From the RMI website:
Energy efficiency has been a consistent part of America's energy security policies and increasingly become an essential framework for abating carbon emissions. In fact, the federal government now offers several tax credits for everything from green home improvements to fuel cells.
But the effectiveness of energy efficiency does not go undisputed.
Skeptics such as the Energy Tribune's Robert Bryce point out that total energy use in the United States continues to rise, despite efficiency gains. Per capita, we're using more energy even as sales of hybrid cars increase and more green buildings get erected.
The argument hinges on an economic theory called Jevons' Paradox.
In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons wrote a book called The Coal Question. In it, he observed that the consumption of coal had gone up in England even after more efficient technologies, like an improved steam engine, had been introduced.
Later economic theory moderated Jevons' observation to say that a more efficient technology could create a rebound effect: Some of the efficiency gains are wiped out by greater demand for the resource.
Today's popularity of more efficient vehicles and green home retrofits means it is worth seriously considering if there is evidence for Jevons' Paradox -- or even a significant rebound effect -- that could dampen some of the enthusiasm for these technologies.
Luckily, we are observing only very small rebound effects (if any at all) in the United States. For example, we can look at household driving patterns: While total vehicle miles traveled have increased 16 percent between 1991 and 2001, there is no evidence that owners of hybrid vehicles drove twice as much just because their cars were twice as efficient.
Uh, no. This isn't what Bryce is arguing. Here RMI has turned Bryce's thesis--that we can't "save our way to energy independence"--into a preposterous strawman--that efficiency is bad. Bryce believes that efficiency is very important, but that it is a tool for containing growth in energy usage, not a cure-all that will solve all of our social ills and give us "lunches that we'll be paid to eat," as Lovins has been saying for decades.
Honestly, I think that the events of the past year may be the beginning of the end for RMI. Many of the technologies that Lovins has been pushing since the 1970s--ethanol, fuel cells, hydrogen, biofuels, etc.--have lost their credibility as serious contenders in the energy market. Meanwhile, nuclear power is roaring back, with the first new nuclear plant order in the United States in thirty years, the decision by the UK to build new nuclear plants, and the general trend basically everywhere but Germany and a few other holdouts. I'm not sure how Lovins can maintain much credibility in light of these developments. But seeing how being wrong has never seemed to slow him down in the past, perhaps he'll survive this too.