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Resource Transitions and Energy Gain: Contexts of Organization

Joseph A Tainter, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
T. F. H. Allen, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Amanda Little, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thomas W Hoekstra, USDA Forest Service, Inventory and Monitoring Institute


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Energy gain constrains resource use, social organization, and landscape organization in human and other living systems. Changes in energy gain have common characteristics across living systems. We describe these commonalities in selected case studies involving imperial taxation, fungus-farming ants, and North American beaver, and propose a suite of hypotheses for the organization of systems that subsist on different levels of energy gain. Organizational constraints arising from energy gain predict changes to settlement and organization in postcarbon societies.

Key words

Roman Empire, beaver, complexity, energy, energy gain, fungus-farming ants, leaf-cutting ants, living systems, organization, renewable resources, resources, solar energy
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087