Social metabolism: a metrics for biophysical growth and degrowth

The chapter outlines the concept of social metabolism and how it has been evolving. Next, it discusses the energetic metabolism of societies, methodological and conceptual issues as well as relevant findings such as the increase of metabolic rates across human history. The following section is devoted to societal material metabolism, major issues of measurement as well as findings, among them the ‘1970s syndrome' of metabolic stagnation in high-income countries, while so-called ‘emerging economies' display rapid physical and economic growth. The section on policy uses of sociometabolic concepts and indicators shows that in particular indicators on resource use and the relation between resources use and economic growth have gained prominence; we ring a certain sceptical note as far as decoupling and maximizing resource productivity as policy strategies are concerned. Finally, we look into the question regarding how far sociometabolic theories can provide guidance for a sustainability transition.