Edited by Henk Folmer, H. Landis Gabel, Shelby Gerking and Adam Rose
Chapter 9: Industrial ecology: wealth, depreciation and waste
9. Industrial ecology: wealth, depreciation and waste Robert U. Ayres INTRODUCTION Materials extracted from the environment must ultimately either be embodied in durable assets or returned to the environment as wastes or pollutants. This is no longer a new insight (Ayres and Kneese, 1969). The implication is that materials-intensive economic growth cannot continue indeﬁnitely without serious and irreversible damage to the environment, quite apart from the likelihood that, despite recent sharp price declines (attributable to the Asian economic crisis) such ‘essential’ resources as petroleum will not be available indeﬁnitely at ever-declining prices (for example, Campbell, 1997; Campbell and Laherrère, 1998). Neither is it a new idea that the availability of cheap fossil fuels (and other natural resources) has been a key driver of past economic growth: falling energy (and other raw material) prices triggered increasing demand, including many applications of mechanical power to replace human labour. This, in turn, kept real prices of natural resources and mechanical power on a continuing long-term downward trajectory, notwithstanding the exhaustion of original resource endowments in areas that were the ﬁrst to be industrialized.1 An important growth ‘engine’ of the past has been the positive feedback loop involving scale economies and the so-called ‘experience curve’ which also keeps real costs falling and thus increases the demand for manufactured goods.2 In fact, one of the dilemmas facing present-day governments – although largely unrecognized – has been that most of the historical growth in labour productivity has been in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing has been...
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