Note: these findings rely on understanding what "economy as a whole" means.
The basic finding
On average, improving economic energy efficiency increases the wealth that can be created using energy. That makes it profitable to increase energy use. It also reduces the energy cost for individual energy uses. The ratio between the energy use stimulus and constraint has been a constant. New uses created have been 2.5 times greater than resource savings. That means that, on average, "saving energy" stimulates increasing energy use and accelerates resource depletion worldwide.
Why Economic Efficiency Stimulates
Growth & Consumption
Blog posts ...If reducing our impacts really speeds them up!! what then??...
+ Inside Efficiencies a new short overview of the subject and choices
and in detail
|Fig. 1 - IEA world data 1971-2006: Economic product (GDP in 2000$), Energy use (TPES in quad btu's) and Economic Energy Efficiency ($/btu). Each scaled to their relative growth rates and indexed to their 1971 value. The three curves seem to have a constant average relation to each other, as if part of very same process. [updated]||Fig. 2 - Close
coordination between rates of change in world Energy use and
efficiency. Note alternating faster and slower periods than the
trend line. Periods of rapid increase in energy use
coinciding with periods of slower efficiency improvement,
[Same data as Fig. 1, equalized at 1971] [updated]
Business competition drives production, energy use and efficiency with businesses prospering most when they are most successful at creating efficiencies that remove barriers to expanding production better than their competition. Thus improving efficiency is a principal means of accelerating consumption. Resources for development go to those businesses that are demonstrating their competitive edge.
The data for the 150 year old "Jevons' effect" for the world economy is clear. As the economy is presently operating (taken as a "black box" for energy and efficiency inputs) improving economic efficiency has a 250% rebound effect relative to it's resource use reduction. Innovations, on average, that save 1.0 gal of gas have the effect of stimulating more uses equaling 2.5 gal of gas.
Regarding Jevons' finding 150 years ago of the 'paradox' that economic efficiency accelerates resource depletion
(quoting from my 3/23 edit of the Wikipedia page)
Inside Efficiency - A
few things about how efficiency changes
systems we often leave out…
1. Efficiencies that save money or resources create savings that get used for other things. We tend to count the subtractions but not the additions…
a. Saved money and energy are like “printing money” and “creating energy” not previously available, and often used for leveraging other things
b. Say, a 10 year payback on insulating your house, uses resources to saves and create resources that didn’t exist before… having a positive EROI
i. First you have the added energy use and other impacts of the work
ii. You also free up energy as a resource for others to use for powering other uses with various impacts,
iii. After the 10 years you have what amounts to a new source of income for spending on other entirely new resource uses yourself,
iv. You’ve also given the bank a profit, maybe equal to half of the cost of the work, for it to use in multiplying more investments…
v. the reduced impact you counted is probably equaled by (i & ii) and exceeded by (iii & iv), thus the growth effect.
c. When adding up impacts of spending we may count only what we see, and miss the hidden impacts of the whole system that delivered the goods.
i. we add up the impacts of the physical processes by which things are made, and ignore the usually larger hidden impacts of:
1) the employee, business operation and finance costs and impacts
2) the embodied business development costs and impacts
3) the resource depletion opportunity costs
2. New efficiencies can collapse whole networks of mature technologies,
a. Free internet media now threatens the model of professional journalism
b. New technology used by low wage people can deny markets to formerly well paid people.
3. Creating efficiencies does determine what other people will use them for
a. Saving water where that was a supply barrier to development, invites development, expanded urban infrastructure and demand on all resources.
4. "Do more with less" is what people want and but also and ever steeper climb
a. Matching the efficiencies of competitors is needed to keep investors.
b. With unlimited resources it has the effect of sharing ways to have more
c. With limited resources the effect is sharing ways to take more from others.
5. Efficiencies are a limited resource that gets ever more expensive,
a. Finding ever greater efficiencies is a non-renewable resource, with the same depletion points of vanishing return as diminishing EROI resources. You can plan on their becoming too expensive to use.
b. 2nd law efficiency limits for technologies and whole systems may only be seen in diminishing returns on investment for no other apparent cause.
6. Efficiency has two faces, like Jekyll and Hyde, benefits that become real dangers, like relying on increasing use of specialization or monocultures.
a. Increasing control is decreasing tolerance. It leads to loosing control due to complications that more tolerant designs can overlook.
b. Environmental adaption benefits from complex diversity. Uniformity reduces options, adds to inflexibility and instability in response to change.
c. Accelerating coordinated change becomes accelerating uncoordinated change due to increasingly narrow learning and delayed response.
7. Logic makes computers very efficient for problem solving, but needing perfect inputs to get meaningful outputs
a. Computers treat complex questions as “garbage in” to result in “garbage out”.
b. Nature’s way of computing is wasteful in every step, but takes “garbage in” and produces “fruit and vegetables out” or “garbage in” with “art and music out” using physical system complexity as its tool.
c. The ability to sort out undefined complexities to select what problem needs to be solved, that computers can't do at all, seems to be an important efficiency too.
The problem with our concept of I = P • A • T is that it's missing the hidden 'S'for growth Stimulus
Impacts on the earth = Population • Affluence • Technology efficiency • Stimulus of increasing productivity
It's 150 year old established science, actually. Why we use efficiencies is to simplify our tasks and become more affluent. Our main purpose in improving organization and being more efficient with our tasks, often with improved technology, is to increase our productivity. That's a growth stimulus. That makes using it as a strategy for reducing impacts completely self-defeating. Over a century ago Stanley Jevons noticed the effect in England when improving steam engines to use less coal accelerated the consumption of coal, not the reverse. The added utility and growth stimulus of improved technology, and so the productivity of the people using it, increased the use of the resources it was intended to conserve.
It was called "Jevons' paradox" because it is counter intuitive. It's been widely discussed too. People have simply not applied it to correcting our wishful thinking when it comes to saving the planet from our overconsumption... Though long recognized by many scientists, even other scientist don't take it to heart, so it's been completely ignored in the public advocacy for sustainability by educators, activists, media and government in organizing, planning and research. That's trouble! It happened partly because people normally think by snap judgments, and "go with their intuition". Here our intuition is dead wrong. Somehow even modern economists have just never seemed to mention that as a strategy for impact reduction it fails entirely. Someone needs to research the full story of the confusion. It's both important intellectual history and critical for getting to the bottom of why we let our main solution for relieving our impacts on the earth be a direct multiplier of the very problem it was intended to address.
Sustainability does need efficiency, just not for stimulating even more growth. It sadly does mean that the central tenet of sustainability that people around the world are now relying on has the opposite of the intended effect on our environmental. Look at the language of the proposals. Even the strategies for climate change to reduce CO2 and other GHG emissions are entirely phrased as plans to improve the efficiency of growth. Then look at the curve. It only means money growing faster than impacts. Ot assures that all our kinds of impacts will keep increasing ever faster too, even if marginally slower than the money someone is making off them. The only way to stop adding to our impacts is to stop adding to the economy, really. That means investors accepting their natural fiduciary responsibility for choosing what systems the economy will develop. They'd need to actually use their profits from investments to no longer undermine the value of our common investment in the earth, and invest in long term sustainability instead. That's possible, but means that a fundamental change in the design in the economic system is needed to make sustainability physically feasible.