Socioecological Transitions and Global Change

Socioecological Transitions and Global Change

Trajectories of Social Metabolism and Land Use

Advances in Ecological Economics series

Edited by Marina Fischer-Kowalski and Helmut Haberl

This significant new book analyses fundamental changes in society-nature interaction: the socioeconomic use of materials, energy and land. The volume presents a number of case studies addressing transitions from an agrarian to an industrial socioecological regime, analysed within the materials and energy flow accounting (MEFA) framework. It is argued that by concentrating on the biophysical dimensions of change in the course of industrialization, social development issues can be explicitly linked to changes in the natural environment.

Chapter 4: The Great Transformation: A Socio-metabolic Reading of the Industrialization of the United Kingdom

Heinz Schandl and Fridolin Krausmann

Subjects: environment, ecological economics, environmental sociology


Heinz Schandl and Fridolin Krausmann 4.1 INTRODUCTION This chapter deals with the biophysical foundations and consequences of the historical transition from an agrarian to an industrial socioecological regime, which, starting from United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium, encompassed most European countries, the United States and some other countries in the course of the 19th century (Grübler 1994). The perspective on industrialization presented in this chapter focuses on the transformation of the socioeconomic energy system and changes in society–nature interactions and therefore complements and extends classical economic-historical approaches (Fischer-Kowalski and Haberl 1993; Sieferle 2001; Wrigley 1988). From a socioecological perspective, industrialization appears as a process that fundamentally alters the size and structure of socioeconomic metabolism as well as its relation to land use and agriculture. The chapter explores the specific character of the transition process in the United Kingdom. We will show that industrialization conceived as a socio-metabolic transition is not a continuous and steady process of growth. By using biophysical variables we will distinguish qualitatively different phases of development. The chapter explores the drivers of the metabolic transition and identifies factors that ushered it in during the 17th and 18th centuries. Our assumptions draw on empirical evidence gathered for the United Kingdom, a forerunner of industrialization. From a historic perspective, the economy in the United Kingdom experienced a transition from a controlled solar energy system to a fully developed industrial nation showing a high level of material and energy use that is characteristic of today’s...

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