Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jevons, Roads, and Pants


Good morning, another short entry this morning as I did not notice my wife had changed the alarm setting on my clock this morning.

Back when we lived in Los Angeles, the state widened one freeway that was frequently clogged. This was presented as a way to reduce traffic, but as one commentator shrewdly observed, "Adding a lane to the freeway in order to reduce traffic is like letting out your pants in order to control obesity."

That joke refers to a concept in economics called the Jevons Paradox. In an economic system that is compelled to expand perpetually, any gain in efficiency is used for further expansion. In other words, energy efficiency leads to more energy use, instead of savings.

There is quite a good article about this paradox and its relevance to our current ecological emergency in the current Monthly Review. The question it raises is whether our present order even permits us to address the emergency, or whether the institutional logic of growth, growth, growth guarantees our destruction.


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