Haberl, Helmut, Karl-Heinz Erb, Fridolin Krausmann, Maria Niedertscheider, 2018. Global energy transitions: a long-term socioeconomic metabolism perspective, in: Barry D. Solomon, Kirby E. Calvert (eds.), Handbook on the Geographies of Energy. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham and Northampton, chapter 28.
Energy is a key resource for societies and ecosystems alike. Flows of energy between natural and social systems are a pivotal component of human-environment interactions. Geography is one of several research traditions that has analyzed energy flows. Based on a short literature review focusing on geography and social ecology, we discuss the potential of energy analysis to better understand transitions between different ideal-typical modes of society-nature interaction such as hunter-gatherers, agrarian societies and industrial society. Fundamental changes in energy systems characterize these socio-metabolic regimes: the ‘uncontrolled solar energy system” of hunter-gatherers is based on the extraction of biomass energy from largely natural landscapes. Within the “controlled solar energy system’ of agrarian societies the overwhelming majority of society’s energy supply is derived from managed ecosystems, i.e. agro-ecosystems and forestry. Industrial society is based overwhelmingly on fossil energy. Energy systems are related to the specific sustainability problems faced by each of these socio-metabolic regimes. The chapter present an empirical reconstruction of the changes in global (regionally disaggregated) energy flows associated to the ongoing transition from agrarian societies to industrial society. We discuss major changes in sustainability problems resulting from this transition and speculate on possible future transitions towards sustainability.