The Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements
In January 2002 I was returning to the United States from fieldwork in the Sahel of Mali. My itinerary to and from Mali goes through Paris, where usually I take a layover. On this occasion I arranged to meet friends for dinner, at which we were joined by a Swedish geographer. The conversation turned to various topics, including the platform of the Green Party in upcoming elections. Since we were discussing environmental issues, our Swedish colleague told us about a study he had recently done. It was a project of survey research, in which Swedes had been asked the question, ‘If you were to eat less meat in your daily diet, what would you do with the money this saves?’ It turns out that if Swedes ate less meat, they would like to use the money to travel more. Travel, of course, carries environmental costs, just as does eating meat. Reducing consumption of meat might not reduce environmental damage and certainly wouldn’t eliminate it, a somewhat counter-intuitive outcome. But that is the nature of the Jevons Paradox. An action taken to conserve resources reduces the cost of daily life to such an extent that entirely different kinds of environmental damage become affordable. William Stanley Jevons would have predicted it.
Tainter, J. A. Foreward. In The Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements, by John M. Polimeni, Kozo Mayumi, Mario Giampietro, and Blake Alcott, pp. ix-xvi. Earthscan, London.