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Emergy Evaluations of Denmark and Danish Agriculture Assessing the Limits of Agricultural Systems to Power Society

Haden, Andrew C. (2003) Emergy Evaluations of Denmark and Danish Agriculture Assessing the Limits of Agricultural Systems to Power Society. Ekologiskt lantbruk, no. 37. Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

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Online at: http://www.cul.slu.se/information/publik/ekolantbruk37.pdf

Summary

As the process of industrialization has run its course over the twentieth century, the relative importance of agriculture as an economic activity and a means of cultural sustenance for nations has declined dramatically. In this thesis, a historical ecological-economic perspective offers insights into both the causes and effects of Danish agriculture's decline in economic importance relative to the economy of Denmark as a whole. Emergy evaluations were made of the national economy and agricultural subsystem of Denmark for the years 1936, 1970 and 1999. Emergy is defined as all the available energy that was used in the work of making a product and expressed in units of one type of energy (Odum, 1996). In total, six separate emergy analyses were performed. By quantifying the emergy requirements of both a national agricultural system and the economy within which this system is nested, the analysis highlights the changing relationship of these two systems over a temporal scale of 63 years.
The ecological sustainability of the studied systems is assessed through the calculation of emergy-based indices and ratios. In accordance with emergy theory, ecological sustainability is considered to be a function of the dependence of a system on renewable emergy, the degree to which the system depends on imported emergy, and the overall load that the system places on the environment. The analysis indicates that as the national economy of Denmark evolved to rely more on the use of non-renewable emergy and on emergy appropriated through trade to stimulate economic activity and to generate wealth, its sustainability declined, and the importance of the Danish agricultural system to the national economy subsided. While the total amount of emergy supporting the economy of Denmark over the period studied increased substantially, the total emergy supporting agriculture remained relatively constant. Furthermore, though the emergy signature and thermodynamic efficiencies of Danish agricultural production changed significantly, the total emergy required for production fluctuated little. This implies that the thermodynamically optimal level of emergy investment to agricultural production from society may fall within a range that is essentially fixed. Finally, the analysis draws attention to the fact that because agricultural systems are coupled to renewable emergy flows that are limited in the amount of work processes that they can power, agricultural systems register small net emergy yields, thus, agriculture is not likely to be a primary motive force in an economy with access to storages of fossil and other fuels that provide large net emergy yields.


EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:Agriculture, Denmark, Emergy, Empower, Energy analysis, Environmental loading, History, Sustainability, Thermodynamics
Subjects:"Organics" in general > Country reports > Denmark
Knowledge management > Research methodology and philosophy > Specific methods > Indicators and other value-laden measures
Knowledge management > Research methodology and philosophy
Farming Systems
Values, standards and certification
Research affiliation: Sweden > University SLU > CUL - Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
Related Links:http://www.cul.slu.se/information/publik
Deposited By: Fredriksson, Pelle
ID Code:2837
Deposited On:16 Jun 2004
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:29
Document Language:English
Status:Published
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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