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  Chapter Fourteen:

  Gross Domestic Product
  Business Cycles
  Business Revenues
  Trading Volume
  Dow Jones Average
  Crude Oil
  Energy Consumption
  Imports and Exports
  Foreign Investment



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Energy Consumption

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Material progress required large inputs of mechanical energy and greater efficiency in the use of that energy.
The enormous gulf between high-energy and low-energy societies was dramatized by Buckminster Fuller when he proposed the unit of an “energy-slave,” based on the average output of a hard-working man doing 150,000 foot-pounds of work per day and working 250 days per year. In low-energy societies, the nonhuman energy slaves are typically horses, oxen, windmills, and riverboats. Using Fuller’s unit, the average American at the end of the century had more than 8,000 energy-slaves at his or her disposal. Moreover, Fuller pointed out, “energy-slaves, although doing only the foot-pounds of humans, are enormously more effective because they can work under conditions intolerable to man, e.g., 5,000° F, no sleep, ten-thousandths of an inch tolerance, one million times magnification, 400,000 pounds per square inch pressure, 186,000 miles per second alacrity and so forth.” 

By 1900, as shown in the upper chart, the United States already used a vast amount of energy, much of it in factories and commercial establishments. Per capita energy use grew substantially during the century, but the American standard of living increased even more. Between 1900 and 1997, per capita energy consumption nearly tripled, but the U.S. standard of living, measured as real GDP per capita, increased more than sevenfold. 

Technological advances led to greatly increased efficiency in the extraction of energy from fuel and in the application of energy to work. As the lower chart shows, the energy efficiency of the economy—the amount of goods and services the economy produces with a single barrel of oil or ton of coal—more than doubled during the century. This impressive rise in efficiency accelerated around 1973. In that year, per capita energy use reached 351 million British thermal units (Btu) per year. After 1973, energy use per capita barely changed. But economic output per capita grew by 51 percent without any increase in energy consumption per capita.

Chapter 14 chart 8

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series F1 and M 76–92; SA 1998, table 948; and SA 1999, tables 722 and 954. The quote about economic output is from R. Buckminster Fuller et al., “Document 1: Inventory of World Resources, Human Trends and Needs,” in World Design Science Decade 1965–1975 (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University, 1965–1967), pages 29–30.


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