Avoiding Rebound through a Steady-State Economy

Jørgen Nørgaard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


The debate on the rebound effect as presented in most chapters in this book is based upon experience from the past more than visions of the future. The analyses are dominated by conventional economic theory, which implicitly assumes insatiable demand for energy services. Material consumption is considered to be limited primarily by productive capacity with little concern for ecological costs and limits. In such a development aiming at unlimited growth it would from a long term environmental perspective be close to irrelevant to reach for more efficient use of energy at the end-users, since it would only buy some time. From this perspective, the environmental problem with the rebound effect is not the higher energy efficiency, which pushes towards lower flows of resources through the economy, but rather the conventional economy which rebounds the savings, because of its quest for higher flows. In this chapter, I shall take the rebound debate further by discussing the possible role of energy efficiency in a sustainable economy that is based on the notion of ‘sufficiency’. The assumption is that globally we need to achieve a ‘steady-state economy’. Considering the urgent need for better material conditions in many parts of the world, the transition towards a steady-state economy needs to begin first in the affluent countries, including the Nordic countries from where most of the information in this chapter is drawn. The politicians in these countries are not seeking a steady-state economy, but some social and cultural traditions may provide prerequisites for such a society, including public attitudes towards low birth rates, equity, consumption and work. Although this chapter presents a Nordic perspective, the options and trends described are relevant worldwide. It is assumed that absolute reductions in energy consumption are desirable, since most energy supply options involve environmental problems. While renewable energy sources are generally more environmentally benign than fossil fuels and nuclear, they nevertheless constitute a very direct intrusion on nature, as it is already apparent where hydropower and biomass is used intensively.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnergy Efficiency and Sustainable Consumption: The Rebound Effect
EditorsH. Herring, S. Sorrell
Number of pages280
Place of PublicationHoundsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21 6XS, England
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2008
ISBN (Print)978-0-230-58310-8
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Energy Efficiency, Rebound Effect, Sustainable Development, Limits to Growth, Steady State.


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