The pre-industrial energy crisis and resource scarcity as a source of transition
The historical British ‘timber famine’ of the 18th century is re-examined in the light of contemporary concerns about transitions in energy use. The alternatives of scarcity-induced and opportunity-led transition are considered in relation to the economics of sustainable fuel timber production for industrial uses. The paper finds that the production of timber was an economically sustainable use of land and that observations of timber shortages may have therefore either been claims made by interests favouring the use of coal or the consequence of abandonment of fuel timber cultivation in favour of coal use. The longer-term sustainability of domestic UK sources for industrial timber fuel timber is shown to be problematic. The consequences of the alternative views of the ‘timber famine’ for contemporary policies attempting to promote transition to low carbon or sustainable energy use are examined. In particular, if the present is an echo of the past, opportunity rather than crisis may be the more powerful lever of change.
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