Harvard Business Review: Stuff: When Less Is More
One of the most persistent economic misconceptions I see is the presumed fixed relationship between a unit of GDP and the energy/resources that get consumed in the process. This false relationship is projected into the future to show that growth is leading to total collapse in the near future. These graphs dispel the validity of that relationship.
However, the article goes on to point out that this incredible increase in productivity makes products cheaper and so consumption of the products grows dramatically. That does create a greater aggregate demand for energy/resources. The question is whether or not the decoupling of energy and resources can one day get out ahead and then go into decline through some combination of innovation and slowed demand. These two graphs were especially interesting.
"Material intensity continues to fall dramatically. In the U.S., the amount of resources extracted per dollar of GDP has decreased by nearly 75% over the past 90 years."
"Energy intensity, the portion of the total energy supply required to produce a material, has also dropped markedly. For example, the manufacture of 1.5 gigatons of steel would have gobbled up one-fifth of the world’s total primary energy supply (TPES) in 1900. In 2010 it used only about one-fifteenth."