Stanley Jevons’s Prophecy

In his famous treatise The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probably Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines, published almost 150 years ago, the British economist William Stanley Jevons described a phenomenon whose importance today might be even higher than back in 1865–the so-called rebound effect, also known under the names of second-order effect, Khazzoom-Brookes effect, backfire or Jevons’s paradox. Jevons argued that the increased efficiency of steam engines shall lead to increased use of them and thus, counter-intuitively, to an increase in coal consumption. His insights have surprising relevance for today’s debates on economic growth and climate change. Continue reading


Emissions Trading and Feed-In Tariffs: Do We Need Both?

When I started this blog some 3.5 years ago, the focus was on climate issues, particularly climate economics. More recently, however, I have neglected this topic a little. Fortunately, working at a research institute gives one the opportunity to learn a lot about things other scientists do–e.g., regarding the quite popular question whether the EU needs both emissions reduction and renewable energy deployment targets such as the 20-20-20 target. In other words: do we need an energy mix consisting, e.g., of emissions trading and feed-in tariff schemes? Or is emissions trading enough to reach policy goals? And, by the way, what are these goals? Continue reading

Want to Save the World? Start in China

Within a few days, Yale e360 published two extremely interesting analyses of China’s recent environmental and social problems: China’s Great Dam Boom by Charlton Lewis and China at Crossroads by Ed Grumbine. Both fascinating in their own right, these articles show that if you want to save the world from a looming environmental catastrophe, you have to start in China. Continue reading

Nuclear Power or Fossil Fuels?, Revisited

More than two years ago I wrote here a piece about nuclear power. I critisized in it a commentary authored by Bjorn Lomborg, who argued that nuclear power is the all-environmentally friendly energy source. Then, I replicated a “green dogma” and wrote that

first, we cannot but abandon both [nuclear power AND fossil fuels], and, secondly, it is not necessarily true that we cannot afford a switch to renewables.

I do not longer think this is true. While still not sharing Lomborg’s and others’ enthusiasm about nuclear fission, I view it as the lesser evil. Continue reading

Is Nuke the Lesser Evil?

Among environmentalists, nuclear power belongs, together with genetic engineering and geo-engineering, to the group of the most dogmatically condemned technologies humanity ever has developed. There are exceptions from this paradigm, perhaps the most notable being the British environmental journalist Mark Lynas. But most members of the environmentalist movement hate the nuke, fearing the radiation, Chernobyl-like accidents, peak uranium, conflict with renewables, adverse environmental consequences of uranium mining, terrorist dangers and the like. However, when confronted with recent insights from climate science, one should ask: isn’t nuke the lesser evil? Continue reading

Externalities of Energy Generation

Because of repeated discussions of this subject in comments under my posts, I decided to make a list of externalities for various energy generation forms. For this I chose the most popular energy generation methods as currently in use, i.e. I excluded for example geothermal and solar thermal energy. The list is hardly complete, so you are welcome to add further points in comments (also for further energy generation methods). Continue reading

The Nuclear Solution to Climate Change

I argued repeatedly that nuclear power should not be considered a solution to climate change – due to environmental and financial concerns (for a summary, see here). Today I found an interesting article concerning the financial side, which is very important, since it is often argued that nuclear is the cheapest energy source we have. Here an excerpt:

There has been ample discussion in recent years of a “nuclear renaissance,” and many politicians and energy analysts believe that a meaningful response to climate change must include a new fleet of nuclear plants in the United States. The long-term planning studies that routinely come out of utilities, advocacy groups, and the Department of Energy now commonly include new nuclear units. However, many of these studies use nuclear and utility industry cost estimates for new nuclear plants, rather than estimates based on the actual experiences of companies currently trying to build nuclear power plants. Given the dollars and the environmental impacts at stake, it is critical that planners make resource decisions using the best information available. [more]