Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fuel efficiency alone is not the environmental solution

Toyota Prius
      In an interesting article by the Simplicity Institute, The Voluntary Simplicity Movement: A Multi-National Survey Analysis in Theoretical Context, I learned about the Jevons paradox.  Somewhat paradoxically, simply through making technology more efficient we actually end up using more resources. So for example with our recent purchase of a fuel efficient Prius, the natural tendency is to drive more, given we don't need to spend as much on the price of gas.  With more fuel efficient cars this then drives down the cost of fuel as demand decreases, and hence again, increases consumption, given the lower prices.
     I have to confess that I've felt less compelled to walk or bike to get groceries now have a car that is getting over 40 m.p.g.  

Prius instrument panel monitoring fuel consumption
Simply relying on advances in technology will not reduce our consumption of fuel and the related emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. We still must have government intervention to help consumers reduce their demand.  This intervention could come in the form of green taxes, a cap and trade program or higher fuel taxes.  Ideally these taxes could then help to remediate the ecological damage caused by our fuel use.  
     There is growing interest in a "green tax" that would be on carbon emissions.  It has been estimated that the median incremental damage to our environment is $14 per ton of carbon, but some estimates go as high as $350 per ton. The average North American generates about 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.  This compares to a global average of 4 tons.
     Unlike our household garbage, that we can clearly see and measure, it is difficult for most people to be aware of their carbon dioxide emissions. If we are indeed serious about our emissions, we need to start measuring them and tax accordingly. 

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