Revisiting Jevons' Paradox with System Dynamics: Systemic Causes and Potential Cures

Rachel Freeman, Mike Yearworth, Chris Preist

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    This article examines the dynamic relationship between the consumption of goods and services, technological efficiency, and associated resource use, as described by the theory of Jevons’ Paradox (JP). A theory is presented about what causes JP, in which resource efficiency savings are eventually overtaken by increases in consumption to produce a net increase in resource use and therefore environmental impacts. An application of the theory was carried out using system dynamics, modeling carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) emissions from private road transport in the UK between 1970 and 2010. The model results indicate the approximate impact of JP within the historical period: a rise in travel consumption of approximately one half and a rise in CO2-eq emissions of approximately one third. The model was used to estimate whether the European Union (EU) goal of a 40% drop in CO2-eq emissions by 2030 is achievable in the road transport sector, by adding interventions, and the results indicate that higher increases in fleet efficiency than are currently forecast, costlier travel, and a reduction in travel consumption would all be required. The theory and model presented in this article highlight the need to implement a system of interventions that can influence the strength and direction of each of the feedback loops within the system being intervened with, if CO2-eq emissions are to be more reliably reduced than they are at present. Further, because the system is constantly evolving, intervening with it requires a responsive, holistic approach, while maintaining focus on a long-term goal.
    Original languageUndefined
    Pages (from-to)341-353
    JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


    • Jevons' Paradox,carbon emissions,consumption,eco-efficiency,system dynamics

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