By Tim Garrett: Jevon’s Paradox: Why increasing energy efficiency will accelerate global climate change

CO2 vs. COP

Thank you to X for finding this new talk by professor Tim Garrett.

Garrett has developed the most significant and useful theory for explaining the relationship between climate change and the economy.

In this talk, Garrett explains his theory and tears a strip off climate scientists for their unscientific beliefs.

Garrett, in the Q&A, discusses the disgraceful manner that climate scientists have responded to his theory. I think the fact that almost all climate scientists ignore or deny Garrett’s theory is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in support of Varki’s MORT theory.

Paraphrasing Garrett, an educated person would not infer from the above plot that human agency has an impact on climate trajectories. Instead, a naive person might reasonably conclude that CO2 emissions are caused by COP climate change accords. 🙂

Garrett used to summarize the conclusion of his theory as:

US$1 (1990) = 9.7 mW

Garrett is now expressing the same conclusion as:

5.8 gigawatts = US$1 trillion (2010)

Garrett observes that a single atmospheric chemist stationed on Mauna Loa would more accurately measure global GDP than the tens of thousands of idiot economists we employ.

GDP vs. CO2

One component of Biden’s climate change plan calls for more efficient appliances, machines, and buildings. Garrett shows that this piece of Biden’s plan will make climate change worse because the more efficient we are, the more we grow.

Garrett does not discuss it, but Biden’s plan would help if we tax away all of the savings that result from improved efficiency and use the taxes to pay down public debt. Biden of course would not have been elected if he included this in his plan.

Garrett also does not discuss the simplest solution for reducing CO2 emissions, which one person at a keyboard can implement: increase the interest rate. Garrett’s theory predicts a higher interest rate will reduce emissions because our wealth would reduce through defaults.

Garrett correctly observes that our current path of trying to switch to renewable energy will increase the combustion of fossil energy, but he doesn’t add the important caveat, until fossil energy depletion collapses our economy.

Garrett remains blind to one key piece of the puzzle: The depletion of affordable fossil energy has created a global debt bubble because the cost of extracting fossil energy is now higher than what consumers can afford. When this debt bubble pops, our wealth and CO2 emissions will decline, a lot. Curious minds want to know if the bubble will pop soon and fast enough to retain a climate compatible with a much poorer civilization.

My take away: The only path to maintaining our wealth and reducing CO2 emissions in time to possibly prevent a climate incompatible with civilization is to switch to nuclear power more quickly than we can possibly afford. And so our wealth will decline regardless of what we do.

One path, if we somehow breakthrough our genetic tendency to deny reality, might be a managed and civil decline. The other path will be chaotic and uncivil.

The Homer Simpson Climate Change Plan

You can find more work by Garrett that I’ve posted here.

P.S. I note from the title slide that economist Steve Keen was a collaborator. Steve Keen, in case you’re not aware, is one of the only economists on the planet with a clue. The behavior of economists differs from climate scientists in that idiocy explains the former and denial the latter. Here is some of Steve Keen’s work that I’ve posted.

30 thoughts on “By Tim Garrett: Jevon’s Paradox: Why increasing energy efficiency will accelerate global climate change”

  1. Hi Rob

    So I have wondered about this issue for a while. It is one of the most depressing “truths” about our predicament. It makes me want to shout, “G@d D&%m!t”

    Is Jevon’s paradox a feature of our current economic and political system we can roughly call capitalism, or more generally a feature of any thermodynamic system? I think the latter, but not sure. Presumably someone has modeled Jevon’s paradox mathematically and can show why this property exists in all thermodynamic systems?

    Somewhere, sometime, I recall that somebody has said you cannot get around the laws of thermodynamics by building nuclear power plants…that the energy and materials required to build those plants and the CO2 and other waste products produced during construction and during operation will exceed supposed GHG’s and thermal heat “savings” avoided by using nuclear versus fossil fuels. My general rule of life if that nothing is for free, so that feels true me, but I am not sure. Is James Hansen still on about nuclear?

    In any case, nuclear power plants, as designed today, collectively pose an existential risk to human civilization. A coronal mass ejection the size of the Carrington event in 1859 could simultaneously bring down most of the world’s nuclear power plants. A volcanic eruption of sufficient size would of course disrupt civilization profoundly, but this would be compounded by many nuclear power plants going down around the world. We are already threatened with the task of shutting down many nuclear reactors in the next 30 years, IF climate change happens faster and in a less linear way than as predicted by the linear climate modeling used by the IPCC, and sea level rises to the “high” scenarios of 1 meter by 2050. Recently it was noted by some I think NASA folks that data from sea level gauges this past year suggest we could be on that high scenario.

    Thanks Rob for your posts.


    1. Hi Shawn,

      Jevon’s paradox is I think present in any system that grows. Finite energy is available to the system. A portion of the energy is used for operations and maintenance. The balance of energy is available to grow the system. The more efficient the system, the less energy is required for operations and maintenance, and the more energy remains for growth.

      Nevertheless efficiency is still a good thing we should strive for. The more efficient we are, the less energy and material we need to maintain our lifestyle. The key is to complement efficiency policies with taxation policies that prevent any of the efficiency savings from being used for growth.

      One caveat about efficiency: too much efficiency can make a system fragile, as we saw a few years ago when a storm took out one of the only manufacturing plants for computer hard drives.

      The real problem with our economy is not Jevon’s paradox, it is the design of our fractional reserve debt backed monetary system which requires growth not to collapse. We should focus on figuring out how to transition to a new monetary system, like an energy backed full reserve system, and not worry about Jevon’s paradox which has a simple taxation fix.

      Of course, population reduction is the most important thing, by far, that we should focus on first.

      I agree with you on nuclear. See my rational in a comment below.


      1. Rob,

        Have you read “American Exodus” by Giles Slade? It covers future human migrations in response to climate change. Slade picks up some of the threads discussed in Gwynne Dyer’s “Climate Wars.” In part, the book identifies those geographic regions that will be most habitable in the coming decades. Although I agree with Rees that we are in a plague phase and there is no escape, I also think there will be degrees of hell, sort of like in Dante’s Inferno, based on where you live – at least in the near term.

        You live on Vancouver Island? Are you concerned about being stranded on an island or do you see that as an advantage?


        1. Thanks for the book tip. I added it to my library.

          Here is another good book by Charles Hall titled “America’s Most Sustainable Cities and Regions: Surviving the 21st Century Megatrends”

          I agree that some places will be better than others.

          I won the lottery by being born in Canada. I have deep roots here on Vancouver Island with a few friends and some family and am ok if a day comes when I cannot get off it. My main concern is that too many people are moving here. When I was young this valley grew enough food to feed itself. Now we depend on 18 wheelers like everyone else. I have a good relationship with a small organic farm that I assist and hope it will provide some food security.


  2. Great find Rob , what a brilliantly concise and apt equation for the Economics of Human overshoot! And then your post fleshes out key missing pieces regarding debt, EROI, and one nuclear option. Alas, poor Sapiens, for us Reason is only ever a tool, never a motive. That’s “Life” I guess.


  3. Does anyone know why Jason Bradford left Farmland LP and where he went?

    Jason was the host of the now defunct “Reality Report”, my all time favorite podcast. I can’t find many episodes on the web, good thing I saved the best ones in my library. I may post some in the future.

    Jason’s one of my heroes because after becoming aware he tried to do something useful with his life to make the planet better.


    1. Seems like chaotic and uncivil is going to be our future. I don’t see nuclear as a option since nukes are so fragile that the collapse of civilization is probably going to cause many to go Chernobyl and with it the Ozone layer – and probably most life on this planet (due to UV sterilization). Such happy thoughts.


    2. Hi Rob.

      Jason is with the Post Carbon Institute along with Richard Heinberg and others. He co-hosts a podcast called Crazy Town. Would be great if you can post some of those Reality Report interviews some time.

      Cheers from New Zealand


      1. Thanks!

        Here is a 2007 interview with David Fridley on the myths of biofuels.

        In this edition of the Reality Report, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory staff scientist David Fridley discusses “The Myths of Biofuels” – specifically liquid biofuels geared towards transportation.

        David Fridley is part of Lawrence Berkeley’s Energy Analysis Program, Environmental Energies Technology Division. The EAP generates and interprets information to inform governments and international institutions on energy-related issues to assist in the formulation of energy and environmental policies. Fridley is also deputy group leader of Lawrence Berkeley’s China Energy Group, which collaborates with the Chinese on end-use energy efficiency, industrial energy use, government energy management programs, data compilation and analysis, medium and long term energy policy research.

        Reality Report – David Fridley_ The Myth of Biofuels – 4-Jun-2007


  4. Maybe that’s what the “Great Reset” is about after all. Taking us back to a consumption levels that existed in 1960. But a 1960 consumption level spread-out over about eight-billion humans is going to hurt. There were about three-billion people on earth in 1960. You will own no property and consumption will be tightly regulated with UBI, social credit and the internet of things. You will be happy and if not civilization will collapse and you will be dead. Instead of growth in our future we will probably have to jettison about half the square footage of all structures and half of the transportation fleet while trying to convert what remains to renewable. If enough people experience black-outs like they did in Texas recently, downsizing might not seem like a bad idea. Five-hundred views over two weeks, I think it’s going viral.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol!

      500 views of unpleasant reality is definitely viral.

      The fascinating thing is that denying it makes the outcome even worse. So we have to deny our denial. And then we have to deny that we deny our denial. All the way down (or is it up) to a uniquely powerful brain with an extended theory of mind.


  5. Rob, you need to send all these scientists a check list of what needs to be covered about a week to 10 days before filming starts. If they don’t want to cooperate we’ll send Luca Brasi to make them an offer they can’t refuse.


  6. As a Solarguy i do not go with you in term of nuclear. I strongly believe nuclear is poisoning us, my wife got cancer and many more here near the the former east block – austria have had a big fall out from Tschernobyl.

    The Energy Cliff estimation of PV is from one old springer book and this book examined spains PV systems at a time, when they had the largest subsidies, so no wonder that they have been very expensive.

    1 GWp per day is no way possible, everybody knows the 17 TW are impossible to decarbonize, i think we can only hope, that enough PV etc will survive the crash for cooling the atomic ponds and that we have implemented some sort of radiation management before global dimming will leave us, because of peak oil…

    Or maybe the plankton kick in with a positive feedback and they produce more bright clouds with more of their DMS and everything is fine 🙂


    1. I am sorry about your wife.

      I was not clear. I was trying to say that maintaining BAU is impossible.

      I do not think we should go nuclear because:
      1) Not safe enough when economy is declining and resources for governance and maintenance are scarce.
      2) Current nuclear technology is dependent on non-renewable resources like uranium and concrete.
      3) Does not solve our main problem: diesel for tractors, combines, trucks, trains, ships.
      4) We cannot afford the build-out that would be required to make a difference.


  7. Why Does the Pandemic Seem to Be Hitting Some Countries Harder Than Others?

    While the virus has ravaged rich nations, reported death rates in poorer ones remain relatively low. What probing this epidemiological mystery can tell us about global health.

    After the pandemic was declared, last March, epidemiologists expected carnage in such areas. If the fatality rate from the “New York wave” of the pandemic were extrapolated, between three thousand and five thousand people would be expected to die in Dharavi. With Joshi’s help, Mumbai’s municipal government set up a field hospital with a couple of hundred beds, and doctors steeled themselves to working in shifts. Yet by mid-fall Dharavi had only a few hundred reported deaths—a tenth of what was expected—and the municipal government announced plans to pack up the field hospital there. By late December, reports of new deaths were infrequent.

    I was struck by the contrast with my own hospital, in New York, where nurses and doctors were prepping I.C.U.s for a second wave of the pandemic. In Los Angeles, emergency rooms were filled with stretchers, the corridors crammed with patients straining to breathe, while ambulances carrying patients circled outside hospitals.

    And there lies an epidemiological mystery. The usual trend of death from infectious diseases—malaria, typhoid, diphtheria, H.I.V.—follows a dismal pattern. Lower-income countries are hardest hit, with high-income countries the least affected. But if you look at the pattern of COVID-19 deaths reported per capita—deaths, not infections—Belgium, Italy, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom are among the worst off. The reported death rate in India, which has 1.3 billion people and a rickety, ad-hoc public-health infrastructure, is roughly a tenth of what it is in the United States. In Nigeria, with a population of some two hundred million, the reported death rate is less than a hundredth of the U.S. rate. Rich countries, with sophisticated health-care systems, seem to have suffered the worst ravages of the infection. Death rates in poorer countries—particularly in South Asia and large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa—appear curiously low. (South Africa, which accounts for most of sub-Saharan Africa’s reported COVID-19 deaths, is an important exception.)


      1. There are many other possibilities (not mutually exclusive):
        – Poorer countries have less people on life support (we know that most covid victims are past the average life expectancy)
        – Poorer countries don’t have the incentives for the doctors/hospitals to report any death as a covid death (see the incentives in US for an example, both for insured and uninsured people)
        – Related to the above, the big pharma own most doctors in the rich countries, yet another hidden incentive to report everything as covid.
        – There could be a lot of deaths caused by lockdowns. Most poor countries cannot afford strict lockdowns (not enough white collar jobs and internet connection). So they would have lower death rates because they don’t have lockdowns – wouldn’t that be cool?


        1. For a counterpoint, this article has a critique of Adam Curtis as fake opposition to mainstream culture:
          “The best place to start is with one of the most widely accepted and institutionally supported propagator of conspiracy theories, Adam Curtis. So embedded are his theories in our culture that I imagine most people would not regard him as a conspiracy theorist, a term they would reserve for believers in the ‘Illuminati’ or a ‘flat-earth’.

          It has always struck me as curious that, despite the content of his numerous and award-winning television programmes — all of which, on the face of it, contradict and undermine what such institutions tell us about the world and recent historical events — rather than being banned or censored or marginalised are available on an almost permanent basis on mainstream broadcasting platforms like the BBC, where they are categorised as ‘documentaries’ and never bracketed with other ‘conspiracy theories’. This has led me to ask, Cui bono? — who benefits from the production, televising, and availability of these apparently subversive accounts of everything from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the causes of the Iraq War to the power of the media and the 2008 financial crisis.

          What all of Curtis’s accounts share in common is this: that history is made by a small group of individuals in positions of political and corporate power, usually putting into practice ideas he traces back to theoretical concepts developed years earlier by intellectuals and only later made possible by advances in technology. It’s a persuasive model of history whose theoretical simplicity is concealed behind the myriad of intuitive and tenuous connections Curtis draws between public and private organisations, whether Governments or corporations, and the secret dealings of their leaders. Indeed, his latest series, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, which is available to view on the BBC now, is an account of the rise of conspiracy theories told through barely articulated connections between individuals and events driven or guided by never identified forces. Significantly, though, over the more than 8 hours of its 6 episodes, the coronavirus crisis warrants only the briefest of mentions 10 minutes from the end, where Curtis merely repeats the standard liberal response about COVID-19 exacerbating inequalities in Western democracies. Some conspiracy theories, it seems, are off-bounds even to a BBC producer.”


          1. Thanks. I like Adam Curtis’s work because it makes me think but I definitely don’t buy into everything he says. He’s a bit of a wack job, but its seems most people who try to understand what’s really going on tend to have a bit of wackiness, so I’m tolerant and am willing to sift the wheat from the chaff.

            I’d say my biggest criticism of Curtis is that he’s very light on the hard sciences and so has no clue about many of the big forces like thermodynamics, MPP, and MORT that drive our world, and better explain much of what he discusses.

            I’m enjoying his speculation that the vanity of Mao’s wife caused the cultural revolution.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Tim Watkins today also discussed Jevon’s Paradox, and a lot of other related important ideas, in a really good comprehensive essay.

    Whereas in a growing economy, energy-efficiency measures result in increased discretionary spending – the more energy we save, the more energy we use – in a declining economy, targeted energy-efficiencies might cushion an otherwise unbearable blow; one that has already given rise to Brexit and Donald Trump, and may well result in even darker forces being unleashed in future. After all, set aside ideological dogma and you find that all revolutions are ultimately the result of too many people having empty bellies.

    In the immediate future, masses of people are going to be unemployed or under-employed, simply because the rising price of essentials will divert spending away from the – much larger – discretionary regions of the economy. At the same time, those at the bottom of the income ladder – including most of the newly unemployed – will be unable to afford basics like sufficient food and heating. So targeted energy efficiencies aimed at this part of the population would result in at least a bearable standard of living rather than the increased consumption of decades past. For example, instead of promoting electric cars – which most people cannot afford – through grants and tax breaks, governments should be electrifying and subsidising public transport. In the same vein, rather than continue subsidising even more destabilising NRREHTs without the required storage and back-up, government subsidies should be targeted at properly insulating low-income housing.

    The Jevons Paradox will, for now, apply to those sections of the population whose incomes have continued to grow in the years since 2008. But with ever more people left hungry and shivering in the dark, its deployment as a reason not to invest in energy efficiency will likely be regarded as yet another excuse not to address the growing chasm between rich and poor. It is certainly true that the subsidised, NRREHTs-based green new deal proposals would allow the already wealthy to dine on taxpayer subsidies while the poor are required to pay even more for their energy. It is also true that beneficiaries will use the savings for even more discretionary consumption. But a different politics which seeks first to mitigate poverty can meet the duel aim of supporting the most needy without the increased discretionary spending that results in even more greenhouse gas emissions… And as our total energy declines, ever more people are going to fall into the category which needs energy efficiencies.


  9. Everyone seems to be in the mood for big comprehensive essays.

    I wonder if this means the end is near? 🙂

    Tim Morgan today with an important recapitulation of his thesis:

    In practical terms, governments may need to adapt to a future in which deteriorating prosperity changes the political agenda whilst simultaneously reducing scope for public spending.

    A ‘wild card’ in this situation is introduced by the likelihood that the deteriorating economics of energy supply may connect with the ECoE effect on the cost of essentials to create demands for intervention across a gamut of issues. These might include everything from subsidisation (and/or nationalisation) of essential services to control over costs, with energy supply and housing likely to be near the top of the list of demands for government action.

    These considerations on the challenges facing governments bring us to the end of what can only be an overview of the economic situation as presented by the SEEDS mapping project.

    What has been set out here is a future, conditioned by energy trends, which is going to diverge ever further from what is anticipated both by decision-makers and by the general public. The view expressed here is that, to shape a better and more harmonious world as the prior drivers of cheap energy and increasing complexity go into reverse, it is a matter of urgency that the real nature of the economy as an energy dynamic should gain the broadest possible recognition.


  10. The weather continues to be strange around the world…

    “Record warmth engulfs Western Europe, while Russia plunges into deep freeze… Western Europe sits on the rising end of a meteorological seesaw that’s simultaneously sending temperatures across a broad swath of Russia plummeting below zero…

    “Hamburg [Germany] hit 70 degrees, not only the warmest on record in February but for any winter month. It beat out the previous record, set a day earlier, by 4.3 degrees…

    “Much like what has happened during the extreme warm wave that also swallowed China this weekend, it’s very rare for records to fall by so many degrees, a testament to the anomalous nature of this event.”


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