• industrial ecology;
  • industrialization;
  • material flow analysis (MFA);
  • resource use;
  • social metabolism;
  • sustainability


We present the concept of sociometabolic regimes and use it to analyze patterns of change in global social metabolism. Sociometabolic regimes represent dynamic equilibria of society–nature interactions and are characterized by typical patterns of material and energy flows (metabolic profiles). From this perspective, industrialization appears as a process of transition from the agrarian to the industrial regime. This article presents a global data set on the socioeconomic metabolism of 175 nations for the year 2000. We group the countries into six clusters differentiated by economic development and population density, reflecting the historical path of (agrarian) development and resource endowment.

Our analysis reveals that per capita material and energy use in industrialized clusters is higher than in developing regions by a factor of 5 to 10. However, per capita use of natural resources differs significantly among industrialized clusters. A large fraction of the global population displays a metabolic profile somewhere in between the patterns typical for the agrarian and the industrial regimes. The sociometabolic transition from an agrarian to an industrial regime is thus an ongoing process with important consequences for future global material and energy demand. If we take a transition between regimes and the current characteristics of this transition as given, the global energy and materials demand is likely to grow by a factor of 2 to 3 during the coming decades. The most critical part of our findings relates to the cluster of high-density developing countries, as these countries already have a higher anthropogenic material and energy burden per unit of land area than, for example, industrial Europe, with pending further increases bound to surpass carrying capacities.