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A Handbook of Industrial Ecology

Edited by Robert U. Ayres and Leslie W. Ayres

Industrial ecology is coming of age and this superb book brings together leading scholars to present a state-of-the-art overviews of the subject. Each part of the book comprehensively covers the following issues in a systematic style: the goals and achievements of industrial ecology and the history of the field; methodology, covering the main approaches to analysis and assessment; economics and industrial ecology; industrial ecology at the national/regional level; industrial ecology at the sectoral/materials level; and applications and policy implications.
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Chapter 2: Exploring the history of industrial metabolism

Marina Fischer-Kowalski


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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