The environmental impacts of technical change

  • Simon J. Weeks

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The thesis is concerned with relationships between profit, technology and environmental change. Existing work has concentrated on only a few questions, treated at either micro or macro levels of analysis. And there has been something of an impasse since the neoclassical and neomarxist approaches are either in direct conflict (macro level), or hardly interact (micro level). The aim of the thesis was to bypass this impasse by starting to develop a meso level of analysis that focusses on issues largely ignored in the traditional approaches - on questions about distribution.
    The first questions looked at were descriptive - what were the patterns of distribution over time of the variability in types and rates of environmental change, and in particular, was there any evidence of periodization? Two case studies were used to examine these issues. The first looked at environmental change in the iron and steel industry since 1700, and the second studied pollution in five industries in the basic processing sector. It was established that environmental change has been markedly periodized, with an apparently fairly regular `cycle length' of about fifty years.
    The second questions considered were explanatory - whether and how this periodization could be accounted for by reference to variations in aspects of profitability and technical change. In the iron and steel industry, it was found that diffusion rates and the rate of nature of innovation were periodized on the same pattern as was environmental change. And the same sort of variation was also present in the realm of profits, as evidenced by cyclical changes in output growth. Simple theoretical accounts could be given for all the empirically demonstrable links, and it was suggested that the most useful models at this meso level of analysis are provided by structural change models of economic development.
    Date of AwardMar 1987
    Original languageEnglish


    • environment
    • technology
    • profit

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