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EAGxVirtual Unconference (Saturday, June 20th 2020)

We'd love to see what you seen, if you don't mind sharing some links. Note that when we talk about 'demand reduction' (which honestly isn't the best term, but we're still working on that), it doesn't mean just any work on the demand side. Any kind of efficiency standard is a demand side intervention, but we've tried to distinguish 'demand reduction' from that sort of work.

Similarly, we wouldn't consider demand response as falling under 'demand reduction', as from what I understand, it's primarily about shifting consumption which could be viewed as efficiency improvements.

Maybe to put it more clearly, we should distinguish between two types of demand:

1. Demand for goods and services, such as the service received from an appliance or travel over a distance

2. Demand for energy and resources, such as electricity

Work that we've seen on the demand side may work on reducing demand #2 by improving the efficiency in which those goods and services are delivered. But we haven't seen much work on reducing demand #1.

The use of taxes and incentives to shift demand #1 is probably the closest thing we've seen, but we think there's a broader space of policies to be considered for reducing demand #1 that is under-explored.

EAGxVirtual Unconference (Saturday, June 20th 2020)

Demand Reduction is a neglected approach in climate solutions

We want to share some ideas about demand reduction, which we feel is a neglected approach to addressing climate change. We would like to get feedback on these ideas and connect with other like-minded EAs. These are early-stage ideas that we are still making more rigorous and actionable.

Whereas energy efficiency improvements reduce energy and resource demands by making certain behaviors and processes more efficient, demand reduction is about reducing or eliminating those behaviors and processes altogether, thus avoiding issues like the rebound effect (see Jevons paradox and Khazzoom-Brookes postulate). For instance, whereas a mainstream approach to reducing the environmental impact of transportation would focus on shifting travel to trains or electric vehicles, a demand reduction approach would focus more on reducing the need for commuting and travel overall.

Demand reduction has several advantages as an approach: it comprehensively reduces environmental burdens, rather than only reducing emissions; it is less dependent on technological progress; it is less dependent on new investment; it is less complex and thus more robust; and it is complementary to existing approaches, by making goals like 100% renewable and net-zero emissions easier to reach. We will explain these in more detail during the talk.

Despite these advantages, demand reduction is not widely discussed in environmental circles as an approach to climate change. The climate discussion seems to be dominated by investment-oriented ideas like clean energy, creation of clean jobs, and technological innovations that may have their own unique environmental burdens. We are not aware of efforts to research demand reduction policies or marketing, meaning that some research could make it a more tractable space to explore for addressing climate issues.

Demand reduction is associated with ideas like degrowth and steady-state economics, but those areas spend a lot of time debating abstract and high-level issues about capitalism and growth, often in the language of academic social science. We think there may be an opportunity for impact by side-stepping ideological debates and distilling the ideas that are most actionable into language that is understood by a broader audience. We see this as a potentially general mechanism that EAs could have impact.

We can only participate in the late sessions (9-16).