practice.
“Third, it is becoming more and more difficult to actually buy anything.”
– Hmmm, no – Amazon. Rented / leased goods still require energy and materials. And I repeat, in the real world, energy and materials use rises remorselessly. (Debt and the cashless society – I agree with your points, but it doesn’t address my points about GDP).
“Fourth, because capitalism is driven”
– Sure, but I’m just repeating myself now. In the real world, GDP, energy and materials use is growing, and killing nature. (and btw, stabilising the economy would need a new kind of economy to replace capitalism, which needs to perpetually grow).
“The idea of ‘economic growth’ has simply run its course.”
– For people like you and me, maybe. But it’s still the policy of every government on earth, the advertising industry is geared to generating it, the corporate media ensures that it’s seen as ‘common sense’ and it’s still happening.
“Energy saving measures save energy.”
– but in a perpetually-growing economy, they absolutely don’t. They make energy cheaper, and then more of it is used. It was as true in Jevon’s day as it is now. You haven’t touched on the premise of the article. Technology constantly improves energy efficiency, and yet energy use continues to rise.
“And they do not necessarily drive spending elsewhere if people wake up to what really matters to them.”
Sure – but that’s not happening, which is why Jeff Bezos’s income is measured in the billions per day.
3Daniel Scharf October 18th, 2020
I don’t want my comments to detract/distract in any way from what John has said. But wanted to put in a plug for a lower national speed limit. This has been resisted by the Treasury due to less tax being collected if cars drove at more efficient speeds (the equivalent of to 1% on income tax) saving, 30% of carbon emissions. Although drivers would save money this is unlikely to rebound with spending on driving further, due to the constant time budget that suggests drivers do not want to spend more time in their cars (average < 1hr/day). I accept that the money saved could be spent on other things producing carbon. Nothing to do with the Jevans paradox or KB postulate, but a 50mph limit would incentivise EVs by reducing the comparative advantage of ICEs, and coaches could travel safely at 70mph or more in the overtaking lane of dual carriageways.https://sites.google.com/site/pauseforthought/home/greenspeed
4Anthony Hay October 18th, 2020
I’m trying to think it through. If I have a small income of £100 I might spend £50 on rent, £25 on food and £25 to keep warm (energy). If the efficiency of my heating improves I might need to spend only £15 to keep warm, leaving me £10 spare. I can use that £10 to improve the quality of my life – buy better food, go to a cinema, take a bus to visit family.
In this story, my life is better because of higher efficiency. I have more choice, but I don’t have more money. I give less money to one entity (electricity co.) and more to another (cinema). Does this mean the economy has grown? I don’t know.
5Dave Darby October 18th, 2020
(From a Jevons’ perspective) in any economy, energy-efficiency improvements will reduce the price of energy per unit of heat output. There will be lots of people who are not quite warm enough, but can’t afford to turn the heating up. Those people will heat their homes more if it’s cheaper. On the other hand, businesses that have lower heating bills can invest that little bit more in hiring new workers, building new factories, increasing production etc. and the economy will grow slightly, increasing energy and resource use.
In your story, your actions haven’t caused growth in the economy, but it won’t have saved any energy overall either, because that £10 you spent in the cinema will be paid out in wages (for example) and will circulate round the economy, and will end up causing the same amount of energy to be used. The only way to use less energy overall is to earn £10 less and therefore spend £10 less, shrinking the economy by a tiny amount, and therefore saving energy.
6Steve Gwynne October 18th, 2020
I don’t think you especially missed anything other than the effects of human population growth and the fact that Asian tiger countries are and have been growing rapidly in the last few decades.
Similarly, Western populations are growing too and despite declining energy consumption per capita in Western countries, households are increasingly two car families with a huge uptake of SUV’s, so perhaps declines aren’t so prominent either.
This prominent study details the hockey stick for population, consumption, degradation etc.
Updates of the graphs are here
Increased urbanisation is a consideration too, which is part of the series of graphs.
Most of the growth in per capita energy consumption over the last few decades has been driven by increased consumption in transitioning middle-income (and to a lesser extent, low income countries). In the chart we see a significant increase in consumption in transitioning BRICS economies (China, India and Brazil in particular); China’s per capita use has grown by nearly 250 percent since 2000; India by more than 50 percent; and Brazil by 38 percent.
Whilst global energy growth is growing from developing economies, the trend for many high-income nations is a notable decline. As we see in exemplar trends from the UK and US, the growth we are currently seeing in transitioning economies ended for many high-income nations by over the 1970-80s period. Both the US and UK peaked in terms of per capita energy consumption in the 1970s, plateauing for several decades until the early 2000s. Since then, we see a reduction in consumption; since 2000, UK usage has decreased by 20-25 percent.
7Dave Darby October 18th, 2020
As I touched on in the article, energy use has only fallen in rich countries because manufacturing has been exported to poor countries. The energy used to manufacture our fridges, cookers, laptops, clothes, almost all consumer goods isn’t counted in rich countries’ figures. Neither is the fuel used in cargo ships or planes to import them. I’m pretty sure energy used in holiday flights isn’t counted either, as it’s not used in-country (at least it wasn’t counted last time I looked at this – don’t know about now).
Which is why energy use is rising so fast in poor countries (they’re supplying rich countries’ markets) and global energy and materials use keeps rising, which is the real killer.
8Anthony Hay October 18th, 2020
If ice cream was cheaper I’d almost certainly buy more of it.
If the cost of energy were to shrink to nothing I think we’d trash the planet faster than we are now.
If energy is not free, but we need only a little to operate our very efficient machines, we’d trash the planet faster than we are now.
I can see that if only some people have efficient machines they can make a product cheaper than a competitor so they grow at the expense of the competitor.
But I’m still not clear where the money comes from to grow the global economy, just because of efficiency. (Because I don’t understand.)
But I do think greater efficiency leads to faster trashing.
9Dave Darby October 18th, 2020
“If ice cream was cheaper I’d almost certainly buy more of it.”
– Me too.
“But I’m still not clear where the money comes from to grow the global economy, just because of efficiency.”
– This is quite a shocker if you haven’t come across it before, but almost all new money comes into existence when banks make loans. If you go into a bank and ask for a loan for £100k – for a mortgage say, they’ll check your credit and employment record etc, and if they agree, they’ll deposit it into your account. But it didn’t come from anywhere – they didn’t have it stashed somewhere. This Positive Money video explains it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvpbQlQwl0A&feature=emb_logo – the juicy bit starts around 6.30, but it’s all relevant (other good vids on their website).
“But I do think greater efficiency leads to faster trashing.”
– Yep, that’s what Mr Jevons said.
10Dave Darby October 18th, 2020
Daniel – yes, I guess that particular energy-saving measure wouldn’t necessarily increase mileage driven because it would take more time. It’s an unusual energy-saving measure. But it would save money, which would be spent elsewhere.
Good idea about the coaches. I think George Monbiot said something like that too.
11Andrew Rollinson October 20th, 2020
Try this little game:
When playing Monopoly, if someone gets bankrupted and is ‘out’ of the game, instead of their game being over, give them another chance: Let them re-join the game, and give them (from the bank) the same amount of money that they were given at the start, but no property. This seems fair and caring doesn’t it? But see what develops…. All their money will rapidly go to existing players. The re-entrant is just a source of money for the sharks in the game, money which is given free from the banks so that it can then transfer to the monopolisers.
Does this sound familiar? Monopoly is is a very insightful game. We found this our while playing the game as a family and only liking it to the point where people begin to suffer as one person takes over.
If I build a renewable energy machine and it is off-grid, any savings in efficiency will remain as a benefit – to me and the environment. It is when things become grid/market/economics tied and part of a competitive world that the Jevons paradox kicks in. It is my firm opinion that Jevons was right, remains right in a modern context, and that you are right too Dave.
12Dave Darby October 20th, 2020
Andrew – yes, I’ve never understood why the game of Monopoly didn’t cause a revolution, when people realise that’s how the world works.
13Steve Gwynne October 24th, 2020
This seems to answer your question in a roundabout way.
14Dave Darby October 24th, 2020
Quillette eh? Yeah, resources have become relatively cheaper because economic growth over the last 40 years has increased global spending power. But it’s also increased material and energy use, and removed 2/3 of nature. It’s not something we can continue doing and survive. Quillette and people like Toby Young have a blind spot when it comes to ecology that makes them very dangerous if taken seriously.
15Steve Gwynne October 25th, 2020
Hi Dave. For myself, what the article highlights is that it is technology that is creating relative abundance by making goods and services relatively cheaper over time. This is indeed being facilitated by capitalism or more specifically market competition. As more businesses compete over market share, technology is developed and utilised within competitive relationships which is reducing the relative price, making goods and services more affordable and available. Along with human population growth this is increasing consumption.
Thus the Jevons Paradox is deeply embedded within technology driven market competition which along with human population growth is increasing aggregate consumption.
From this point of view, the Jevons Paradox (the effect of increasing efficiencies due to technological development) can only be overridden by price fixing and thereby limiting affordability. This will limit availability and consumption and probably the growth of the human population.
Yes, of course, from an ecological level, by facilitating market competition and relative price reductions over time, more and more resources are being consumed which is leading to increasing co2 emissions, increasing biodiversity loss and increasing ecological degradation. Particularly as the human population grows.
I’m more centrist myself so not shy at looking at both sides of the political equation. Obviously, taxes or price fixing can be utilised to limit consumption growth and by effect population growth but what is interesting, in a dour sort of way, is the ability of humans to create economic systems which allows for the Maximum Power Principle to be realised via the efficiency effects of technology and the profit deriving effects of human population growth.
In other words, a symbiosis between technological development and human population growth via unrestrained market competition is creating consumption growth. Any one of these variables can be limited to restrict consumption.
However, to restrict any of these variables will undoubtedly require State intervention which is presumably why any political grouping, whether communist, socialist, liberal, conservative or libertarian seeks to capture the mechanisms of the State.
However, as this important paper suggests
the pathway towards a Sustainable Prosperity trajectory embeds economic and social hazards since even with significant income equalities, the risk of tipping into a recessionary downward spiral is high. This is somewhat offset by increased government borrowing. Unfortunately the paper, although recommended by a commentator regarding your recent economic articles, there is no mention of a deteriorating tax base. Hence this paper has not included as a variable deteriorating public services, although as I say this is somewhat offset by increased government borrowing.
My point being, is that societies in general actively seek to avoid economic contraction because 1) it increases the likelihood of poverty and social unrest 2) the biological drive towards self-preservation.
In this context, as counterintuitive as it seems, the Sustainable Prosperity pathway is the risk strategy compared to the Low Carbon pathway. Similarly, business as usual is the risk strategy compared to the Low Carbon pathway.
Overall, unless price controls are put in place and increasing relative poverty becomes an acceptable norm especially in terms of public service provision, then both human populations and material consumption will grow until they can’t due to ecological collapse.
Essentially, in order to overcome the biological drive towards seif preservation and the desire to avoid poverty and how this aggregates within democracies as political support for market economies, then we would require a deeply authoritarian government that would forcibly limit human population growth and forcibly limit consumption growth through price fixing which despite being within an environment of income equality will result in increasing poverty, especially in terms of the provision of public services. This will inevitably lead to social unrest and conflict and quite possibly war.
I appreciate your dislike of competitive market economies for their destruction of our precious ecological environment but for many people, the alternative is far far worse. You presume the profit motive is the primary problem when in reality the primary problem is people’s desire to avoid poverty, social unrest and the conflicts that would inevitably arise by limiting material consumption under conditions of a growing human population.
This preference is motivated by self preservation and wellbeing and is realised as the Maximum Power Principle which itself is manifested as human hierarchies that unevenly seek to capture the necessary resource security to survive.
16Dave Darby October 25th, 2020
Don’t really want to engage with what states might or might not do. They’re corporate-captured and have been making things worse for a long time. If other people have the time, energy or interest, great, but I don’t. I just want to help build community-based alternatives, that don’t have to perpetually grow and don’t concentrate wealth (most interested in systems that don’t require fiat money – ultimately the only way to avoid poverty and extraction). I always avoid the population thing too – it’s going to stabillise relatively soon (or crash if we keep killing nature), and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, except educate girls.
“I appreciate your dislike of competitive market economies” – no, I don’t dislike truly competitive market economies (I don’t want only one baker in my community, in case I don’t like their bread). I dislike skewed corporate economies and monopolies, like this one. A mutual credit / C-M-C economy is a free market – something capitalism can never be.
17Chris Smaje October 26th, 2020
Thanks Dave, interesting piece.
Seems to me that while the Jevons paradox isn’t a logical given, you and others are right it pretty much is a given when you attach resource use to a monetizing, profit-seeking and inherently expansionary economy. There’s an ecomodernist industry searching for absolute decoupling in increasingly improbable ways – from Kuznets curves to Kuznets ‘waves’ – but it further resembles angels on pinhead stuff with each passing day. You’re right to use global data and ask where the systemic forces for (fossil) energy descent are. Nowhere at present.
Regarding Ehrlich-Simon, Ehrlich would have won the wager in most decades since 1900 (see my ‘A Small Farm Future’ page 40). Simon basically got lucky, unfortunately fuelling cornucopian imaginaries long after the various problems with this whole framing should have received a more sober airing.
18David Gregory April 13th, 2021
Bring on the mass adoption of electric cars! It’s not a silver bullet of course, but it’s a step in the right direction given the efficient use of energy (and the chance that it can be relatively green).