Resource acquisition, distribution and end-use efficiencies and the growth of industrial society
- 1Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
- 2Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, London, UK
Abstract. A key feature of the growth of industrial society is the acquisition of increasing quantities of resources from the environment and their distribution for end-use. With respect to energy, the growth of industrial society appears to have been near-exponential for the last 160 years. We provide evidence that indicates that the global distribution of resources that underpins this growth may be facilitated by the continual development and expansion of near-optimal directed networks (roads, railways, flight paths, pipelines, cables etc.). However, despite this continual striving for optimisation, the distribution efficiencies of these networks must decline over time as they expand due to path lengths becoming longer and more tortuous. Therefore, to maintain long-term exponential growth the physical limits placed on the distribution networks appear to be counteracted by innovations deployed elsewhere in the system, namely at the points of acquisition and end-use of resources. We postulate that the maintenance of the growth of industrial society, as measured by global energy use, at the observed rate of ~ 2.4 % yr−1 stems from an implicit desire to optimise patterns of energy use over human working lifetimes.