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The Rebound Effect

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Sunday evening last week I walked along the river into town. On my way, the first building to enter my eye was one of those LED facade buildings I mentioned in the Reading the City post.

I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur of this genre. This next one’s my current favorite. It wasn’t on my route that night though it is on the usual route home. I like how it’s not trying to be informative, or even attractive. The blank black window openings are slightly scary. The building’s probably an office building but could just as easily be a hotel or a hospital.

I don’t get out much because I was surprised to see more buildings with some sort of LED light display than not. I’m sorry for all the videos in this post but photographs don’t do them justice. I hope you bear with it.

Here’s the only building I saw illuminated by ambient light. I don’t know why. And quite a handsome building too.

Further along was a building washed with blue but cycling through various other colors at a speed just below the threshold for noticing change – or at least mine. You wouldn’t notice this change if you watched it continuously but if you looked away and then looked back you would. It was a different way with lighting. Given how well the surfaces of the building took to being uplit, I can’t be sure the building wasn’t designed with this in mind.

One has to be wary of anything Philip Johnson said but was it his 1961 Amon Carter Museum of American Art or his 1964 Beck House (both in Fort Worth, Texas) for which he had a mock-up of the columns sent to – correct me if I’m wrong – Tuscany to check the play of light and shadow?

Further along, panels of rapidly changing colour backlit some complex casting (or perhaps printing?) of concrete (or perhaps GRP?).

Stair risers were washed with light, thankfully and unchangingly so.

Not so the bridges.

Or the ship.

Along the way were some special moments with trees and landscaping.

I stayed a while here.

I lingered still longer looking at the mountains and valleys on the far side. I didn’t know what to choose to best illustrate but I’ll keep it to these two next. The mountain ridges are lit with LED while the mountains are washed with LED light. That waterfall “screen” is no projection but curtains of LED hung across the valley. It’s a lot of LED.

Light Emitting Diodes are an amazing invention. They have a high light output for relatively little electrical input. Unlike lasers and their coherent and powerful beams, the colour output of LED only appears to be stable but that’s good enough for us. They’re dimmable and can be quickly switched and at first were used in combination to produce light of any colour in much the same way cathode ray television tubes did once. Different colors became commercially viable at different times. First was yellow and then came red, blue and ultimately, white.

Since the beginning of LED history circa 1972, producing an LED that emitted white light was the holy grail of LED research but, by 2014, Japanese and South Korean companies had developed experimental versions that went into production in 2018. All this goes to show that holy grails aren’t what they used to be. Since then, the cost of producing LED has continued to decrease. The Rebound Effect is when the cost of obtaining some object or resources drops and our consumption of that object or resource increases so that, in the end, we’re still using as much of it as we can afford. It happens with energy sources and, if you’ve watched all the videos in this post, it happens with bandwidth. It’s why new model cellphones continually surf the limit of what we can afford to use. This what we can afford to use may be our undoing.

Designed by Heidi & Peter Wenger, the Swiss Pavilion at Expo’70 in Osaka was a 55 meter wide 21 meter high tree covered with 35,000 incandescent lamps. It must’ve been a sight but, within three years would come the First Oil Shock, forcing up the price of oil and, in turn, energy and nowhere was this felt more than Japan that was 100% reliant on imported oil for energy.

The planet is currently going through a phase when some catastrophic climatic or climate-related event happens every two or three weeks. In the US alone there’s been the heat dome in the north west, drought and fires in the south west, flooding in the north east, hurricanes in the south east where they’re expected, as well as typhoons where they’re not. Last month rain fell in Greenland for the first time ever known.

The consensus is that this is caused by global warming brought about by industrial activity causing the composition and characteristics of our atmosphere to change in a way not conducive to an easy life for us. China regularly tops lists of the most polluting countries. Its CO2 emissions showed a phenomenal absolute increase for the period 2000-2015 while those of the already industrialized countries remained stable. Although its increase wasn’t as rapid as China’s, India with its industrializing economy and its large and on average poor population showed a similar trend. You can find many charts similar to this next.

Producing LED and then using them to Illuminate mountains and valleys isn’t helping but the climatic consequences we’re seeing now are the result of cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750 and the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that, humankind’s contribution was insignificant.

“By 1835 Manchester was a major centre for cotton processing and later, general manufacture. It was the first and greatest industrial city in the world.”

So then, as far as cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750 go, who’s looking good and who’s not? I can’t be the first person to ask this question and, sure enough, ourworldindata has some graphics accompanying an article by Hannah Ritchie that sheds some light on this very question.

  • In 1750, the UK was responsible for 100% of global CO2 emissions.
  • By 1876, it was now split 50-50 between the UK and the US.
  • By 1944, the contributions of the US and the UK to global cumulative CO2 emissions were both over 50% [!!??] but, relatively speaking at least, the % contributions of Canada, the then Soviet Union, India, South Africa, China and Australia were increasing.
  • The 2014 chart shows that, cumulatively speaking, China has managed to equal the US in terms of cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750. If nothing else, it shows us how quickly things can change.

The above chart has both the US and the UK with contributions of greater than 50% but this next and neater graphic from the same source shows the cumulative contribution of North America and Eurasia as about 65%. I’m not worried about the discrepancy. The question is still valid and important and it needs to be both asked and answered.

Different again is this next graphic with the variously colored areas being the cumulative amounts of CO2 emissions produced by countries and their various groupings. Going by this, Europe is very much to blame for what’s up there now. Moreover, the cumulative CO2 emissions of China (since 1750, remember) is far less than that of the United States whose own are about equal to those of the EU27 but still far less than that of the rest of Europe. Whether original polluter UK is counted within the EU or not, its cumulative contribution will be counted with the approximately 75% shown by the orange and pale orange bands. For a single country, the cumulative total of the US far surpasses that of China (at least as of 2019). From this misfits concludes that ranking polluting countries by current output is useful for deflecting some tricky questions.

The trickiest of those questions is who has what to show for it all? Two hundred and fifty plus years on, the benefits of the Industrial Revolution remain unevenly distributed. I’m curious to know how much good came from all that CO2 up there or if we’ve simply squandered our fossil fuel legacy for no good reason. I’d like to see a global energy cost-benefit audit for the period 1750-2021 to find out where our fossil fuels went and on what and for whom. Meanwhile, our definition of “what we can afford to use” is becoming broader, albeit very unevenly and not quickly enough.



  • It does seem to be a national obsession. Pretty. Exciting. Okay, “propaganda mountain” is a bit nuts. When the Fremont St. Experience opened in ’95, it naturally received a lot of press. Appropriate for Las Vegas, since everything in that town vies for one’s attention. Recently upgraded LED panels BTW. I prefer simple, required lighting ON buildings for life-safety illumination of the grounds and adjacent right-of-way(s). And, the up lighting OF buildings for effect if the architecture is worthy. Just my 2 cents. Over 50 old fashioned I guess. On the structures with signage, are they boasting about the facility itself or advertising for other goods and services unrelated (neo-Blade Runner billboards)? or both? The big US phenomena in the last 20 years, has been naming rights where corporate stamp traditional signs on sports venues mostly. Not much in the way of this genre of lighting style however. Might be the energy suck as you say. Similarly, when you see private or public water features, they are typically shut off. Jurisdictions here are also big on “light pollution”. 100% downlighting only thank you very much.

    • If you look at old photos of Hong Kong you can see a cultural predilection for neon signage. I forgot to mention that most of these LED shows stop at 8:30pm – which seems a little early.

      • Yep. You Only Live Twice (Japan) and The Man With The Golden Gun (Hong Kong). Lots of neon. I think western audiences weren’t aware of the phenomena.
        Great post as usual BTW. Cheers.