Monday, March 14, 2011

An Eight Hours Day energy musing

The 8-hour work day. It’s commemorated and/or celebrated today in two Australian States via a public holiday – called Labour Day in Victoria (the first State to achieve it, in 1856) and Eight Hours Day in Tasmania (the last, in 1874) [1]. Savouring this holiday made me ponder if a shorter work day means lower productivity, all else being equal. My conclusion? I don’t know. A recent a New Yorker article examined an analogous matter. Titled ‘The Efficiency Dilemma’, it asks: ‘If our machines use less energy, will we just use them more? [2] Usual wisdom says we’ll use them less. But the writer, David Owen (pictured) [3], disagrees. And he quotes examples to back up his view. He attributes his conclusion to the ‘Jevons paradox’ [4] – that economical fuel use leads to increased consumption – propounded in 1865 by Englishman William Jevons [5]. Nowadays, Owen writes, the phenomenon’s called ‘rebound’. And experts who insist energy rebound’s currently non-existent, are wrong. Thus, seemingly illogically, he advocates inefficient machines: ‘If the only motor vehicle available today were a 1920 Model T, how many miles do you think you’d drive each year…?’ But he discounts mandatory machine inefficiency as unrealistic. His ultimate proposal? Increased energy efficient machines, but costlier energy.

P.S. Samsung’s just unveiled a game-changing prototype LCD TV which is solar powered, i.e it gets all the power it needs from ambient light. You can watch it during the extra leisure time the 8-hour work day’s brought you. Ho hum.

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