Jevons Paradox and American Consumerism

I think a big point from lecture that was thought-provoking to me was the idea of metabolic rift. In particular the idea that because of how global, food consumption has become we have created imbalances in natural levels of nutrients/water from food producing countries by transporting nutrient rich foods to wealthier countries to be consumed. This cycle is countering the natural cycle of plant growth wherein fruit/food that is not consumed by animals is composted into the native land to restore nutrients/water and keep land fertile. A consequence of this process is that we leave the food producing, and often poorer countries all the poorer of the nutrients and resources they need to produce a main asset of their economy which is food.

Another, thought provoking discussion in our last lecture was the discussion around Jevons paradox. Specifically, that the more efficient we think something is the more we consume it, thus making the efficiency of the thing seemingly obsolete. The example used in class was that of a Prius. Prius’s are known to be more fuel efficient than other standard cars in the market today because of this Prius owners may be more inclined to drive their car than the average driver thus making the efficiency and waste reducing potential of the car obsolete.  In particular I think this is a great metaphor for all aspects of American consumerism. This point was also touched on in Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” in which he notes, “And that a third of us [Americans] believe that a diet absolutely free of fat—a nutrient, lest you forget, essential to our survival—would be better for us than a diet containing even just ‘a pinch’ of it” (Pollan 79). Truly Americans seem to favor quantity over quality.

On the topic of quantity over quality and nutrient cycling another important issue that Pollan brought up was the reduction in the amount of nutrients our food contains now a day as compared to the past. “…USDA figures show a decline in the nutrient content of the forty-three crops it has tracked since the 1950s” (Pollan 118). Not only does this affect people in wealthy countries that consume imported food but it also affects people in the poorer food producing countries that also consume that food. The difference between people in wealthier countries consuming less nutritious foods and people in poorer countries consuming less nutritious foods; is that the people in poorer countries don’t have the means to over consume and compensate for the reduced nutrition in their food. Thus, not only is the ecology of a country affected but also the health of the local population, all in the name of satisfying the never-ending hunger of over-consumption.

1 thought on “Jevons Paradox and American Consumerism

  1. Sungkun Yi Choi

    Hi Yasmine, first I think this is a great and insightful post! I was wondering how you think we can “escape” from Jevon’s Paradox. I remember reading somewhere that it would require a combination of institutional actions and behavioral adjustment (e.g. incentives programs), but I’m interested to hear what you think.


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