The Spanish Transition to Industrial Metabolism: Long-Term Material Flow Analysis (1860-2010)

The aim of this work is to reconstruct the main economy-wide/material flow accounting indicators for the Spanish economy between 1860 and 2010. The main results indicate that from 1960 onward, the country saw a very rapid industrial transition based on the domestic extraction of quarry products and the import of fossil fuels and manufactured goods. Direct material consumption rose from 58.7 million tonnes (Mt) in 1860 to 570.2 Mt in 2010. In per capita terms, it rose from 2.76 tonnes per capita per year (t/cap/yr) to 11.61 t/cap/year. Of the decennial years studied in this article, a peak of 15.23 t/cap/yr occurs in the year 2000; the subsequent fall is explained by the crisis of 2008. Until 1930, Spain was a net exporter of resources, but since that year, and especially since 1960, it began to depend heavily on overseas resources. The physical trade balance per inhabitant in Spain was -0.01 t/cap/year in 1860 and today it is 2.45 t/cap/year. This process also reveals the change in consumption patterns, which became increasingly dependent on abiotic resources. In 1860, 98.1% of resources consumed was biomass, whereas today the figure is 16.2%. In all events, this article shows how, although the great transformation did not occur until 1960, before that date the country saw significant qualitative transformation, which did not involve relevant changes in the mobilization of resources.