LEDs alone won’t solve global warming or global poverty, but they are a step in the right direction for both.
To the Editor:
The quest for fire, and hence for light, is a defining characteristic of humankind. Far from being a problem, making light cheaper and more efficient is good news all around.
While the rebound effect has been known for over a century, we also know its limits. In the case of developed countries, there’s only so much lighting one can consume — you don’t add more lamps in the living room after replacing an inefficient bulb with an LED.
For billions of light-starved citizens in the developing world, lower costs will speed the journey from darkness — and that is a very good thing. What’s more, efficiency helps solve a core dilemma of climate protection: how developing countries can grow their economies without following the emissions-intensive path we did.
Energy inefficiency is never good. Focusing on the “backfire” is a mere distraction. LEDs alone won’t solve global warming or global poverty, but they are a step in the right direction for both.
Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 10, 2014
Mr. Wagner is lead senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, and Mr. Gillingham is an assistant professor of economics at Yale.
Published as Letter to the Editor in the New York Times on October 17th, 2014. For a more comprehensive response, see “Is energy efficiency a good thing even with rebound?“, published in full as part of a broader post on “Is There Room for Agreement on the Merits and Limits of Efficient Lighting” by Andrew Revkin on the DotEarth blog of The New York Times, and followed by “Another round on energy rebound.” For an academic treatment, see “The Rebound Effect and Energy Efficiency Policy.” For the latest entry into this never-ending debate, see: “LEDs meet the locavore.”