WHP Logo

The White Horse Press

Environment and History

Contents of Volume 11

Other volumes of E&H

Environment and History

Was Brazilian Industrialisation Fuelled by Wood? Evaluating the Wood Hypothesis, 1900-1960

Christian Brannstrom

Environment and History 11(2005): 395-430

The ecological relationship between cities and resource hinterlands is a major theme in environmental history and historical geography. Most scholars described the twentieth-century industrialisation of Sao Paulo, Brazil, as reliant on hydroelectricity. Warren Dean's 'wood hypothesis', published posthumously in 1995, argued that industrialisation relied on wood fuel and charcoal during the first half of the twentieth century. However, Dean's wood hypothesis has not yet been tested or evaluated. Two substantive criticisms are offered here: the wood hypothesis is accurate in general but under-estimated the industrial consumption of fossil fuels, without conclusively reject the competing 'hydroelectricity' hypothesis; the method used for estimating potential energy supply from forest area was erroneous. The paper also makes several specific claims that advance the issues raised by the wood hypothesis: evidence of actual industrial demand for fuel, not potential supply, should advance the debate on Sao Paulo's energy use; wood fuel consumption required labourers, yet work and trade relations are still not well described; and specific moments in Sao Paulo's energy transition, such as the 1940s, require in-depth analysis. A revised wood hypothesis is that Sao Paulo's industrialisation depended on the interplay of three energy sources, led by biomass fuels, then fossil fuels and hydroelectricity, each of which was supplied by a distinct energy hinterland.

This article is available online (PDF format) from ingenta. Access is free if your institution subscribes to Environment and History.
Reprints of this article can be ordered from ingenta or the British Library

Contact the publishers for subscriptions and back numbers of Environment and History.

Other papers in this volume

The Old Vicarage, Winwick
Cambridgeshire, PE28 5PN, UK
Tel: +44 1832 293222