Tag Archives: Institute of Social Ecology

Digging the Anthropocene

Human material use has rapidly and massively increased over the past century.  This is nicely illustrated in a 2009 paper by Krausmann and others at the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna.

Fig. 1. Materials use by material types in the period 1900 to 2005. (a and b) total materials use in Giga tons (Gt) per yr; (c) metabolic rate (materials use in t/cap/year); (d) share of material types of total materials use.

The use of material has exploded:

  • overall use of material grew 8X
  • construction minerals grew 34X
  • ores/industrial minerals 27X.
  • fossil fuel energy carriers 12.2X
  • biomass extraction 3.6X.

This expansion is due to the growth of the human economy and population. Despite advances in efficiency (i.e. the amount of materials required per unit of GDP has declined), the economy has grown faster so total materials use per capita doubled from 4.6 to 10.3 T/cap/yr.

For most of the 20th century, biomass was the most significant of the four material types in terms of mass and only in the 1990s it was overtaken by construction minerals.

In 2000, the 15% of the world’s population living in rich countries were directly responsible for 1/3 of global resource extraction; however this inequality is more pronounced  for key materials the 15% of the world’s population living in rich countries consume more than 50% of  fossil energy carriers, industrial minerals and metallic ores (a 6X greater rate for the 15% vs. the 85%).

If global economic development continues its current trajectory (with a population growth of 30–40% until 2050) the will be a continuing sharp rise in global material extraction.


Krausmann, F., Gingrich, S., Eisenmenger, N., Erb, K.-H., Haberl, H. & Fischer-Kowalski, M. 2009. Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century. Ecological Economics, 68, 2696–2705. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.05.007

Global energy metabolism of humanity

Helmut Haberl from the Institute of Social Ecology, at Klagenfurt University in Vienna, who does interesting work on human appropriation of ecological production, has a paper The global socioeconomic energetic metabolism as a sustainability problem in a special issue of Energy 31 (2006) 87–99. In the paper, Haberl some interesting figures that estimate total human energy use over the last 1,000,000 years and since the widespread use of fossil fuel.

Haberl writes:

conventional energy balances and statistics only account for energy carriers used in technical energy conversions as, for example, combustion in furnaces, steam engines or internal combustion engines, production and use of electricity or district heat, etc. That is, energy statistics neglect, among others, biomass used as a raw material as well as all sorts of human or animal nutrition. These are very important energy conversions in hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies, but are still significant even in industrial society.

social ecological energy use over last 1Myears

Global socioeconomic energy metabolism in the last 1 Million years. The increase in socioeconomic energy flows encompasses six orders of magnitude, from 0.001 Exajoule per year (EJ/yr) about 1 million years ago to nearly 1,000 EJ/yr today.

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