Chapter 17: Transmaterialization
Walter C. Labys* Long-term materials demand patterns are important to examine because of the possibility of resource depletion as well as the long lead times required to create new mineral productive capacity. Since structural changes in materials demand are inevitably linked to the performance and adjustments of national economies, these changes have been historically measured relative to national income, employing a measure known as intensity of use (IOU). The demand declines observed in the IOU have been characterized as dematerialization or a decoupling of the materials sector from the industrial and other sectors of the economy. However, a preferable view is that the demand decline observed can be more aptly explained by transmaterialization. Transmaterialization implies a recurring industrial transformation in the way that economic societies use materials, a process that has occurred regularly or cyclically throughout history. Instead of a once-and-for-all decline in the intensity of use of certain materials, transmaterialization suggests that materials demand instead experiences phases in which old, lower-quality materials linked to mature industries undergo replacement by higher-quality or technologically more advanced materials. The purpose of this chapter is to provide an explanation and evidence for transmaterialization. It consists of four parts: background, the dematerialization concept, the transmaterialization concept and empirical evidence. BACKGROUND The concept of dematerialization as developed in the 1980s can be said to be applicable only to a select group of technologically inferior materials, and not to an overall decline in the use of materials in general. Throughout history, the introduction, growth and decline...
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