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New Chapter Reviews Trends in Energy Use, Water and Air Pollution. Essay Places Research on Energy, the Environment in Economic History

Both energy and the environment are inputs into production, influencing the economy and the overall welfare of the population. While the economy has been a focus of economic history, energy and the environment have received less attention. In the chapter of a new book, a researcher identifies long-term trends in energy use, water and air pollution in North America and Europe; reviews research on energy and the environment in economic history; and suggests areas for future study in these fields.

The chapter, by a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), appears in The Handbook of Cliometrics (3rd ed.).

“It is useful to consider what environmental economists study today to understand why the environment has received less attention in economic history,” explains Karen Clay, professor of economics and public policy at CMU’s Heinz College, who authored the chapter. “The relative lack of attention to environmental issues likely reflects a focus on the positive aspects of industrialization and the challenges of finding data related to air, water, and land pollution.”

In her chapter, Clay surveys cliometric research on energy and the environment before 1970. Cliometrics is the application of economic theory, econometric techniques, and other formal or mathematical methods to the study of history. For each of the studies she discusses, methods varied depending on when the work was conducted and its focus. She concludes with suggestions for further research on these topics, including:

  • Broadening the set of countries studied beyond the United States and Great Britain;

  • Deepening work on topics for which economic history research is limited, including technological change, the effects of energy shocks on economic activity, the effect of access to electricity on health, and the effects of air pollution on health; and

  • Breaking new ground on topics that have received little or no attention in economic history research, including the operation and competitiveness of energy markets in coal, oil, natural gas, and electricity, and industrial pollution, especially water and land pollution.


Summarized from a chapter in The Handbook of Cliometrics (3rd ed.), "Energy and the Environment in Economic History" by Clay, K (Carnegie Mellon University). Copyright 2023. All rights reserved.

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