Nonprofit journalism dedicated to creating a Human Age we actually want to live in.

Classroom Resources: The Efficiency Catch-22

The Efficiency Catch-22
By John Carey

Fall 2011 / Vol. 12 No. 3

Read the article

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the “rebound effect”? Can you think of any examples in your own life in which you used more of something when it became cheaper and more available? Can you think of examples when this did not happen?
  2. What does the black line on the graph (page 34 and here) tell us, relative to the colored lines? Why does it keep increasing while the other lines increase, then decline or stop?
  3. What do you think of the idea of an energy tax that is levied when energy becomes cheaper, in order to dampen the “rebound effect”?
  4. There are examples in which the rebound effect is very clear (airplane travel) and others where it might not be (more efficient cars). The example of LED lights is interesting because it suggests that LED will be incorporated into more products (lighted floors, etc.). Do you think this will happen?
  5. In the article cited below by Pimputkar et al., there is a graph on page 182 that shows the relative efficiency of different kinds of light bulbs. How does our standard, incandescent bulb rate in this comparison? Why do you think it has taken so long for society to adopt more efficient technologies?
  6. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute is one of the biggest critics of the rebound effect. Why do you think he is so critical? Using information that you can obtain on the internet, compare the careers of Lovins and Tsao.

Websites for Further Information


Energy Efficiency in the News


Peer-reviewed Literature

  • Lovins, A.B. 2005. More profit with less carbon. Scientific American 293: 74-83
  • Pimputkar, A., J.S. Speck, S.P. DenBaars, and S. Nakamura. 2009. Prospects for LED lighting. Nature Photonics 180-192


Key Concepts

  • Energy efficiency
  • Rebound effect
  • Technology and energy consumption
  • LED lighting
  • Physics and economics
Share This