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Articles by Rob McDonald

Robert McDonald is a vanguard scientist with The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Strategies Division. Robert works to evaluate the drivers, trends, and conservation implications of emerging or understudied threats to biodiversity. Prior to joining the Conservancy, he was a Smith Conservation Biology Fellow at Harvard University, studying the impact global urban growth will have on biodiversity and conservation.

Featured Article

Will more efficient energy use just make us want to use more?Photo: Vicky van SantenCross-posted from Cool Green Science.

I recently had the chance to participate in a panel about energy efficiency at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. I expected the usual discussion of all the opportunities we’re missing to be more energy efficient and save money in the process — what Amory Lovins calls the “free lunch … you’re paid to eat.”

Instead, I found myself vehemently defending the very idea of energy efficiency against an idea with the odd name of Jevons paradox, which is undergoing a resurgence since David Owen’s article on it in The New Yorker.

Jevons paradox is named after William Jevons, who observed in the 19th century that an increase in the efficiency of using coal to produce energy tended to increase consumption, rather than reduce it. Why? Because, Jevons argued, the cheaper price of coal-produced energy encouraged people to find innovative new ways to consume energy.

Jevons paradox, as currently stated by Owen and others, is really an extreme statement about an effect economists commonly observe cal... Read more