Lies My Newspaper Told Me

An article entitled “Lies My Newspaper Told Me” is a somewhat humorous (and R-rated) essay that I bumped into this morning; The 5 “lies” are:

1. Home solar is the wave of the future
2. Eating local will save the earth
3. Hybrid cars will solve our carbon woes
4. Home ownership: your best investment
5. Hands-free cellphones make multitasking effortless

What piqued my interest was the author’s reference to an important insight by the 19th century British economist William Jevons called the “Jevons Paradox”. The “Jevons Paradox” predicts that an “unintended” consequence of technological progress (e.g., hybrid cars and CFL’s) is that increased energy efficiency encourages encourage more (rather than less) energy consumption. So the same person who would otherwise be careful about turning her incandescent lights off and driving her gas powered car less will think nothing of leaving her CFL’s on and driving her hybrid car more. Basically, by lowering the cost of energy use at the level of the individual, the “paradox” is that technological innovations such as hybrid cars and CFL’s may actually increase overall energy consumption by society.

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