Societal Metabolism

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A.H. Sorman, M. Giampietro:

"The idea that the pattern of activities carried out by human societies should be studied by looking at the resulting pattern of energy transformations has been proposed in the last century by several authors.

The notion of “societal metabolism” taking on from (Lotka, 1922, 1956) and (Georgescu-Roegen, 1971) has been proposed to frame such a study within a biophysical narrative rather than within the predominant economic narratives. Using the jargon proposed by Lotka and then adopted by Georgescu-Roegen, it can be said that the metabolism of human societies is based on exosomatic energy use (¼energy metabolized under human control, but outside the human body), which can be seen as an extended form of the physiological metabolism of humans e based on endosomatic energy (¼energy metabolized inside the human body).

The metabolic pattern of human societies can be associated to both:

(i) The overall size of a society e determined by the number of people and their aggregate activity e a characteristics defined at the level of the whole society: the black-box; and

(ii) The diversity of its structural and functional organization e associated with the operation of exosomatic devices (technical capital) e a set of characteristics defined at the hierarchical level of economic sectors: the parts operating inside the blackbox." (


The MuSIASEM methodology

A.H. Sorman, M. Giampietro:

"The analysis of the energetic metabolism of societies presented here is based on a methodology called

This approach makes it possible to:

(i) Investigate the feasibility of the dynamic energy budget of societies, by checking the possibility of matching the requirement and supply of energy flows. This check can be carried out across hierarchical levels. The overall requirement of the whole society must result compatible with the internal structure and the characteristics of different compartments and functions (Giampietro and Mayumi, 2000a,b; Giampietro et al., 2011).

(ii) Study the effect that changes taking place in the characteristics of such a dynamic energy budget will have on the structure and functions of the society.

The MuSIASEM analysis is based on a systemic comparison, carried out sector by sector (and function by function) of the profile of:

(a) energy consumption (using two variables: pace per hour of human activity and the total amount of energy consumed);

(b) hours of human activity (amount of hours in the different compartments); and

(c) added value generation/consumption (using two variables: rate per hour and total GDP generated).

Therefore, the MuSIASEM approach can be used to generate biophysical indicators and benchmark values providing the basis for a bio-economic analysis able to complement the information coming from mainstream economic analysis." ((