Indented text quoted from “The Maze of Ingenuity”, Arnold Pacey, first MIT press paperback edition, pp 298 ff, 1985 edition, written in 1974. Words in italic are attributed therein to W. S. Jevons. (Hopefully this renders reasonably in your browser. )
During the 1860’s, the earlier optimism of Babbage and many of his contemporaries was challenged in a well-argued book on Britains coal resources written by th eeconomist W. Stanley Jevons. The life of Victorian England depended so heavily on the steam engine, Jevons said, and accessible deposits of coal were relatively so limited, that the nation’s material prosperity could not continue to increase for much longer.
He claimed that if the observed rate of increase were to continue indefinitely, then total quantity of coal mined prior to a future date, estimated as 1961, would inevitable eventually exceed total reserves.
What would happen, Jevons said, was
that coal would have to be obtained from progressively deeper seams, and so would become increasingly expensive. Consumption would no longer increase by 3.5 % annually. It would become static, and then begin to fall; ‘the conclusion is inevitable, that our present happy, progressive condition is a thing of limited duration.’ …
He also said that if we
“lavishly and boldly push forward in the creation and distribution of our riches, it is hard to overestimate the pitch of benevolent influence to which we might attain in the present. But the maintenance of such a position is physically impossible. We have to make the momentous choice between brief greatness and longer continued mediocrity.”