Monday, 11 April 2016

rebound or like water for octane

There was a 2001 episode of The Lone Gunmen, a spin-off series from the X-Files, titled as above (after its parent’s flair for headings, though probably even the most dedicated fans could only conjure up “Post-Modern Prometheus”) above the government’s suppression, at the behest of the petroleum industry, an automobile that could run on water. The inventor and the Gunmen, however, ended up destroying the prototype over the realisation that having cars with unlimited mileage on a free and limitless resource would see the entire planet paved over.
This reasoning is a perfect illustration of what’s called the Jevons effect (or Jevons’ paradox)—named after the English economist William Stanley Jevons—positing that while technology might increase the efficiency of using a resource (the steam-engine and coal in the original case), progress in the long run does not lower consumption as growth, facilitated, increases demand. Scholars are still not sure whether these conditions hold or are unsustainable—a sort of moral panic for ecologists, whether the Gunmen were short-sighted in their assessment or whether, prescient, the move towards tele-presence would have been stifled without scarcity—but the warning is certainly a fair one, to be ignored at one’s own peril. No condemnation of progress or pursuit of greater production, similar unintended consequence might be said to arise out of diet (guilt-free) foods or bracketing a motorway with more lanes that only leads to more congestion.  What do you think?  Did Jevons take the right tack or was taken the underprivileged view that progress would always be steam-powered?