The Efficiency Conundrum

I need more Power!It’s a bit like the dieter who buys a box of low-fat cookies and ends up eating the entire box in one sitting. So much for the diet.

A report released on Tuesday by CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Jeff Rubin states that despite the overall gains in energy efficiency since the 1970’s – 50% per unit of GDP from 1975 to 2005 – those gains have been spent, and then some, in more gadgets, bigger cars, larger houses, and more energy consumed. Total energy use in that time has actually risen by 40% Rubin says.

The conclusion is that energy efficiency alone is not a solution to climate change or dwindling sources of oil and must be combined with actual conservation. But will efficiency ever lead to conservation? Are we going against the grain of human nature to expect it to?

In their book The Bottomless Well, Peter Huber and Mark Mills think the idea of efficiency as a means to conservation is misguided. Not that efficiency is bad or shouldn’t be pursued, but that it is never a means to conservation; “energy efficiency leads to more consumption, not less”. The report by Rubin seems to bear out Huber and Mills’ assertion.

It is clear that efficiency is but a means to an end, but how to make the consumer understand – or care about –  this efficiency paradox is a sticky wicket.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to have one more cookie. After all, it’s low fat…

A pdf of the complete Rubin report is available here

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists