Course 1/7 Alf Hornborg_World systems and ecologically unequal exchange

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  • 1. World-Systems and Ecologically Unequal Exchange
    • Presentation at Advanced Course on the Analysis of Environmental Conflicts and Justice
    • Barcelona, July 1, 2010
    • Alf Hornborg, Human Ecology Division, Lund University
  • 2. A world-system perspective
    • André Gunder Frank: Dependency theory (metropole-satellite relations)
    • Immanuel Wallerstein: World-system analysis (core-periphery relations)
    • Growth and development as accumulation
    • Accumulation by one social group occurs at the expense of other social groups
  • 3. Unequal exchange
    • Arghiri Emmanuel (1972): The unequal transfer of embodied labour between nations under specific capitalist market conditions
    • Toward a more general definition: The unequal transfer of productive resources contributing to capital accumulation (regardless of type of resources, geographical scale, or mode of production)
  • 4. Capital accumulation
    • A recursive relationship between some kind of technological infrastructure and a symbolic capacity to make claims on other people’s resources
    • Presupposes rates of unequal exchange that ultimately rest on human evaluations and that guarantee a minimum net transfer of resources from one social sector to another
  • 5. Five illusions
    • 1. ’Technology’/’Economy’/’Ecology’ as unreflected, bounded categories
    • 2. Market prices as reciprocity
    • 3. Machine fetishism
    • 4. Inequalities in space as stages in time
    • 5. ’Sustainable development’ through consensus
  • 6. 2. Market prices as reciprocity
    • Are voluntary market transactions by definition equal and fair?
    • M. Godelier: unequal exchange tends to be represented as a reciprocal exchange
    • Measurable material asymmetries in net flows of biophysical resources
    • Alternative metrics, e.g. energy, matter, embodied land, embodied labor, etc.
  • 7. The White Consumer’s Burden
    • Should poorer nations be grateful for wealthier nations’ consumption of their labour and natural resources?
    • Is living extravagantly to show solidarity with the world’s poor?
    • Colonialism as charity…?
  • 8. Fetishism:
    • The mystification of unequal relations of social exchange through the attribution of autonomous agency or productivity to certain kinds of material objects, for instance money .
  • 9. 3. Machine fetishism
    • The notion that (unequal) structures of exchange (the ”economy”) are external to the constitution and operation of machines (”technology”), i.e. that the technological capacity of a given population is independent of that population’s position in a global system of resource flows .
  • 10. The global technomass and GDP
  • 11. 4. Inequalities in space perceived as stages in time
    • Are draught-animals and wood fuel elements of the past?
    • Are fossil fuels ’cheap’ now or here ?
    • A spatially restricted process of capital accumulation is presented as a temporal difference – and the highly desirable future of all nations
  • 12. 5. Sustainable development through consensus?
    • To be acceptable, pathways to sustainability should not seem too uncomfortable or provocative…?
    • Power, conflicts of interest, and unequal distribution rarely identified as scientific problems in need of analysis and research
  • 13. The zero-sum logic of ”environmental justice”
    • Epitomized by the Lawrence Summers memo (1991)
    • The World Bank should be encouraging migration of dirty industries to poor countries
    • Africa is ’underpolluted’
    • It is economically more ’efficient’ if poor people get sick than if rich people do
  • 14. The trans-disciplinary dilemma
    • Those who are most concerned about the global environment are least equipped to understand how and why it is threatened by human society, economics, and politics
    • Those who are better equipped to understand societal processes tend to be less concerned about the biophysical environment
  • 15. The idea that everything is interchangeable
    • With general-purpose money, the more people are willing to pay for a particular product, the faster will be the dissipation of resources required to produce it
    • The accelerating dissipation of resources will be rewarded with increasing amounts of resources to dissipate
  • 16. Technomass and unequal exchange
  • 17. Capital accumulation seen from outer space
  • 18. Physical Trade Balances
  • 19. Unequal exchange made invisible Physical trade balance of the EU in 1999 Source: Giljum und Hubacek 2001
  • 20. Physical trade balance of Colombia 1970-2004
  • 21. Past processes of environmental change no less politicized
    • Power inequalities are constitutive of processes of environmental change – in the past and in the present
    • Can we trace ecologically unequal exchange in the past, i.e. net flows of quantifiable resources such as food, energy, materials, embodied labor, and embodied land?
  • 22. Extractive vs. ”productive” economies
    • Imp overishment vs. material over load
    • End ogenous vs. exo genous
    End. imp. Easter Island End. over. 19th cent. London Exo. imp. Roman N. Africa Exo. over. 20th cent. Mexico
  • 23. The Industrial Revolution as time-space appropriation Commodity Volume for £1000 in 1850 Embodied labor Embodied land Raw cotton 11.84 tons 32,619 h 58.6 ha Cotton cloth 3.41 tons 4,092 h - 1 ha
  • 24. Industrialism as an illusory emancipation from land
    • Relies on energy from acreages of the past (fossil fuels) and on acreages elsewhere (ecological footprints, Borgström’s ”ghost acreages”)
    • With peaking oil and global warming, the appropriation of acreages elsewhere can be expected to intensify (cf. biofuels)
  • 25. Implications for economic theory?
    • 18th century Physiocrats: Land the only factor of production generating a net product
    • 19th century Ricardo and Marx: Labor theories of value
    • 20th century Neoclassical economics: Capital as the limiting factor
    • 21st century Post-petroleum economics: full circle?
  • 26. The return of the Physiocrats?
  • 27. Back to land?
  • 28. Global historical-political ecology: a complex research strategy
    • Understand the driving forces of human culture, economics, and politics
    • Understand the global biophysical repercussions of human behaviour
    • Understand how the power inequalities underlying global patterns of environmental change are represented as natural, justifiable, and fair