An Empirical Application For The Uk Economy

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The data set for material inputs into the UK economy has just recently been established. For a complete description of the methodological approach and the data sources, see Schandl and Schulz (2000). The account was established on the basis of yearly available data sources for the UK, such as agricultural statistics, statistics on supply and demand of home-grown timber, the UK's mineral statistics, the overseas trade statistics and the input-output tables. Some first insights on the UK's physical economy can be drawn from time series analysis. At an aggregate level we distinguish biomass (plant harvest, timber removals, fishing and hunting) from mineral materials (ores, industrial materials and construction materials), fossil fuels (coal, crude oil, natural gas) and products (both semimanufactured and finished). At this level, water and air inputs are not included.

Within the MFA accounting framework water appears as a direct input (processing water) and as the water content of materials. Careful accounting for water is especially necessary when balancing materials. Similarly, oxygen and nitrogen in the air are direct inputs due to conversion processes such as incineration or production of cement and fertilizers. In our account we treat all materials with the water content when marketed. Exceptions are made for biomass for grazing, which is included with a standardized water content of 14 per cent, and timber, which is included using the water content when removed from the forest.

Looking at the physical dimension of the UK economy within the last decades clearly shows that (after a period of rapid growth from the 1940s to the 1970s) material input had come to a standstill. Direct material input (DMI) is one of the internationally agreed indicators derived from a material flow accounting approach. Direct input consists of mainly economically used materials from domestic material extraction and imports. In the 1940s, average DMI accounted for 413 million tons (or 8.5 tons per capita). The Fordist compromise between capital and labor (Boyer 1979; de Vroey 1984) led to a new regime of accumulation and went hand in hand with a specific metabolic regime characterized mainly by rapid growth of yearly inputs of minerals and fossil fuels. As a result a new level of overall material input at an average of 774 million tons was reached in the 1970s. While minerals (ores, construction minerals and industrial minerals) and fossil fuels (coal, crude oil and natural gas) input grew massively (140 per cent growth for minerals, 46 per cent growth for fossil fuels between the 1940s and the 1970s), biomass input remained more or less stable (only 18 per cent growth between the 1940s and the 1970s). Products, both semifinal products and final goods, show a different pattern and seem to be more vulnerable to change than other inputs (see Table 26.1). Fluctuations in imported products are mainly due to changes in semi-manufactured materials serving as intermediate materials to establish the production infrastructure. This group of materials is more vulnerable to economic fluctuations than consumer goods are (see Hunt and Sherman 1972).

Table 26.1 Yearly average materials input to the UK economy over six decades (MMT)

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