Presentation at the Gordon Research Conference on Industrial Ecology. 01-06 August 2004, Oxford, UK.
This contribution provides a socio-ecological and empirically founded perspective on the period of industrialization, focussing on the biophysical characteristics of this process. The paper explores the physical limits of growth under the conditions of the agrarian socio-ecological regime where the availability of energy was based on biomass and land, and explores the mechanisms and strategies which allowed overcoming these limits during two centuries of industrialization. In this perspective, industrialization appears as a process of a stepwise decoupling of energy provision from the use of land and labour, based on a gradual shift towards the exploitation of natural stocks rather than tapping renewable energy flows. Austria, one of the European late comers, serves as empirical case study for an analysis of changes in the socio-economic use of energy, materials and land since the early 19th century. This analysis provides insights into the characteristics of the transformation of the agrarian socio-ecological regime and the fundamental changes in social metabolism and human interference with natural systems triggered by this process.