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A few weeks ago, I went to an interesting talk by Dr. Steve Hallett at Purdue’s Botany and Plant Pathology Department. It was about how efficiency wasn’t going to save the planet, and he referred to the Jevons paradox/effect. Basically, even though we would like to think that more efficient use always means decreased use, historically, increases in the efficiency of many technologies have actually increased consumption.
This has to do with something called the rebound effect: when new technologies allow us to use a resource more efficiently, it drives down prices and can lead to an increase in resource consumption. Granted, I’m not an economist, so at first I was like, “Wow, the Jevons effect makes total sense!” Then I read more about it and apparently things are a lot more complicated. (Aren’t they always?)
While the rebound effect is pretty uncontroversial and well-supported by theory, the Jevons effect is a specific case of the rebound effect where the decrease in resource use due to increased efficiency is smaller than the rebounding increase in resource consumption. This may happen when demand is elastic or very responsive to price, but when demand is inelastic, then we might not see the Jevons effect. So, there is still a lot of debate over the size of the rebound effect in real-world situations, and some people have been using the Jevons paradox to argue that there’s no point in improving energy efficiency. (Gasp!)
In some cases, I can kind of see their point. For example, I really don’t think a whole fleet of energy efficient cars is going to solve the world’s energy problems because of the potentially large rebound effect from people driving more. But weatherproofing a house seems like a pretty good idea, and the rebound effect is probably pretty small because I don’t see how that would make someone turn up their thermostat or air conditioner to heat/cool their home.
So in my non-economic opinion, I don’t think we should totally throw improvements in efficiency out the window, but Dr. Hallett does make a good point that we should stop and think about whether efficiency improvements are always the best solution because there are many ways to address large, global problems that don’t involve improvements in efficiency. Like better public transportation, for example, would probably help reduce the number of cars on the road and reduce energy consumption. Or policies that directly incentivize energy conservation. Or dare I say it, addressing the mother of all problems: population growth.
I finally have a TV and cable subscription this year so I’ve been watching a lot of commercials. Because it’s been a while since I’ve had to sit through commercials, some of this stuff might be really obvious.
• THE VOLUME IS SET AT one higher than 10.
I can tell when there’s a commercial even when it’s on in the background while I’m cooking because the volume suddenly gets REALLY LOUD. I know that a bill has already been passed that regulates the volumes of commercials, but so far nothing much seems to have changed.
• People in commercials remind me of Ralphie from The Simpsons.
People in commercials seem incapable of using blankets, cracking eggs properly, and other pretty simple tasks. It’s a good thing we have all these super useful gadgets to save us from the trouble of using our brain and our motor skills!
• You suck (especially if you’re a woman).
Are you too fat? Are your lashes too thin? Are you actually human and getting wrinkles? Are your buns and thighs not shapely enough without our special, super shoes? Are your breasts not large enough? (Can you imagine if men’s underwear were padded the way that women’s bras are? — I can’t take credit for this actually; my partner came up with that idea first.) Well, it’s probably because you’re not good enough and you need to buy something.
• Dudes, you need to buy your woman some bling. Ladies, your man needs to buy you some bling.
During the holidays, I saw a huge uptick in jewelry ads. It’s nice to be reminded every couple of minutes that my boyfriend doesn’t care about me unless I get something shiny for Christmas. It still blows my mind that a lot of people buy into the big shiny ring thing. The history of the diamond industry definitely shows how powerful marketing can be.
Alrighty. I should stop before I get any snarkier.