The re-bounce effect

The re-bounce effect

Some thoughts about a blog article by Damien Detcherry (in French)

By Tsilla Boisselet

The author of this online article reflects on what means of transportation are the best from the ecological point of view on the long term. In particular, he challenges our perception of “green” or “sustainable” by looking beyond a simple “emission” calculation. He gives the example of the electric car and the bike, as alternatives to the now most common fueled car. Is not any technology, which consumes less than the previous one, the choice to be? What is better, but more interestingly: WHY? Why would a bike be better than an electric car? Beyond the questions of the resources used to produce and maintain a high-tech car with respect to a bike, which are already an important aspect to consider when wondering about sustainability, the real question arises with the mass production and massive use. What happens when something, as a technology or a practice become main stream?

The re-bounce effect speaks exactly about this: It is the paradox of the more efficient (cheaper) technology. Since it is cheaper, easier, it gets used MORE, which, at the end, increases the overall consumption of energy instead of reducing it, as it was supposed to be.

The re-bounce effect: the paradox of the more efficient technology that increases energy consumption

Detcherry suggests thinking outside of the box by first stopping to compare two technologies, because it implies keeping a cause of the negative effects, namely the life style. In the case of transportation, thinking about personal transportation, with all the possible comfort is not going to decrease the energy consumption in anyway, because of the re-bounce effect. Therefore, it is necessary to question the motivation, and most centrally, the needs before the wants and the comparison with the present technologies.

If the equation to solve for transportation could be formulated in this way: In the simplest way possible, how can we satisfy the needs for transportation using the less resources possible? the comfort, the weight of the vehicle, the necessary technology will be challenged, the differentiation of the length of the trip, as well as the need of doing the trip at all.

Can we also think further and use the re-bounce effect for the better? Countries who invest in making biking easy, cheap and fast do exactly this: promoting an energy efficient way of transportation, by-passing the questions if a bike compares to a car.

How can we satisfy the needs for transportation using the less resources possible?

There is a huge field of possibilities opening ahead when embracing this vision of things.

Now, how can we apply the same reasoning to other domains of human activity? What about alimentation, housing, clothing, education or leisure activities? What about agriculture?

How can we apply the same reasoning to other domains of human activity?

Agriculture is a central human activity field and has also an enormous impact on the environment in many ways. Furthermore, with the challenges ahead, due to population increase, climatic changes and its consequences, a change in common practices and a more sustainable agriculture are more than ever needed.

Many voices are raising to use novel technologies to make agriculture more efficient, crops more resistant, diseases mapped by drones or the harvest less work -intensive by using robots. This is for sure a possible “agriculture of the future” and will certainly be used for useful outcomes. The question is more if this IS the answer to the sustainability of agriculture. To go back to the reasoning around the re-bounce effect: can it be done in large scale everywhere? If yes, what will the effects be like?

Can we start over the equation by formulating first the needs?

In the simplest way possible, how can we satisfy the needs for sufficient and healthy food (calories, vitamins, etc) using the less resources possible?

How can we satisfy the needs for sufficient and healthy food using the less resources possible?

This is a question that many researchers are working on, and whose work needs to be translated in concrete actions and wide programs ( a broad picture by Pretty et al., 2010 or a report by the UN of 2013). To name a few, more local circuits, seasonal produce, intercropping, more landscape adapted crops to reduce water need, reduction of toxic components and a shift towards less meat in the diet are all efficient ecological footprint reducers of the agriculture.

How can the re-bounce effect be used to create an acceleration of a practice that will be beneficial on a large scale? What practices, that are effectively providing food, in a healthy and sustainable way, are easy enough to be adopted on a large scale? How can we make other effective practices easy enough to be adopted? How can the common needs of humans of food be coupled to others, as for example sense of community, communication, health and even aesthetics and entertainment to encourage shifting food production practices?

It is up to us!


UN (2013). “Wake up before it is too late – Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate – Trade and Environment Review 2013”, in: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).(Geneva).

Pretty, J., (2010). The top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability8,219-236. doi: 10.3763/ijas.2010.0534.

DOI reference: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1979951