Do Green Cars Cause More Emissions?

Well, we certainly hope not, but in the spirit of counterintuitive thinking, we have to admit, it’s a strong possibility. Ever since airbags, drivers are less likely to feel they need seat belts and therefore more likely to drive without them, thereby making driving less safe, not more. So, is it possible that driving a car that’s more fuel-efficient and which emits less might cause drivers to log more miles, offsetting the green benefits, and then some?

A story in Mother Jones quotes a report from a group charmingly named Treehugger. Apparently, in Sweden,

purchases of fuel-efficient cars are on the rise, but so are emissions. Does this mean that Swedes are actually driving more (and thus creating more emissions) because their new green cars allow them to do so more cheaply?

This question is an example of the Jevons Paradox, which David Owen recently wrote about in the New Yorker: Make something more efficient, and people will use it more. “This effect is usually referred to as ‘rebound’—or, in cases where increased consumption more than cancels out any energy savings, as ‘backfire,'” he writes.

It is true that we tend to think technology can solve our problems and that, once science has produced a “fix,” it’s no longer our responsibility to rein in our behaviors. Can you think of other examples of the Jevons Paradox?

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels.
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