University of Sussex
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The nature of growth: the postwar history of the economy, energy and the environment

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posted on 2023-06-09, 00:15 authored by Richard Lane
The environment and energy have been fundamental to the growth of the economy. This looks like a straightforward claim. But it is not. In order to understand how these are related, how growth came to be associated with the economy, and how this growth came to be seen as the unshakeable fundament of any environmental politics, this thesis focuses on a brief period of largely postwar history, and almost exclusively on a single country - America. At this time, and in this place, the technical removal of material constraints, the provision of energy, the construction of environmental limits and then their dismantling, forms the complex history of the growth of the environment and the environment of growth. This history created both the possibility of the contemporary political economy of the environment as well as its limits. This thesis traces the way that the economy, energy and the environment were co-constructed, transformed and interwoven in the US from the postwar years through to the mid 1970s, through the assembling, application and reassembling of the economic techniques and technologies that defined growth, scarcity and efficiency. To this end, it orients itself around the impacts of the 1952 President’s Materials Policy Commission - known as the Paley Commission, and the think tank that was set up in its wake: Resources For the Future (RFF). The Paley Commission report and the RFF would, through their technical innovations play a key role in the construction of the economy as a separate, measurable and observable sphere of monetary flows, driven by an associated logic of exponential growth; energy as an interchangeable system of sources powering this economy; and the environment, initially as encompassing the economy and defined by finite limits, then reconstructed as external to the economy and where pollution is considered as an example of market failure to be rectified by the internalisation of externalities.


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University of Sussex

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