Modernizing our way out or digging ourselves in? Reconsidering the impacts of efficiency innovations and affluence on residential energy consumption, 2005-2015
Lazarus Adua, Brett Clark, Richard York, Chien-fei Chen. (2019). Modernizing our way out or digging ourselves
in? Reconsidering the impacts of efficiency innovations and affluence on residential
energy consumption, 2005–2015. Journal of Environmental Management. 252
This study scrutinizes the impacts of efficiency innovations as well as affluence
on residential energy consumption, which is a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions.
The study draws on the ecological-modernization perspective, which is optimistic about
how technological innovations and affluence can help societies overcome environmental
challenges associated with production and consumption, and the political-economy perspective,
which raises doubts about whether these factors are beneficial to the environment,
given their tendency to drive more consumption. Analysis of nationally representative
longitudinal data reveals mixed relationships between
efficiency innovations and residential energy consumption: while some measures of efficiency innovations, generally those not requiring human-technology interactions, are negatively related to residential energy consumption, others are either unrelated to it or drive more consumption. These findings suggest efficiency innovations offer only minimal opportunities for conserving energy, and may depend on the nature of the innovation. Raising doubts about the potential for rising affluence to promote environmental protection, this study reveals positive relationships between our measures of affluence and residential energy consumption.