Technology is only as good as we are. That is, we can develop more fuel efficient cars or create a digital substitute for paper but these technologies are only as beneficial as we let them be. History has shown us that new efficiencies in a capitalist economy tend to increase consumption of materials such as oil and fuel efficient cars. I think we, the general population, look at technology and think it a “silver bullet” for solving environmental problems. When at the heart of the problem is our relationship with Earth. This essay will attempt to illustrate the ways in which technology can make environmental problems worse, how it might make it better, and the limits of technology with this respect.
Jevons Paradox can help us understand how technology can make environmental problems worse. Jevons Paradox is often thought of as an “extreme version of the rebound effect” (Foster et. al., p177). Simply stated, the “rebound effect” is where any efficiencies gained don’t necessarily led to a decrease in consumption of equal extent and instead leds to an increase (Foster et. al.). Jevons Paradox is similar except that technological efficiencies are said to led to an increase in consumption by more than a 100% (Foster et. al.). Efficiencies drive commodity cost down, thereby increasing affordability, demand and thus consumption. Another factor at play here are “profit-seeking behaviors” found in a capitalistic economy that drive both the desire to increase efficiencies and consumption. By increasing efficiency, a commodity becomes cheaper to produce which makes it more “affordable” to consumers and drives up consumption which help capitalist increase their “bottom line”. If the goal of technology is to help reduce over consumption of Earth resources and help conserve them, we must exercise some restraint on our part as a society in order for it to effectively address the environmental issue. It is our social relation to the Earth that makes technological solutions effective or ineffective. To help illustrate Jevons Paradox and what I mean by “social relationship to the Earth” we look to the automobile.
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English, Jonathan. “Why Is American Mass Transit So Bad? It’s a Long Story. - CityLab.”
City Lab. N.p., 2018. Web. 3 Feb. 2019.
Foster, John Bellamy., Brett. Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift : Capitalism’s War on the Earth. Monthly Review Press, 2010. Print.
I am a Graduate Student at the University of Oregon (UO) School of Law studying Conflict and Dispute Resolution. I did my undergraduate work at UO majoring in General Social Science with a concentration in Globalization, Environment, and Policy.