Changing over to energy efficient lightbulbs, driving a Prius, opting for the train rather than the airplane are all emotionally appealing ways of reducing our personal carbon footprints. But are they really ways of dealing with global warming? The eminently unpopular (with Eco-warriors anyway) Bjorn Lomborg thinks not. In fact, he is thinking like an economist (i.e. making sense) in his article "No, you can't" which discuss the work of energy economist Harry Saunders and four co-authors. Lomborg writes:
For this reason, the proportion of resources that we expend on lighting has remained virtually unchanged for the past three centuries, at about 0.72% of gross domestic product. As Saunders and his colleagues observe in their journal article, “This was the case in the UK in 1700, is the case in the undeveloped world not on grid electricity in modern times, and is the case for the developed world in modern times using the most advanced lighting technologies.”
The conclusion that Saunders and his co-authors draw from this is both surprising and hard to dispute: rather than shrinking our electricity use, the introduction of ever more efficient lighting technologies is much more likely to lead to “massive…growth in the consumption of light.”
As the cost of leaving the lights on goes down, we will end up leaving the lights on longer. Read the whole thing here. And for those of you interested in environmental issue, please do read more of Bjorn's work. He brings a dispassionate voice and some very good statistical analysis to the conversation. He is very much worth listening to.