Edited by Robert U. Ayres and Leslie W. Ayres
Chapter 2: Exploring the history of industrial metabolism
Marina Fischer-Kowalski The scholarly inﬂux of ‘industrial metabolism’ can be traced back for more than 150 years, across various scientiﬁc traditions, and even beyond the scope of industrial societies. In industrial ecology the term ‘metabolism’ is often treated as a metaphor, but earlier authors used this concept as a core analytical tool to develop an understanding of the energetic and material exchange relations between societies and their natural environments from a macro perspective. Several authors also displayed an explicit interest in human history as a history of changes in societies’ metabolism. The application of the term ‘metabolism’ to human society inevitably cuts across the ‘great divide’ (C.P. Snow) between natural and social sciences respectively. In the 1860s, when this divide was less rigid, the concept of metabolism from biology quickly found resonance in much of classic social science theory. Later on the social science use of this concept became more restricted. The awakening of environmental awareness and the ﬁrst skeptical views of economic growth during the late 1960s triggered a revival of interest in society’s metabolism under the new perspective (Wolman 1965; Boulding 1966; Ayres and Kneese 1968a, 1969; Neef 1969; Boyden 1970; Georgescu-Roegen 1971; Meadows et al. 1972; Daly 1973). This survey ends with a brief mention of recent pioneering attempts to link IE with policy concerns.1 METABOLISM IN BIOLOGY, AGRONOMY AND ECOLOGY A standard textbook in biology states to sustain the processes of life, a typical cell carries out thousands of biochemical reactions each second. The...
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