Today’s Headlines

  • Caltrain to Hold Public Hearings Today on Proposed Budget Cuts (SF Examiner)
  • Caltrain Passengers Injured After Train Hits Platform (BCN via SF Examiner)
  • Mountain View Officials Urge Caltrain to Keep San Antonio Station Open (Daily News)
  • More Traffic Calming Measures Coming to Masonic Avenue (BIKE NOPA)
  • Woman Critical After Being Hit by Driver on Market/O’Farrell (BCN via SF Appeal)
  • Bicyclist Hurt in Crash with 43-Masonic (BCN via SF Appeal)
  • MWAA Board Puts Off Decision on Hiring SFMTA Chief Nat Ford (City Insider)
  • SF Gate: “Ross Mirkarimi has a Plan to Jazz Up Fillmore Street”
  • SF School Students to Get Lessons in Bike Safety (SF Examiner)
  • Whoops, with “Clean” Cars People Drive More (Tree Hugger via Streetsblog LA)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • A

    “with “Clean” Cars People Drive More” — yeah, it’s called the Jevons paradox.

  • jd

    A: exactly what I was about to say. We need to learn as a culture that our problems aren’t technological; in fact, the technology is causing the problems. If we want to solve our sustainability problems, we need to learn to do it through policy and hence behavior change. Making things more efficient, without corresponding changes in policy/behavior, will not stop consumption. It’s classic Jevons Paradox.

    This is a great video of one such type of policy we could enact to accompany gains in efficiency (increasing leisure time):

    Another policy would be, when talking about car usage, a much higher gas tax which actually internalizes all currently-externalized costs so that, even with an efficient car, it’s still very expensive to drive. In fact, it shouldn’t just be gas that is taxed, but all natural resources, for fossil fuels to precious metals used in all our electronics which also are very limited. And then there are all the other externalized costs of cars — contribution to the obesity epidemic, destruction of the livability of our cities (eg, noise, dehumanizing effect on people, disproportional injury to vulnerable road users in accidents, etc), creation of sprawl which begets more cars, etc. — which also should be rolled into a tax.

    I believe that, as a culture, we worship at the altar of technology and are so blinded by it that, even when it is causing us so many problems, we mostly refuse to acknowledge any downside to our technology. And when we do acknowledge it, we then think the solution is more technology!

    Instead, with each new technology, there must be a corresponding effort to educate people and adapt to this technology. And there must be an open acknowledgment of all the cons of any technology so that we don’t externalize any costs. This means that we must carefully consider policy and behavior so that the technology does not get out of control. Right now, I picture a bar graph with two columns: one represents how much emphasis we put on technology and is huge, the other represents how much emphasis we put on social “engineering”, policy, and education, and is tiny. Instead, the two graphs should be equal height. Each time we advance technology and push the technology graph a little higher, it needs to be accompanied by a corresponding advance in policy, otherwise you get massive problems that our modern society is starting to encounter (namely, that we live on a finite planet with finite resources, and any attempt to live otherwise will ultimately be catastrophic).

    The whole clean car and green energy thing, I believe, epitomizes our problems. We could be focusing less resources on technological solutions and instead focus on policy solutions, but we love our technology so much that we can’t stop …. even if it literally kills us.

  • Jevon’s paradox only applies when certain assumptions are met. If the price of the resource in question (oil) remains stable, then it’s true that increases in fuel efficiency may lead to greater net fuel consumption.

    However, it may well be the case that peak oil has already arrived, and fuel prices going forward will increase fast enough that overall consumption goes down.

    In fact, it’s pretty easy to see that if only half the amount of fuel is available at some point in the future, then — guess what? Fuel consumption will be cut in half (at least), regardless of how efficient vehicles become.

  • taomom

    Jevons Paradox only holds up in situations with an expanding energy supply–a double-edged sword that most of the nineteenth century and twentieth century had in spades. With a declining energy supply–the reality of the twenty-first century staring us in the face that we have yet to comprehend–improvements in efficiency will indeed lead to less energy consumed, though less energy will be consumed regardless.

    Both technology and behavioral change have a role to play in the coming years. Install LED bulbs *and* remember to turn off the lights. Take short showers *and* install a low-flow showerhead. Install solar panels *and* reduce your electrical use by unplugging the second refrigerator, using powerstrips to eliminate vampire power, and unplugging useless gadgets. Drive an electric or gas-sipping car *and* reduce your VMT through walking, biking and taking transit whenever you can.

    I agree that there is one fabulous green technological panacea that is going to save us, and that we are often far too complacent and uncritical of new technologies that have their dark side. However, technology is a broad word, and there are many, many simple, proven technologies that we are idiots not to implement as quickly as possible: attic insulation, ceiling fans instead of air conditioning, solar hot water systems, weatherstripping, programmable thermostats, frontload washing machines, high efficiency refrigerators, outdoor clotheslines, high efficiency HVAC units, and the mighty bicycle. For the Bay Area I would add ductless heat pumps, heat exchange ventilators, turf playing fields instead of grass, and drip irrigation systems. It’s conserving two percent here and three percent there in all sorts of ways that will get us down to levels of energy consumption we can possibly sustain.

    We’d rather change technology than behavior because it because takes less effort. But the behavioral changes are coming too.

  • taomom

    I agree that there is *not* one fabulous green technological panacea . . .

    (Also, apologies to peternatural for completely repeating his point about Jevons Paradox!)

  • While I agree with taomom and peternatural to an extent, doesn’t the Jevons Paradox bring about the reduced supply of a resource (in this case energy) more quickly? It just happened that coal depletion was stalled because oil was discovered, there isn’t going to be a ace in the sleeve to save us from oil depletion.

    I’d also argue that conservation needs to be paralleled with taxes that keep the price constant to fend off the Jevons Paradox which feeds on the fact that conservation will keep prices artificially low. Example, if 100 barrels of oil are saved, the price of oil still needs to stay as high as if those 100 barrels weren’t saved or else that energy will flow to a place that hasn’t conserved and won’t because there isn’t the economic incentive.

  • I think I confused myself with that last post, sorry.

  • We are sitting on 2 Libyas worth of extra global oil capacity.

    Also, $10 increase in oil = 25 cents at the pump.

    Maybe the “Thrilla-from-Wisilla” can rain down oil from the North in 2012 and all will remain as it was. It’s going to be an interesting election cycle.

  • taomom

    If a particular energy supply is readily available and has a lower cost than other forms of energy, then you’ll see all sorts of conversions from other forms of energy to make use of this cheaper energy supply. For example, the main source of energy before coal was human and animal labor. As we learned to use coal (and then oil) ever more efficiently, the price per unit of work the energy could perform continued to drop and we human beings became ever more clever at exchanging human and animal labor for the power contained in fossil fuels. Yes, people might die while mining coal and the air grew a bit dank while burning it, but other than that there were no perceived drawbacks. Full steam ahead!

    As an energy supply becomes constrained, the price goes up. An increase in price may spur energy efficiency which might temporarily decrease use and lower price. But depletion of supply will soon force the price back up to previous levels or higher, again spurring more efficient use and decreased consumption (or for those economies refusing to adapt, generating an economic crash.)

    The faster a country pushes itself down the efficiency curve, the less it will ultimately spend in total on expensive energy. Countries that become more efficient only in response to price will ultimately pay the most for their consumption of energy. Taxation of constrained energy supplies to artificially raise the price gives further impetus to accelerate down the efficiency curve with the added benefit that the money can be invested in infrastructure that furthers efficiency (for example, public transit.) So yes,in the face of a depleting energy supply and rising energy costs, taxation to encourage rapid efficiency and conservation, though perhaps unpopular, is a smart thing to do.

    If there were no constraints to our energy supply and no costs to its use, it would make no sense to conserve at all. The more we used of it, for whatever purpose, the better! We could all aspire to play waterpolo in bio-engineered domes on Mars for our children’s birthday parties, because it would be entirely a matter of how cleverly we could make infinite amounts of energy do our bidding. Star Trek here we come.

    However, except for a few abiotic “enthusiasts”, most scientists and geologists acknowledge that given the technology currently available to us (or even in prototype) our energy supply for the foreseeable future is constrained not only in gross supply, but in terms of its polluting and destabilizing effects on our climate. Most countries without a large internal supply of oil have already faced this and realized it behooved them to zip down the efficiency and conservation curves as fast as possible. (See Germany and Japan.)

    Any country that believes that its energy supply is infinite and that its consumption has no discernible negative side effect will of course resist conservation until reality convinces them otherwise. At that point they will find out the cost of being late to the efficiency and conservation game.

    If Jevons Paradox were applicable to the present day, then hyper-efficient Germany and Japan would use more energy per person than the United States, not the half they currently do. Maybe they have done it for nothing–maybe we will have a breakthrough in energy that renders moot any need for conservation and efficiency. Maybe. But since no source of cheap, plentiful, sustainable energy is on the immediate horizon, (certainly nothing with the high Energy Returned on Energy Invested ratio-EROEI–that oil has) not even Bill Gates’ magic thorium reactors, I am doubtful I’ll see it in my lifetime. Without a high EROEI energy source, our only chance to maintain any kind of highly functioning society is severe conservation and the greatest efficiency we can manage.

  • Richard

    Correlation != Causation. Just because lots of people bought “green” cars in Sweden and, during the same time frame, people drove more does NOT necessarily imply that people drive more with clean cars. Maybe the report addresses this issue (I can’t read Swedish), but the TreeHugger post certainly does not.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about VMT increasing (and maybe the relationship is legitimate), but this doesn’t tell us what the headline says it does.