W. Stanley Jevons, “The Coal Question,” 1865.
In his 1865 book, “The Coal Question; An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines,” British economist William Stanley Jevons warned that Britain would exhaust the coal supplies that were fueling its growth and prosperity. He argued that increased efficiency in consumption would not reduce demand for energy, but rather would spur increased use and further deplete supplies. His insight, often called Jevons’ Paradox, is today used to explain why increased energy efficiency does not necessarily reduce present-day demand for electricity or gasoline.
What powers and importance does Jevons give to coal in Britain’s development? What does he mean when he concludes that Britain must choose, in its strategy for coal consumption, “between brief greatness and longer continued mediocrity.”
What are some examples of energy use today that illustrate the Jevons Paradox?