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“Why Energy Efficiency Does Not Decrease Energy Consumption:” Comment on Harry Saunders

By Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus -- October 1, 2010

One of the most curious facts about energy is that economies continue to use more of it even as they use it more efficiently. This strikes us as strange because it has become an article of faith that making cars, buildings, and factories more energy efficient is the key to cheaply and quickly reducing energy consumption, and thus pollution.

But energy experts have never seen this as particularly mysterious. As energy historian Vaclav Smil notes, “Historical evidence shows unequivocally that secular advances in energy efficiency have not led to any declines of aggregate energy consumption.” A group of economists beginning in the 1980s went further, suggesting that increasing the productivity of energy would increase economic growth and energy consumption.

Efficiency advocates dismiss the evidence of rebound of energy use pointing to direct behavioral changes at the household or business level that are easiest to measure.…