Editorial: The Rebound Effect and the Jevon's Paradox: Beyond the Conventional Wisdom
- 1University of Groningen, Netherlands
- 2University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
- 3University of Sussex, United Kingdom
- 42.-0 LCA Consultants (Denmark), Denmark
- 5Jagiellonian University, Poland
- 6Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway
The rebound effect (RE) is an umbrella term for a range of mechanisms that reduce the energy savings from improved energy efficiency. Since the seminal work of Stanley Jevons ('The Coal Question'), the 'problem' of the rebound effect has repeatedly appeared in energy policy debates, challenging the consensus that improved energy efficiency will reduce energy use and carbon emissions and mitigate resource depletion. Most authors view energy efficiency as essential for reconciling economic growth with environmental sustainability, and consider rebound effects to be modest in size and easily addressed. However, there has always been a vocal minority who argue that rebound effects frequently exceed 100% and can potentially eliminate all of the energy savings from improved energy efficiency ('Jevon's Paradox'). This contentious and polarized debate has largely been confined to the academic world, with only occasional infringements into the public sphere. Until recently, the empirical research on rebound effects was also relatively modest, with less than ten articles per year mentioning the topic between 1998 and 2008.However, academic interest in the topic has exploded since 2008, with more than 50 articles being published each year between 2015 and 2019. This suggests that that rebound effects are becoming increasingly recognised as a serious issue of concern and as an important field of investigation. The majority of these articles take the perspective of orthodox economics, and seek to estimate the size of rebound effects from historical data. However, as interest in the topic has grown, the diversity of perspectives, methodologies and approaches has increased, including contributions from a range of disciplines. This topic issue of Frontiers in Energy Research and Frontiers in Sociology aims to capture some of these new perspectives, and prioritises contributions that depart in significant ways from the economic orthodoxy.The topic issue consists of seven highly diverse contributions, which we briefly summarise below.First, Santarius, Walnum and Aall discuss how disciplines such as psychology, sociology and industrial ecology can contribute to the understanding of the rebound effect and highlight: first, the gap between the limits of any one analysis and the possible effects beyond those limits; and second, the challenge of isolating the causal influence of efficiency improvements from other relevant factors. They also discuss the implications of rebound effects for public policy.Arrobbio and Padovan analyse the dominant discourse on energy efficiency and suggest that the higher the expectations from energy efficiency, the lower the results in terms of reductions in energy use. They argue that these expectations may obstruct alternative strategies that are more effective in reducing environmental impacts.Wallenborn provides a more in-depth discussion of the contribution of different disciplines to the understanding of rebound effects, and suggests ways in which their diverse insights can be synthesised. He argues that rebounds arise faster when infrastructures and markets enable energy to circulate, and when energy consumers are in competition.Freeman develops a novel system-dynamics model of rebound effects which goes beyond traditional mechanisms to include economy-wide effects, transformational effects, frontier effects, and international rebound effects. Drawing upon the concepts of natural capital, ecological footprint and the great acceleration, she shows how such a model provides a useful "sand-box" for testing ideas about the future.Dütschke, Vance, Schleich and Frondel take a psychological perspective on rebound effects, and show how voluntary actions by individuals to reduce their environmental impacts can have unintended consequences. This is because people may feel they have 'done their bit' for the environment and can subsequently spend time and money on more energy-intensive goods and activities -so-called 'moral licensing'. The authors develop a theoretical model that explains how economic and psychological motivations can trigger both rebound effects and moral licensing, and review the empirical evidence on the latter.Vivanco go beyond the traditional focus on energy efficiency to show how rebound effects may apply to a circular economy strategies, such as reusing smartphones. The show how imperfect substitution between recycled and new products, together with re-spending of the cost savings, could erode around one third -and potentially all -of the emission savings from smartphone reuse.Finally, Giampietro and Mayumi introduce a range of ideas from the theory of complex adaptive systems (e.g. holon, holarchy, Holling's adaptive cycle) to explain the systemic drivers of Jevons Paradox. They argue that sustainability is based upon a dynamic balance of two contrasting thermodynamic principles -minimum entropy production and maximum energy flux -and show how this balance depends upon the biophysical constraints faced by the system. They argue that Jevon's Paradox is practically inevitable when biophysical constraints are not binding, but during phases in which society faces such constraints, efficiency improvements should be used to prevent the loss of existing diversity.Taken together, the collection of articles demonstrate the limitations of the dominant, microeconomic framing of rebound effects and show how this phenomena has much deeper roots in system behaviour, human psychology and social organisation. The articles also reinforce the argument that rebound effects are larger than many have assumed, and therefore present a critical challenge for environmental sustainability.Until recently, the scientific debate on rebound effects and has struggled to transfer into public discourse and to trigger political action. Organisations such as the International Energy Agency have largely ignored the phenomenon, and relatively few governments have taken specific measures to address rebound effects -partly because it remains unclear what measures are most appropriate. Perhaps the most widely recommended option is carbon pricing -either via carbon taxes or carbon emissions trading schemes -which can offset the cost savings from improved energy efficiency and thereby dampen rebound effects. Carbon pricing remains politically challenging, however, and it is essential that the revenues are used in a way that minimises the impact on low-income groups and increases public acceptance. It is also essential that regional and global energy scenarios make greater allowance for rebound effects, to avoid exaggerated expectations about the contribution of improved energy efficiency.Perhaps it is also time for a broader public debate on this topic. Electronic media has significantly reduced the distance between academics and society and made the public space more accessible. Perhaps, scholars who are researching this fascinating subject should take some time to engage with people more broadly. But this is very challenging. Paradoxes, like the Jevons', are difficult to convey through a synthetic, captivating message and communication is often hindered by the specialization and fragmentation of contemporary knowledge. Hence, one of the challenges of social science is to present a holistic vision and to foster the imagination of possible, but not necessary intended or anticipated consequences. We hope this special edition can contribute to that end.
Keywords: Rebound effect, Jevon's Paradox, Complexity, Moral licensing effect, Circular economy, System-dynamics model, Transdisciplanary paradigm
Received: 04 Aug 2019;
Accepted: 14 Aug 2019.
Edited by:Simone Bastianoni, University of Siena, Italy
Copyright: © 2019 Ruzzenenti, Galvin, Sorrell, Font Vivanco, Wagner and Walnum. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
* Correspondence: Dr. Franco Ruzzenenti, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands, firstname.lastname@example.org