Dispensing with the hogwash

Thought I'd help you all get your weekend started. Try this one on for size.

I have heard it said many times that it's not worth conserving oil, gas, water—you name it—because one person's conservation frees up the resource for Hummer Howard to use it. Witness this exchange from a recent comment thread:

Roger: I think the only way is to change your own life-style and start making an example yourself. Me, I'm changing it right now. My car uses Natural gas and i drive as little as possible, only for work (I'm an IT-manager). I have wood-stove installed in my house and I am storing a over 3 years supply of wood in my garden (yes, hand sown and chopped by myself). I've installed only 4 watt special light bulbs in my house.
...(etc deleted)

Reno: unfortunately Roger, for every savings you make, someone else is wasting your effort, just as Congressman Bartlett refers to in his Peak Oil speeches.. Its will take the effort of EVERYONE before any real results are realized on a national level. But I do applaud your effort.. I actually walked to the grocery store instead of driving the other day...

No offense to our wonderful commenters, but please. This is such a load of hogwash. Let's see if I can explain why.

It's true that one person's consumption is a drop in the bucket. So on one hand, it may be accurate to for someone to use it as an excuse not to conserve if no one else is (please note that I am NOT accusing reno of that). But the flip side of that coin is that if a single person's usage is relatively insignficant, then you aren't really providing much for Hummer Howard to guzzle up in your absence.

Given that, then, there are reasons why a single person's conservation efforts may ultimately affect many people.

  1. If you do it, you can talk about it. Roger's neighbors clearly see him stocking 3 years worth of wood in his backyard, and may have asked him what he's doing. Visible actions especially make an impact, and can be a conversation starter that allows you to talk to people about the relevant issues.

    Another case in point: The other day, my neighbor saw us taking the compost up to the drop-off location. We chatted about it briefly. A few days later, we found a letter under our door. The building's tenant's association is starting a newsletter, and my neighbor wants us to write a short article about composting. Now we'll reach nearly a thousand people, all because my neighbor saw me with a bag of reeking organic waste.

  2. You're doing the right thing. Does it really make sense to say, "Well no one else is doing it, so why should I?" Or, "If I don't use it, someone else will." This is merely a cop out, and one that's inconsistent with your beliefs. While you may not have the space or the land to plant a garden and dig a well, there are other little things you can do. Drive less. Carpool, or get a bike. Consolidate your errands. Carry cloth bags. Buy eco-responsible cleansers. Help out at a community garden. Join a CSA. If you start doing it now, while there are still plenty of other amenities in life to make you comfortable, you'll be better off later on when you're forced to take these changes on.

  3. You are a role model for people who are close to you. If you have young children, you're raising them to do the right thing. They won't have to reprogram themselves, because you will have already instilled in them the right values. It will be second nature for them to look for minimally packaged goods, or even run their cars on biodiesel, should that be something you want to attempt.

  4. How do we get reno's EVERYONE to start taking conservation seriously? Well, there has to be a first for everything, right? Why not you? And once you do, you have the moral high ground, and can start broadcasting your message however you best see fit. Find a nearby farm that will collect compost, and put up fliers in your area about it. Join a neighborhood association. Comment on blogs. Heck, start your own.

If it were up to me, I would ban any further mention of the idea that "if you don't use it, someone else will" on this blog. Since none of us rule by fiat, however, I ask you to please refrain from voicing that sentiment around here so we can move on to the positive (again, no offense to reno, who is also to be commended for his own positive contribution).

Update [2005-8-20 8:53:43 by ianqui]: Some of you have taken my final paragraph here as trying to stifle debate. I would never mean to do that. As I wrote in a comment below: "I just don't think it helps us—or the debate—to dwell helplessly on the idea that "if everyone doesn't change, no one will." You're absolutely right—we have to figure out ways to get people to change, and I like to think that this post was presenting an argument for why personal conservation efforts might be a catalyst within our communities." That was my intention here; I would never want to censor conversation on The Oil Drum.

Also, please see my comment on why I didn't use the term Jevons Paradox to describe what I wrote about in this post.

First post??? ;)
Ok, I've never done a dumbass "first post" before, but sice it appeared to be the first post ever on this version of the blog, I could not resist.

I think personal change is important, but mostly because it helps to change the cultural/political climate.

Although the fact that we bought a house specifically so we could walk to work, to restaurants, etc., and paid a housing premium as a result, does impact "the world," I don't think ultimately it makes much difference as a pure calculation of energy saved.

It may, however, set an example for others, promote the value/desirability of dense urban living, which may lead to political and infrasturture changes that are meaningful. Not just poor people live in the city anymore, and the political influence of city dwellers, and their energy efficient political desires (sidewalks, transit, parks instead of spawling backyards) get fulfilled.

Little things, like drops in a bucket do add up.  Calculus shows us that small changes and small rates of change can have long term effects (even economists figured this one out eventually with compound interest).  But the real impact of small changes is modeled most accurately with chaos theory - small changes at the right time and space can have a huge impact on the overall system.  If you take this concept into progressive spiritual thought "all minds are linked" is the truism.  

Individual actions do count and are not just absorbed by a new Hummer burning more oil.  We are all part of social web and information is communicated and meaning is realized much faster than any parts or subsets of the whole system can ever be cognizant of.  Live according to your ideals.  They do matter and they do affect the whole world.  Really.

Not even counting quantum mechanics, almost everything we see is the combined effect of many small events.
Hmmm.  This is the first thing I've read on this forum that's been pretty irritating.  How about we don't censor people from an environmental correctness perspective.  It's also obviously true that indivual voluntary conservation efforts will have no effect whatsoever on the overall situation as long as there's tons of people lining up to buy more gas if only they could afford it (as some of them will be able to when you stop using yours).  Your effort to stifle debate will not enhance the logic of your position one iota.  How about we put our time and efforts into much more productive things like trying to analyze the truth of the supply situation and trying to invent solutions.  Or at least get off the backs of those of us who'd rather do those things.
Stuart, you're right. I got pissy yesterday when I was thinking about this issue, and ended up with that last sentence. I'm certainly not trying to stifle debate, but I guess I just don't think it helps us—or the debate—to dwell helplessly on the idea that "if everyone doesn't change, no one will." You're absolutely right—we have to figure out ways to get people to change, and I like to think that this post was presenting an argument for why personal conservation efforts might be a catalyst within our communities.
Wow!  What a weak first post.  Attacks the Jevons Paradox without even stating it by name.

Go ahead and conserve.  There's lots of good reasons to do so, but it won't save the world for the same reasons that increasing food production won't make a difference in the long-term (populations will just rise).

The more people that conserve the better, but as long as there's a significant number of jerks, we're all screwed.  It's just that the jerks will be screwed harder. ;)

I specifically didn't call it Jevons Paradox because it's not clear to me that "personal conservation" = "increased efficiency". According to the Wikipedia entry (which I did read carefully before posting this):

"The Jevons Paradox, named after its discoverer, William Stanley Jevons, states that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase, rather than decrease. In particular, Jevons' paradox implies that the introduction of more energy efficient technologies may, in the aggregate, increase the total consumption of energy."

If you take that definition, Jevons paradox is about technological efficiency, and that's not what I'm talking about. I concede that personal conservation may be a corollary to Jevons paradox, but it's not part of the classical definition. Also, given Wikipedia's conclusion to their definition of the corollary, I decided not to use the term in this case, but yes, I should have said so in the main body of the post.

Jevons Paradox is often used to support the argument that localized solutions to global problems can aggrevate overall problem. It is claimed that Jevons paradox implies that as individuals become increasingly efficient, the overall economy compensates by supporting additional individuals and increasing overall consumption. However, since Jevons paradox is really just an anecdotal observation (as opposed to a logical paradox), it is insufficient by itself to support such an argument.

The other point of this post is to somehow convince the jerks, and I'm arguing that one way to start doing that is for us to be a model ourselves.

ianqui, now you're talking.  If the above had been in the post, "weak" wouldn't have made it into my comment.

I would like to point out that I've yet to see anybody say, "Don't conserve because of the Jevons Paradox."  Rather, what I see is folk saying, "Conserve, but we'll run out of oil all the same."  So I see Jevon's Paradox as piece in the argument for peak oil, rather than an argument against conservation.

As a hint towards evidence against the Jevons paradox, one might look at the usage statistics for water or electricity after the public is asked to conserve by government.  This would have to be in an area where the price is set by a market.  My intuition is that you would indeed see a short-term reduction followed by no effect, or a rise in anything longer than the short-term.

Perhaps we should do like economists did with the Efficient Markets Theory and break Jevons Paradox into a weak and strong version?

Wow, what a weak comment to the post.
That's why it was a comment and not a post.
Don't forget, another thing you can do, if you believe Peak Oil is coming soon, is to invest in oil futures and options. This has the desirable side effect of making oil more expensive today and less expensive in the future. Conservation tends to have the opposite effect, making oil less expensive today because it is more available.

Also, investing in future oil happens to have the side effect of making you rich (if you're right), which will give you more clout in the world of the future to have your ideas heard and implemented.

The main down side of course is that if you guess wrong about the future, you pay a real price, unlike with conservation where you still save money even if the oil situation doesn't quite go the way you expect. However most Peak Oil proponents seem to be quite confident about their predictions, so this should not be much of an issue for them.

I've seen a lot of suggestions recently that go in the form: peak oil leads to high prices which leads to lots of money for people willing to "put their money where their mouth is,"  therefore peak oil types should do less talking and more buying of oil futures.

I think the whole argument is flawed in two ways.

First, the link between peak oil and high prices is not nearly so direct as this argument suggests.  There are very long lead times on both increasing production (finding new oil fields, drilling wells, etc.) and reducing consumption (buying new efficient cars, waiting for old gas guzzlers to wear out, upgrading factories with more efficient equipment, etc.).  This means that people make these changes only gradually, when circumstances make it clear that particular change is worth making.  The result is that both increases in production and reductions in demand will lag spikes in prices by quite a bit.  And that will mean that prices are likely to become very volatile.  Volatile prices are likely to include high prices at various times along the way, but that most definitely does not mean that buying oil futures is a guaranteed way to become rich.  I'm willing to bet that we'll see $35 a barrel oil again in our lifetimes.  (This will be after horrific price spikes have made nearly everyone become much more effiicient and huge amounts of money have been invested in marginal fields so as to keep post-peak production as close to peak levels as possible.)

Second, even if you're not only pretty sure that prices are on a general uptread, but also have some reason to believe that one particular oil future contract will make you bags of money, it doesn't follow that making bags of money is the best use of your capital.  Perhaps buying a small home with space for a garden and close to mass transit would be a much better choice.  perhaps buying a ranch with a good water supply and enough land to be self-sufficient would be a better choice.  Perhaps paying off credit card debt and taking a few community college courses on carpentry and small-applience repair would be a better choice.

Conservation is a pure win:  the conserver comes out ahead (to the extent that his or her lifestyle doesn't suffer from the conservation), the environment comes out ahead, and other users of the energy resources come out ahead (because of reduced competition).  And all that's on top of the benefits that flow from having one more person modeling a successful low-energy lifestyle that others can observe and learn from.

Yes, Ianqui, I've heard this comment too and I have the same reaction.  Unfortunately, it's going to take some work to put this puppy to rest.  Here's a start:

1. As markincalgary says, the idea is known as the Jevons Paradox, after the 19thC English economist who found that efficiency improvements seemed to increase the consumption of coal, through expanded use (its cheaper, so why not use more?).  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

Okay, we have a name for an idea. That doesn't make it true, no more than the name "perpetual motion" means that a permanently spinning flywheel is  possible.

What's curious is that people throw out the phrase "Jevons Paradox" as if it were as confirmed a phenomenon as the Law of Gravity.

Is there any evidence that Jevons Paradox is true?  Under what conditions does it operate?

After spending a few hours on the Web, I found that the more general name is the Rebound Effect and that:

"Under certain circumstances, the rebound effect could actually turn an increase in efficiency into an increase in demand. However this has only happened in very special cases such as in some developing countries or in new markets such as the coal market in the mid 1800s or the electricity market in the early 1900s. For mature markets, it is generally accepted that although real the rebound effect is limited. The actual rebound depends on many variables, including specific resource, the specific device and how developed the resource market and overall economy are.
Does Increasing Efficiency Decrease Demand? (CRS Reports)

2. I'm surprised that no one has picked up on the ethical implications of the argument.  It's probably true that the national homicide statistics won't be affected whether or not I murder my neighbor with the irritating pale blue eye.  Yet we usually choose not to commit murders, and we call our decisions moral.  

By the same reasoning, shouldn't we refrain from wasting energy even though our individual Megajoules won't make all that much difference?   It's a matter of morality.

I want to conserve energy because of a moral responsibility. I don't want to explain to my kids why I didn't do anything about it.

However, I thing my responsibility goes further. I believe this is mainly a political issue and should be addressed like that. That means for me to get involved in local politics. I think there are quite a number of things we can do. I also think even further that anybody with a full deck and who knows this issue, is morally obliged to take action. Just cutting down a little bit on gas consumption is not enough.

People need to understand:

Conservation is dead.

"Conservation" is using an abundant resource wisely in order to ensure that there will be enough for the future. Conservation is a choice. Deprivation is not.

Conservation died in 1980, with the election of Reagan in America. That was the twenty year lead time we needed to build a new, efficient economy.

What we need to learn now is not how to "conserve" but HOW TO DO WITHOUT. That is not conservation.

It doesn't matter if Jevon's Paradox is "true." There are shortages coming, period. It doesn't matter that the energy I have freed up by downscaling my life is used up by Mr Hummer Driver. What counts is that I HAVE PREPARED MYSELF FOR THE PAIN OF THE COMING ECONOMIC CONTRACTION.

People are still under the delusion that if we all "conserve" we can somehow "get through" the coming crisis.  That's not going to happen.

Get used to a severely downscaled life, and it won't seem so painful when it's forced upon us by depletion.

Jevon's Paradox is alive and well, but so am I.

bart, you said: "I want to conserve energy because of a moral responsibility."

This is what I mean by delusional, not to sound mean-spirited.

Cut back living standards FOR YOUR OWN PRESERVATION. The days of having a "moral responsibility to conserve" are ending.

I can't stress this enough to friends, who say things like: "I really got on so-and-so's case for leaving lights on around the house." This guilt-tripping has to end.

The new approach must be NOT "you're a bad person for using so much energy" but "you're only screwing yourself by not preparing for what things are going to be like in a couple of years. Do you really want to keep on hemorrhaging energy, and therefore money?"

I seem to go back and forth on the conservation issue. On the one hand it is the right thing to do and setting a good example is a power statement far beyond words in an argument. For instance, if you really support the war, enlisting is a powerful way to show it. For a peak oil person, engaging in public displays of sustainable living can send a powerful message. For instance, when I unfurl my canvas bag at the grocery store, everyone sees it. In another way, when I tell people that do their own investing that I have 25% of my assets in gold, that also sends a message.

On the other hand, I'm really going to miss many aspects of modern living so I kind of feel like living it up a bit before the party ends.

A good example of Jevron in both the US and Australia is the building of new freeways/highways to ease traffic congestion. It does so for about 1 day and then traffic rates increase. In Perth we are pushing the Govt to build NO new major roads as one way of acknowledging peak oil.
I think ppl are going to have to be a bit more creative with the PO message than just saying don't conserve cos Jevons Paradox is all there is to say about it. One message might be "D'you hate you kids? You do? Then really screw them by using more oil. Drive, fly around the world for no reason and let THEM live like the Amish. Why should you care? You'll be dead and they'll be totally screwed. Serves them right for going on about global warming while our boys are fighting in Iraq to preserve the American Dream.
You get the picture.
Anyway, if ppl who post at TOD are taking PO seriously, shouldn't they be thinking of lessening their attachment to such a wasteful way of life. Or is it get up, put CD on, put TV on, have boiling hot shower, check email, drive 1000 miles to work, fly round the moon to get home, check nuclear reactor at bottom of garden, it's OK, make love to robot etc. etc. Shit...there's no energy left. Next day: get up, play mongolian stringed instrument, use imagination, don't wash, dig up veg., light fire, milk cow, fight off Jay Hanson Jr's tribe etc. etc.
I'm being facetious..but to some point I think.
If it were up to me, I would ban any further mention of the idea that "if you don't use it, someone else will" on this blog.

If you actually read what congressman Bartlett has to say at http://www.energybulletin.net/4733.html he describes Jevons Paradox in this manner:

We must not squander the opportunity that we have. Jevons Paradox becomes applicable here. Just a word about what Jevons Paradox is because I am going to mention it a time or two again. But Jevons Paradox says that frequently when one works to solve a problem, they really make the situation worse.

   Let me give one little example. Suppose there is a small businessman who owns a store. He is really concerned about peak oil, and he is concerned about energy, and he wants to do something. His little store is using $1,000 worth of electricity a month, and he decides that he can really cut that use. So he does several things. He gets a storm door. He puts on storm windows. He insulates more. He turns down the thermostat, and he asks his workers to wear sweaters. And he is successful because he reduces his electric bill from $1,000 to $500. Almost no matter what he does with that $500, he has just made the situation worse by doing that.

   Let me explain. One of the things that he may do, and it is a natural thing for a small businessperson to do, he may decide, I could hire more people and have a bigger business if I expanded. And so now he will expand, and he will still be using as much energy. Or if he decides to invest his money, if he invests his money in the bank, the bank will lend his money out five or six times, and at least some of those loans will be to small business people. And what the small business people will do is to create jobs and use energy. So the store owner is concerned about energy and the environment and being a responsible citizen, cutting his use of electricity, because everybody did not do it, because only he did it and nobody took advantage of the opportunity that was presented because he used less energy, he really contributed to the problem.

So you can see that I am not condemning individuals that make the effort to conserve but rather see the bigger picture that it will take everyone getting on the same page.. And without leadership, we are not as a nation, going to make those efforts to conserve. But we can be the purveyors of the message to start conserving more but is it too late?? Time will tell..
 And trust me when it come's to little conservation measure I try to take them. When I wrap every window in my house with plastic and caulk around every window doors in the winter, I do it to conserve energy. Yet I know of few others that do it!!

People behave the way they do because they are programmed to behave that way.

Some may argue that doing what is best for number one over the short term is inherent, it is the nature of the beast --and from an evolutionary perspective they are partly right. If that trait was not in your ancestor, you probably would not be here. But then again, if the trait of doing good things for the tribe (the nuclear family, the extended family, etc.) were not also inherently there, you probably would not be here for that reason also.

So you see, there are two inherited traits within the human creature: 1)Looking out for number one, and 2)Looking out for the welfare of your local herd. These traits often come into conflict with one another. (The war within is the war without. But that is another topic.)

We see the conflict here in the comments. There is a strong impulse in some to do only what is best for number one and in the short term.

But for others, there is a strong impulse to do what appears to be right for the community (yes, even though there is no visible and immediate payback for the "me" --think about it: what payback did your mother get for wiping your behind when you were a baby? she did not do it for profit. she did out this thing we call "a mother's love" --maybe now you see better why the tribe of Sheena is pounding their hooves for Cindy of Crawford, the She-Hen who single handedly instigated their stampede with the sound of her name and the cry for her lost child.)

Back to topic. So what makes YOU behave the way you do and what makes your neighbor(s) behave as they do? It's not just money and looking out for number one. We are constantly programmed and reprogrammed by the society around us.

Behavior that was socially encouraged yesterday suddenly becomes "politically incorrect" today. Depending on your age and immediate surroundings, you can probably think back to some type of behavior that was OK yesterday but suddenly is not OK today. How did it come to be that way?

Imagine a day when burning fossil fuels and dumping the pollutants into the common air will be as politically incorrect as taking a dump in the middle of the street. On that day, no one will want to be seen driving a Hummer.

I think some of the bigger problems, is that in today's western society, there isn't really any tribe feelings. Most of us don't know our neighbors, myself included. I live on a ~12 house court, and not only do I only know the names of three of the neighbors, but recently while walking the dogs, a couple walked by pushing a stroller, and I thought nothing special of it. They didn't wave high, I gave a non-commital "I acknowledge you." nod which I try to give anyone I pass on the sidewalks, and then they turned right into the court. The lived 4 houses away, and I couldn't recognize them by sight. Even better, they didn't return my simple nod.

Most families are fairly extended, myself I only talk to my sister who lives > 1000 miles away. I admit I'm an exception to the norm having cut the rest of the family out of my life to save myself lots of greif. My wife sees her family on a bi-yearly basis, and they all even live within a half hour drive (granted she only has cousins/aunts still alive).

Sadly, the closest thing that most of us have to a "tribe" are our co-workers. And if gas/oil becomes expensive enough without a good alternative, a central workplace might go the route of the dinosaur (well, except for the turning to oil part), which will leave people with their immediate roommates.

I'd like to think that if things got to that point that our natural need for community would cause us all to reach out to those around us, but instead we could just become more insular and mistrusting. You don't want your neighbor to know you too well, because they might realize you've got something and loot your house in the night. I'm not sure that people were meant to live as close as they do in the cities, and certainly not the suburbs when resources are scarce.

As a dog owner, you probably know more about tribalism (pack mentality) than you care to admit. The mind benders know very well about the herd instinct. It's called "nationalism". They use it to make people (sheeple) die for the "noble" cause. Your neighbor may not give you the head nod, but they may be willing to die for the "noble" cause. Their tribal affiliation might come through the tube. Perhaps they belong to the Fox and Family tribe. Or maybe they are one with Katie and Matt every "Today" morning on the GE-owned channel. Or maybe Disney has them in their circle of trust on the Good Morning Vietnam channel. So why should they nod to you when they have much more intimate tribe-mates right inside their house. You are an "outsider".

P.S. We have a dog too. That forces us to go out once in a while and meet the neighbors. Sometimes we actually talk to the neighbors. Yes, I know, that's un-American. We might develop strange "independent" ideas, we may absorb un-programmed content. The uncensored content might spread through a dreadful thing called, "word of mouth". You can't control a country that way. So how do we "terrify" the sheeple into staying home and bonding only with their TV tribe? Hmmm...

Yeah, with the dogs, I understand enough about tribal systems to insist that me and my wife are the alphas.

I understand the thoughts of tribalism relating to nationalism, but when times get tough, the talking heads might be in your tribe, but the neighbors living on the same street as you might not be in the tribe. It's sad that someone who wouldn't speak to you, other than to snap his fingers and point while saying, "Always great to meet a fan." would be considered a closer member of the tribe. To me, that sort of tribalism is useless. But just because it's useless to me, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

And similarly, the neighbors that we know best are the ones with dogs. And sadly, while we know all of the dogs' names, we know only half the human's names. I think next time I might actually introduce myself instead of just the dogs.

Yeh, we used to belong to a large dog-park tribe with the same basic interaction rules: learn the other person's dog's name but not the person's. That kept things "safe" so that you don't find out enough about the other person to learn you disagree with them on basic issues, and because of that, your dogs can no longer play together. Eventually, the tribe fell apart as people and dogs got older and sicker. Some dogs in the crowd succumbed to the big C, some people to the big H. On occasion we still run into stragglers from the tribe and exchange pleasantries. The best times were when they were pups.
Hopefully you brought all the nicknames and passwords over here when you changed, if not i'll know in a second.
We couldn't—sorry. Haloscan isn't compatible with scoop, but we encourage you to create a new account here!
I want to address the spiritual dimension of what has been said here. As any longtime meditator (of any religion) knows, whatever we do, gets put out in the universe. Everything.

So, while Jevons Paradox is real, it is also true that efforts for conservation do have very important positive results. Not only the setting of examples but the spiritual consequences of what we do that we put out there.

Stifling debate is contraction and therefore detrimental to the human spirit. But so is misusing a valid insight like that of the Jevons Paradox to disparage constructive behavior.

Of course we should all conserve when we can, and we should also push for longterm sustainable solutions as well.

Pragmatically speaking attempting to ban a conversation about a virtually banned subject (Peak Oil) just won't work.

I think that anything we do to reduce the price of fossil fuels will only encourage others to consume their "fair share" or even more. If Americans reduce the Indians or Chinese will see the opportunity to consume more.

Ultimately the real problem is that an increasing number of people are consuming a decreasing amount of resources. We can conserve and generate efficiencies but ultimately another mouth is born to feed and a body to shelter and clothe.

I think Jay Hanson is correct. The real problem seems to be overshoot, not just over consumption. If we can't successfully face the threat of overshoot I think great sorry will follow.

Peak Oil, while very important to us all, is just a speed limiting bump on the road to Peak People.


I just want to point out to poster Roger that he MUST get an efficient woodstove, otherwise his wood-burning will produces an incredible amount of particulate matter pollution. A wood stove burning wood for 9 hours produces as much pollution as a car running for 21,000 kilometers!
I've fallen in with those who say American society has two modes: complacency and panic.

When people at the fringes buy a Prius, brew biodiesel, or ride a bicycle, they show it's possible.  That is a solid accomplishment, but I don't think it can really trigger a broader change.

Changes come with the panics, when people cast around for what's possible, and see the examples at the fringes.

One of many flaws in that scenario is that it assumes that the energy savings come at no cost and do not displace other spending. Also look at the mind-set:  expansion is BAD, even if that expansion is more sustainable than what it is replacing.  This mind-set would have railed against plants evolving to live on land and covering the continents.
What kind of "expansion" are we talking about, EP? We've got a population overshoot problem and I'm not talking about Africa, I'm talking about the good ole United State of America and Canada. Energy intensity is falling historically but overall demand continues to rise. American and Canadian energy usage per capita is still very high, the highest among the developed nations (excluding Iceland and Finland).

Personal conservation is a good thing but all this must be policy-driven from the top. Without policies to discourage consumption and encourage efficiency (increasing demand elasticity), a relatively few people changing their lifestyles where this is possible (demand is inelastic mostly) will not make much difference.
Expansion of businesses, of course.  Wouldn't you want e.g. a builder of zero-energy houses to grow like crazy?

Whether or not we actually have an overshoot in the USA depends very much on how good our energy technology becomes.  With current practice?  Yup, very much so.  1970 practices?  Far, far more so... and therein lies the key to understanding.  If we direct enough effort and brainpower to fixing this, we could all be driving around in Li-ion electric cars, having our goods delivered cross-country by trains powered by zinc-air batteries, fertilizing crops with nitrogen fixed by engineered bacteria fed on cellulose and powering everything with a combination of $2/watt solar dishes (if the $15/m^2 plastic PV doesn't underprice it) and 3¢/kWh wind power.  Going to technologies with inherent storage, like zinc batteries, is the lever which pries the whole renewable thing open.

The native population of the USA is already below replacement fertility.  If we go with renewable energy technologies such as ones already being tested in pilot scale and stop accepting immigrants (other people's problems), the overshoot issue disappears.

Anonymous said: "The new approach must be NOT "you're a bad person for using so much energy..."

Why not?  Conservation/waste is a moral issue.  Social approval and disapproval are powerful means of enforcing moral behavior.  What if our media were to celebrate people who live simply?  What if the heroes of movies were gardeners and bicyclists rather than sociopaths?

Maybe it's going overboard to stone to death the owners of Humvees (though sometimes one is tempted).  Moral suasion can be done subtly and with sensitivity, rather than with obnoxious moralizing.  Still, we're going to need every means at our disposal to turn around the big ship of consumerism.

We need:
economic arguments
political arguments
pragmatic arguments  

  You are on to something.

  Picture this:

Two teenagers get together on a street corner.

  "Dude, my dad just bought a Hummer."
  "Like Dude, that is so 'GW' --globe wasting."
  "Our Hummer is bigger than your Prius."
  "Man, you are going to be so unpopular at school for belonging to a GW family. It ain't sweet to Hummer anymore. GA+ is in. GW is out."
   "What's that, GA+ stuff?"
   "Globally aware to the max dude, where have you been?"

First post after much lurking.

From all objective evidence, it seems to me the car has already gone off the cliff and the passengers are arguing about whose fault it is and what might be the best way to turn this thing around.  Folks, I really don't think it much matters at this point.  Whatever it is that makes you proud, you better get it done while you can, but if you don't already have your parachute packed, you're in trouble.

Living under my old parachute in the cloud forests of Central America,  your humble servant, Señor Bood  

hi again, bart.

You say:
"Why not?  Conservation/waste is a moral issue. "

My point is that it's too late. When "conservation" is no longer a choice but a necessity, it's not a moral issue anymore but one of survival. We're entering a whole new world. People simply aren't going to be able to do what they've done before.

I'm trying to WARN THEM, not shame them.


I agree that in a voluntary setting, everyone's individual efforts to conserve are important, especially as role models that can diffuse the concept more widely.

But consider an oil-related situation where this does not work: tradeable carbon credits for Kyoto. Under the carbon credit scheme, a company that conserves can sell the right to create more CO2 (by burning more fuel) to another company. The conserving company profits from both lower expenses for fuel, as well as extra income from selling surplus carbon credits. The company that buys carbon credits pays for the right to pollute.

Yes, the polluter pays; yes, the good guys profit. But I don't think the environment sees any benefit at all.

The regulation mechanism almost mandates a zero sum game: the efficient company's gains are directly offset, 1:1, by the inefficient company's profligacy. Total CO2 will equal the level allowed by the regulations.

I suspect that any rationing scheme (gasoline in the future?) that allows trading of allowances will result in the same offsetting behaviour.

Agreed. Carbon trading is not necessarily going to decrease the amount of pollution, as long as rich companies can buy the right to continue polluting, perhaps in larger amounts than ever.

But in our personal lives, there's no real incentive for someone to take MORE plastic bags at the grocery store just because I use fewer of them, and if they see me stuffing my cloth bags, maybe they'll stop and ask why. (It's happened.) So I guess my post makes the distinction between corporate and personal behavior, and I suppose we can only hope that if we're somehow able to affect individual consumer preferences, then these preferences will eventually trickle up to the higher levels.

Rick and Ianqui,
One minor point; any reasonable carbon trading system will reduce the amount of carbon emission allowed over a period of time.
Ok so "jevon's Parodox" is about technichal advances and not conservation per say.

So let's make up annother term that is more precise to the issue, let's call it " the Scales of Abraham"

Therefore, according to the Scales of Abraham, any one countries decrease in usage of a finite recource, allows a competing country (such as China) to balance out the "scales of use" (= total amount used) by using more.

T = total amount of petroleum used

E = Efficient country(ies)

C = Competing countries

E + C = T

But now we must factor in:

S = Oil Savings (over time)

I = Increased usage (over time)

N = No energy savings

So if the value of I = S --------> E - S +C +I =T----------->- T = N

This is exactly what we have seen in the past. The "efficiency" gained in 1980-1990 has been mitigated by use of Oil/energy in Competing countries. In fact it has been argued our "productivity" gains are almost completely dependent on outsourcing such activities to countries where energy usage has been growing (like China and India for example).

Secondly, the SUV craze has wiped out the gasoline savings made in the 80's. this is a case for jevons parodox to actualy apply to conservation efforts...as the main method of Increasing MPG was to reduce the wieght of the car, and not any real gains in the ICE engine, it is possible to declare that the "parodox" jevon proposed about coal, certainly applies to another (psuedo)Finite recource as well, namely Petroleum.

It is perplexing to me to see such effort put into arguing the macro effects of personal choices concerning energy depletion.  Whatever the effect of our actions, "conservation" or "pedal to the metal", in the final analysis we are facing the end of cheap energy and will have no choice but to do without it.  Continuing to do things the same way is certainly not going to help.  

The sooner we prepare for and make the transition, the easier it will be.  The time would better spent helping each other to learn a new lifestyle and get on with it.  I have chosen to wean myself from fossil fuels now rather than later.  But which ever way we go about it, we will all be in the same boat in the very near future.

It's nice to see all the discussion that caused my commment about changing your lifestyle. And yes, ofcourse, if you tax gas in your country the chinese will use more. And yes, if YOU conserve, the neighbour will have more to fill his Humvee with.

But that's not the point. The point is: will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror when you still gulp all that oil & gas, even with the knowlegde you have about peak-oil and the effects putting all that CO2 in the air?
Besides, as the last anonymous points out; in the end everybody has to do without, so why not prepare today? When you still can by a good axe and a good handsaw, drill a well and learn how to grow crops.

And yes, it is making an example to my neighbourhood. At first they didn't allow the peak-oil reality to enter their brains. But by watching me act, they start to think. And they come to me to ask about it.

And yes, it is possible to create you own tribe in your neighbourhood. Not  by preaching peak-oil. Just by doing things for them. Like fixing their cars, taking care of their pets or children. That is all you need to do to create a tribe. In working together you get to know each other. You'll know who's to trust and who will make a fuss. Another good way is to lend things from all over your neighborhood. You get to know the people, they learn to trust you when you return the items without damage. After that they will go and lend stuff from you, so they can earn their trust with you.

O yes, you will need your social contacts badly when the hammer hits...

There is much merit to what you say about creating or joining "a" tribe. Maybe you should hedge your bets by joining or forming multiple tribes? Modern society urges us to be "independent". But that could be part of a divide and conquer strategy for those in the elitist club. They who are "noble" do not split themselves up. Hmmm
Good comments. The thing that worries me most is not the actions people take at the personal level but those our leaders may take at the national level.  I already see comments about use of oil in USA versus in China.  China uses a sixth of the energy we use on a per capita basis yet I detect that many people in this country will deny them even that.  With those sentiments, it would not be surprising if our national leaders view the oil game as a zero-sum game and focus on  securing supplies for US even at the expense of the rest of the world.  After all, we elect them to look after our interest only. However, the danger of this approach is clear; conflict and polarisation.  Of course, since we are the biggest kid on the block we will get our own way for a while.
It's not going to be pretty.
So, who's next to put his ACTIONS where is mouth is?
I really hate this Jevron guy.

Like I said, I want to do something, because I cannot explain to my children why I didn't do anything. Moral responsibility, things like that.

Now I can do two things:

  • I buy the Hummer or
  • I buy a bicycle

Can't affort the Hummer and I already have the bicycle, so the answer is pretty well determined, but you get my point?

What shall I do?