If you need an accessible version of this item please contact JSTOR User Support

National Metabolism and Communications Technology Development in the United States, 1790-2000

DAVID ROGERS TILLEY
Environment and History
Vol. 12, No. 2 (May 2006), pp. 165-190
Published by: White Horse Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20723572
Page Count: 26
  • Download PDF
  • Cite this Item

You are not currently logged in.

Access your personal account or get JSTOR access through your library or other institution:

login

Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

If you need an accessible version of this item please contact JSTOR User Support
National Metabolism and Communications Technology Development in the United States, 1790-2000
Preview not available

Abstract

The accelerating rate of technology development during the past two centuries was coupled to a hastened pace of national metabolism, which included vast consumption of fossil fuels, mineral deposits, virgin timber, rich soils and other natural resources, and the construction of an international medium for the communication and storage of ideas and discoveries. The development, maintenance, and improvement of technology, defined anthropologically as physical devices and mental knowledge of how to employ such devices, requires energy. New technologies provide powerful and flexible means for organising subsequent system structure and function, and nourish opportunity for more discovery and technical innovation. From a systems ecology perspective, technology development is an evolutionary process, which implies that it is a self-organising, autocatalytic process driven by energy and resource availability, population size, economic development, scientific knowledge and previous innovation. Understanding how the dynamics of technology development were related to historical resource use (i.e., national metabolism) is important in a world operating mostly on finite resources because it can offer some perspective on the effects of future resource limitations on technology development. Emergy (with an 'm') evaluation, a physically based environmental accounting system that tracks the total amount of resources required to produce something by tracing all resource flows back to the Earth's ultimate energy source of solar radiation, was employed to measure national metabolism of the United States during the past two centuries and to estimate the national metabolism required to develop and maintain the broad-use of four communication technologies. National metabolism of the US grew exponentially from 1790 to 2000, increasing 1600 per cent during those 210 years. The national metabolism required to develop and maintain use of satellites, radios, televisions and telephones approached a minimum, indicating that limits to efficiency improvements exist and that the ubiquity of large-scale technologies surviving under future resource limitations is doubtful.

Page Thumbnails

  • Thumbnail: Page 
[165]
    [165]
  • Thumbnail: Page 
166
    166
  • Thumbnail: Page 
167
    167
  • Thumbnail: Page 
168
    168
  • Thumbnail: Page 
169
    169
  • Thumbnail: Page 
170
    170
  • Thumbnail: Page 
171
    171
  • Thumbnail: Page 
172
    172
  • Thumbnail: Page 
173
    173
  • Thumbnail: Page 
174
    174
  • Thumbnail: Page 
175
    175
  • Thumbnail: Page 
176
    176
  • Thumbnail: Page 
177
    177
  • Thumbnail: Page 
178
    178
  • Thumbnail: Page 
179
    179
  • Thumbnail: Page 
180
    180
  • Thumbnail: Page 
181
    181
  • Thumbnail: Page 
182
    182
  • Thumbnail: Page 
183
    183
  • Thumbnail: Page 
184
    184
  • Thumbnail: Page 
185
    185
  • Thumbnail: Page 
186
    186
  • Thumbnail: Page 
187
    187
  • Thumbnail: Page 
188
    188
  • Thumbnail: Page 
189
    189
  • Thumbnail: Page 
190
    190