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Not only subterranean forests: Wood consumption and economic development in Britain (1850–1938)

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  • Iriarte-Goñi, Iñaki
  • Ayuda, María-Isabel

Abstract

This paper analyzes wood consumption in Britain over the period 1850–1938. We calculate the apparent consumption of wood, taking into account both net imports of wood and the home harvest. We then develop some quantitative exercises that correlate wood consumption with GDP, with prices of wood and iron (as an alternative material to wood) and with other measures. The main conclusion is that, although wood had lost its economic centrality after the energy transition, wood consumption continued to grow in Britain both in absolute and relative terms, showing a positive elasticity to GDP superior to the unit. This result allows us to reach a more complete understanding of the socio-metabolic transition associated with the Industrial Revolution. Britain faced the increase in wood demand by relying almost entirely on imported wood, reinforcing the idea that the decoupling of economic growth from land use must to be handled with care, and should be observed not at the national level but on a global scale. Although British economic development was to a great extent focussed on what has been called the “subterranean forests” of coal, it simultaneously supported large tracts of surface foreign forest.

Suggested Citation

  • Iriarte-Goñi, Iñaki & Ayuda, María-Isabel, 2012. "Not only subterranean forests: Wood consumption and economic development in Britain (1850–1938)," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 176-184.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:77:y:2012:i:c:p:176-184
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.02.029
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    Cited by:

    1. Kander, Astrid & Stern, David I., 2014. "Economic growth and the transition from traditional to modern energy in Sweden," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 56-65.
    2. Duarte, Rosa & Pinilla, Vicente & Serrano, Ana, 2014. "The water footprint of the Spanish agricultural sector: 1860–2010," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 200-207.
    3. Duarte, Rosa & Pinilla, Vicente & Serrano, Ana, 2014. "The effect of globalisation on water consumption: A case study of the Spanish virtual water trade, 1849–1935," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 96-105.
    4. Rosa Duarte & Vicente Pinilla & Ana Serrano, 2015. "Global water in a global world a long term study on agricultural virtual water flows in the world," Documentos de Trabajo dt2015-03, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales, Universidad de Zaragoza.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Wood; Forest history; Industrialization; Consumption function;

    JEL classification:

    • C22 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Time-Series Models; Dynamic Quantile Regressions; Dynamic Treatment Effect Models; Diffusion Processes
    • N53 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N54 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: 1913-
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • Q21 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Demand and Supply; Prices

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