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

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

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.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Ecological Economics.

Volume (Year): 77 (2012)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 176-184

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Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:77:y:2012:i:c:p:176-184
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  1. Denis Kwiatkowski & Peter C.B. Phillips & Peter Schmidt, 1991. "Testing the Null Hypothesis of Stationarity Against the Alternative of a Unit Root: How Sure Are We That Economic Time Series Have a Unit Root?," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 979, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  2. Allen,Robert C., 2009. "The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521868273, October.
  3. Carrion-i-Silvestre, Josep Lluís & Kim, Dukpa & Perron, Pierre, 2009. "Gls-Based Unit Root Tests With Multiple Structural Breaks Under Both The Null And The Alternative Hypotheses," Econometric Theory, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(06), pages 1754-1792, December.
  4. Sul, Donggyu & Phillips, Peter & Choi, Chi-Young, 2003. "Prewhitening Bias in HAC Estimation," Working Papers 141, Department of Economics, The University of Auckland.
  5. Fridolin Krausmann & Heinz Schandl & Rolf Peter Sieferle, 2007. "Socio-Ecological Regime Transitions in Austria and the United Kingdom," Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED) Working Paper Series 2007-05, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.
  6. Wrigley,E. A., 2010. "Energy and the English Industrial Revolution," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521131858, October.
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  8. Rosenberg, Nathan, 1973. "Innovative Responses to Materials Shortages," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(2), pages 111-18, May.
  9. Iriarte-Goñi, Iñaki & Ayuda, Mari­a Isabel, 2008. "Wood and industrialization: Evidence and hypotheses from the case of Spain, 1860-1935," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(1), pages 177-186, March.
  10. Schandl, Heinz & Schulz, Niels, 2002. "Changes in the United Kingdom's natural relations in terms of society's metabolism and land-use from 1850 to the present day," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 203-221, May.
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