An Introduction to Social Metabolism and its Operational Tool- Material and Energy Flow Analysis


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Simron Singh

Tuesday 5 July 2011

An Introduction to Social Metabolism and its Operational Tool- Material and Energy Flow Analysis

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An Introduction to Social Metabolism and its Operational Tool- Material and Energy Flow Analysis

  1. 1. The political ecology of indicators An introduction to social metabolism and its operational tool - Material & Energy Flow Analysis Simron Jit Singh Institute of Social Ecology Alpen-Adria University, AustriaIn the last 200 years, humanity has transitioned into anew geological era— termed the Anthropocene — defined by an accelerating departure fromstable environmental conditions of the past 12,000 years into a new, unknown state of Earth.Source: Steffen et al. 2011 1
  2. 2. The science of indicatorsThe term “indicator” is derived from the Latin verb indicare meaning to disclose or point out, to announce or make publicly known, to estimate or put a price on. The three main functions of indicators are simplification, quantification and communication.In order to evaluate progress towards sustainability, the need for indicators and indicator systems was adopted as Agenda 21 at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio.In the years that followed, significant scientific research was directed towards developing sustainability indicators. Where we are, where are we going, and where do we want to go – monitor the trends and directionality. MEFA as an indicator system The development of Economy-wide Material Flow Accounting (MFA) was one of the prominent attempts in the development of an environmental indicator system. Environmental satellite accounts linked to the national accounts covering inter alia “the stocks and use of the main natural resources, flows of materials and emissions” became part of the EU agenda in 1999 (Eurostat 2001:9). However, the science of material and energy flow accounting is older than this; a pioneering work in this direction was done by Abel Wolman, who undertook a case study of a model U.S. city of a million inhabitants in 1965. In 1969, Robert Ayres and Allen Kneese presented a study - which in the 1990s was carried out as material flow analysis of national economies - for the United States between 1963 and 1965. Since, a number of MFAs have been carried out for both industrial, transition and low-income economies (for an intellectual history of MFA, Fischer- Kowalski 1998, Fischer-Kowalski & Hüttler 1999; a more recent review in Singh & Eisenmenger 2011). 2
  3. 3. However, there are some painful facts…No one indicator or indicator system can provide you with all the information to the problems of the world; the choice of indicator will depend on your scientific enquiryIndicators can tell you “how” things are (including past trends and future probabilities), but not “why” things are the way they are;Therefore, taking a system dynamics perspective and integration of disciplinary knowledge (particularly from the social sciences) not only gives flesh to the numbers (rich narratives) but also allows to understand structures and processes that cause certain problems (disparities in wealth and health, conflicts, climate change, etc.)The development of economy-wide Material (& Energy) Flow Accounting (MEFA) was one of the prominent attempts in the development of an environmental indicator system. It allows to:- analyse the quantity and quality of resources extracted from nature and their passing through processing, transport, final consumption and disposal- understand the spatial dimension of material flows (where extraction, production, consumption and disposal takes place in the economic process)- interpret the impact of these flows within the framework of sustainability science and ecological economics- relate these flows to ecological distributional conflicts and reveal embedded power relations (political ecology) 3
  4. 4. Problem shifting via international division of labor 100% Material Money Mass Value added 0% Raw material --> semi-/products -- use disposal > developing Developed countries Why analyze material and energy flows?Materials and energy are biophysical categories necessary for human survival and reproductionThey are finite both in terms of availability and productivityPatterns of material and energy use (in both quantitative and qualitative terms) affect the future survival of humans and other speciesThe world is presently experiencing an unprecedented environment crisis due to the ways we consume our resources (materials, energy, land) causing sustainability problems on the input side (scarcity) and the output side (pollution)This also has social consequences in terms of resource distributional conflicts and environmental justice 4
  5. 5. Environmental problems are a consequence of the way humans interact with their natural environmentUndertaking a MEFA entails a number of painful decisions, as analytical categories come in conflict with ontological ones Problem 1: How to conceptualise society-nature interactions? 5
  6. 6. “Society as hybrid between material and symbolic worlds”“Society as hybrid between material and symbolic worlds” cultural sphere of causationnatural sphere of causation Adapted from: Fischer-Kowalski & Weisz, 1999 6
  7. 7. “Society as hybrid between material and symbolic worlds” metabolism labour/technology Material world Adapted from: Fischer-Kowalski & Weisz, 1999 “Society as hybrid between material and symbolic worlds”natural sphere of causation cultural sphere of causation metabolism communication, labour/technology Shared meaning & understanding Material world Human Society Adapted from: Fischer-Kowalski & Weisz, 1999 7
  8. 8. “Society’s metabolism” means……that societies organize (similar to organisms) material and energy flows with their natural environment;…they extract primary resources and use them for food, machines, buildings, infrastructure, heating and many other products and finally return them, with more or less delay, in the form of wastes and emissions to their environments. The Two Types of Metabolism 8
  9. 9. Theory of sociometabolic regimes The theory of sociometabolic regimes (Sieferle 2001) claims that, in world history, at whatever point in time and irrespective of biogeographical conditions, certain modes of human production and subsistence share certain fundamental systemic characteristics, derived from the way they utilize and thereby modify nature. Key constraint: energy system (sources of energy and main technologies of energy conversion). Slide courtesy: Fischer-Kowalski and colleagues Sociometabolic regimes can be characterized by ...1. a metabolic profile, that is a certain structure and level of energy and materials use (range per capita of human population)2. secured by certain infrastructures and a range of technologies, as well as3. certain economic and governance structures.4. A certain pattern of demographic reproduction, human life time and labor structure, and5. a certain pattern of environmental impact: land-use, resource exploitation, pollution and impact on the biological evolution6. Key regulatory positive and negative feedbacks between the socio- economic system and its natural environment that mould and constrain the reproduction of the socioecological regime. Slide courtesy: Fischer-Kowalski and colleagues 9
  10. 10. Historical sociometabolic regimesAgrarian regime: Industrial regime:1. Solar energy, resource base flow of 1. Fossil fuel based; exploitation of large biomass. stocks;2. infrastructures decentralized. key 2. centralized infrastructures, industrial technology: use of land through technologies; agriculture; 3. capitalism and functional3. subsistence economies & market; if differentiation; more complex, strong hierarchical 4. thrifty reproduction, prolonged differentiation; socialization, somewhat lesser4. tendency of population growth and workload; increasing workload; 5. large-scale pollution (air, water and5. potentially sustainable, but soil soil), alteration of atmospheric erosion, wildlife / habitat reduction; composition, depletion of mineral resources, biodiversity reduction;6. distinct limits for physical growth (low energy density); 6. abolishment of limits to physical growth; decoupling of land and energy and labour; Slide courtesy: Fischer-Kowalski and colleagues Energy consumption in human history 600 400 Max 500 GJ per capita and year 400 300 200 Min Max 150 20 70 100 Min 3,5 10 40 0 Human metabolism Hunter & Gatherer Agrarian societies Industrial societies 10
  11. 11. Operationalising Social Metabolism Air, Water Water VapourImports ExportsImmigrants Emigrants Economic Processing DPO DE Stocks Domestic environment Problem 1: What belongs to society and what belongs to nature? Air, Water Water VapourImports ExportsImmigrants Labour as a determining factor Emigrants Economic Processing Humans (what about seasonal migration, tourists) Livestock DPO DE Infrastructure and artefacts (buildings, streets, dams, electricity grids, etc.) Stocks The only exception is agricultural fields, even though they are reproduced by human labour!! 11
  12. 12. Problem 2: How to define a social system’s domestic territory to differentiate between domestic flows and imports? Air, Water Water VapourImports ExportsImmigrants Legitimate right Emigrants Economic Processing To exploit the resources within a territory, either DPO through traditional or legal control DE Where existing political and governing institutions have the ability to set and sanction standards of social behaviour within that territory Stocks The difficult of a strict systems boundary, particularly in local rural systems where there are overlaps in land use with neighbours Problem 3: How to account for externalities or hidden flows? Air, Water Water Vapour Flows are accounted for as ‘weight at border’Imports ExportsImmigrants All materials that are economically valued areEmigrants considered as ‘direct’ Processing but not, for e.g. earth removed for inputs, Economic construction or used in ploughing, or dredging. What about the ‘hidden flows’ or ‘ecological rucksacks’ DPO DE that occur during extraction, processing or disposal of resources where these activities take place? For e.g. a ton of aluminum requires 9 tons of raw Stocks materials, 3 tons of water and 200 GJ of energy! How to account for these externalities? Total Material Flow (TMR); Raw Material Equivalent (RME); a political issue!! 12
  13. 13. Inclusiveness or exclusiveness of material flowsIf all materials, then water and air make up to 85-90% of the total?Most studies would not lump water, air and other materials (biomass, fuels, minerals) so as not to drown economically valued materials in water and air; so they are kept separate for their sheer amount, as and also supposedly low impact of their use (toxicity);But this is now changing with studies quantifying the use of water and its ecological and social impacts, including severe conflicts over its access;Studies on water footprint of products, embodied water, debating on what should be produced where depending on water situation, etc. 13
  14. 14. MFA: Conceptual and Methodological optionsFrame of reference / unit of analysis: (a) seen from a social science perspective, the unit of analysis could be the socioeconomic system, treating it like an organism or sophisticated machine, or (b) the ecosystem, seen from a natural science perspective, with mutual feedback loops.Reference system: Global, national, regional (city or watershed or village), functional (firm, household, economic sector), temporal (various modes of subsistence, social formations, historical systems)Flows under consideration: total turnover of materials, energy or both; one may select certain flows of materials or chemical substances (inputs or outputs) for reasons of availability in the reference ecosystem, or to look at the rates of consumption. Map of materials of particular interest for accounting Related policy response: Small volume with high impact: policy directed on pollution control, bans, substitutions, etc. Medium volume focuses on policy at reducing materials and energy intensity or production, minimization of wastes and emissions, closing loops through recycling High volume flows, policy objectives will be concerned with depletion of natural resources, disruption of habitats during extractions. Source: Steurer 1996 14
  15. 15. Some theoretical and empirical applications of MEFASocial metabolism and its operational tool, MEFA, have contributed theoretically, conceptually, and empirically to a number of discourses within sustainability:- mapping characteristic metabolic profile (lifestyles) of social and production systems across the world;- provide empirical evidence on ecological unequal exchange - distributional (equity) issues;- allows to understand the determinants of social conflicts;- provide insights into historical and ongoing transitions through an empirical examination of coupled energy, material, land, labour and knowledge systems to reveal inherent power relations and how these are reproduced over time;- provide evidence in support for a sustainability transition and the challenges it entails, the urgent need for new global resource use policies (UNEP resource use panel);- provide linkages between social metabolism and environmental impacts such as on biodiversity, climate, ecosystem services, etc.; 15
  16. 16. 1. Characteristic metabolic profiles for some countries Composition of materials input (DMC) material input EU15 (tonnes, in %) total: 17 tonnes/cap*y Biomass construction minerals industr.minerals fossil fuels source: EUROSTAT 2003 16
  17. 17. Composition of DPO: Wastes and emissions (outflows) DPO total: 16 tons per capita D PO t o ai r ( C O2 ) D PO t o ai r* D PO t o wat er D PO t o land ( wast e) D PO t o l and ( d issip at ive use)unweighted means of DPO per capita forA, G, J, NL, US; metric tons Source: WRI et al., 2000; own calculations Patterns of material use: DMC per capita 45 40 35 30 25 [t/cap] 20 15 10 5 0 Egypt RSA Chile Finland Japan EU15 Canada India Lao PDR Netherlands Österreich 1830 Österreich 2000 Biomass Construction minerals Industrial minerals + ores Fossil fuels Minerals Source: Schaffertzik et al. 2006 17
  18. 18. Patterns of material use: DMC per area 60 50 40 [t/ha] 30 20 10 0 Egypt RSA Lao PDR Chile Finland Japan EU15 Canada India Netherlands Österreich 1830 Österreich 2000 Biomass Construction minerals Industrial minerals + ores Fossil fuels Minerals Source: Schaffertzik et al. 2006Patterns of material use: DMC per GDP 12000 10000 8000[t/mio$GDP] 6000 4000 2000 0 Egypt RSA Lao PDR Chile Finland Japan EU15 Canada India Netherlands Österreich 1830 Österreich 2000 Biomass Construction minerals Industrial minerals + ores Fossil fuels Minerals Source: Schaffertzik et al. 2006 18
  19. 19. Domestic Material Consumption / cap in EU Countries, 2000 Source: Weisz et al. 2006 2. Socio-metabolic transitions 19
  20. 20. Socio-metabolic transitions1. Socio-metabolic transition is not the same as a linear incremental path, but rather a (possibly) chaotic and dynamic “jump” from one state to the other driven by new opportunities or the exhaustion of old ones2. core process of a socio-ecological transition: change in source of energy, in energy density, in energy cost, in available energy amounts Transitions between the grand socio-metabolic regimes of human history Neolithic industrial Sustainability Revolution revolution Transition? Hunters and Gatherers Agrarian societies Industrial societies ? Sustainable society? coal | oil Socio-metabolic regimes Source: Sieferle et al. 2006, modified 20
  21. 21. Systemic links between materials, energy, demography, labour time and income: A few empirical examples the energy transition 1700-2000: from biomass to fossil fuels United Kingdom Share of energy sources in primaryenergy consumption 100 (DEC) 90 biomass 80 coal 70 60 Biomass 50 Coal Oil / gas OIL/Gas/Nuclear 40 / nuc 30 20 10 0 1700 1725 1750 1775 1800 1830 1850 1875 1900 1925 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 Source: Social Ecology Data Base 21
  22. 22. the energy transition 1700-2000 - latecomers United Kingdom UK Austria Austria 100 100 90 90 80 80 70 70 60 60 Biomass Biomass 50 Coal 50 Coal OIL/Gas/Nuclear OIL/Gas/Nuclear 40 40 30 30 20 20 10 10 0 0 1700 1725 1750 1775 1800 1830 1850 1875 1900 1925 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 1700 1725 1750 1775 1800 1830 1850 1875 1900 1925 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 Japan 100 90 Japan 80 Share of energy sources in 70primary energy consumption 60 (DEC) Biomass 50 Coal OIL/Gas/Nuclear 40 30 20 10 0 1700 1725 1750 1775 1800 1830 1850 1875 1900 1925 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 Source: Social Ecology Data Base Increasing population (density) 1600-2000 Population density (UK incl. Ireland) (cap/km2) 350 300 Japan 250 200 150 100 UK & 50 Ireland Austria 0 1600 1650 1700 1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 2000 Source: Maddison 2002, Social Ecology DB 22
  23. 23. Reduction of agricultural population, and gain in income 1600-2000 Share of agricultural population GDP per capita [1990US$] 100% 25.000 80% 20.000 60% 15.000 40% 10.000 20% 5.000 0% 0 1600 1650 1700 1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 2000 1600 1650 1700 1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 2000 Source: Maddison 2002, Social Ecology DB Global commercial energy supply 1900- Global materials extraction and use 1900 2005 to 2005: explosion from 8 to 59 billion tons annually 500 60 Hydro/Nuclear/Geoth. Construction minerals Natural Gas Ores and industrial minerals Oil Fossil energy carriers 400 Coal Biomass Biofuels 40 300 [billion tons][EJ] 200 20 100 - 0 1900 1905 1910 1915 1920 1925 1930 1935 1940 1945 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 1900 1905 1910 1915 1920 1925 1930 1935 1940 1945 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 Source: Krausmann et al. 2009 23
  24. 24. Global metabolic rates and growth in income: long-term decoupling process 14 7000 ap r] o rs ap r] Construction minerals M ta lic rate [t/c /y Inc e [intl. D lla /c /y Ores and industrial 12 minerals 6000 Fossil energy carriers Biomass e bo 10 5000 Income om 8 4000 6 3000 4 2000 2 1000 0 0 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 1 0 1 5 2 0 2 5 90 90 91 91 92 92 93 93 94 94 95 95 96 96 97 97 98 98 99 99 00 00 USA: Transition in energy and material use, 1850 - 2000 Energy consumption Material consumptionSource: Gierlinger 2010 24
  25. 25. India: Transition in energy and material use, 1960 - 2006 Energy consumption Material consumption 0.8 5.0 Natural gas Construction minerals Oil Ores and non metallic minerals Fossil fuels Coal 4.0 Biomass 0.6 3.0 [Gt/yr][Gt/yr] 0.4 2.0 0.2 1.0 - - 1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1996 2001 2006 1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1996 2001 2006 Source: Singh et. al. submitted 25
  26. 26. Metabolic rates of the agrarian and industrial regime transition = explosion Agrarian Industrial FactorEnergy use (DEC) per capita [GJ/cap] 40-70 150-400 3-5Material use (DMC) per capita [t/cap] 3-6 15-25 3-5Population density [cap/km²] <40 < 400 3-10Agricultural population [%] >80% <10% 0.1Energy use (DEC) per area [GJ/ha] <30 < 600 10-30Material use (DMC) per area [t/ha] <2 < 50 10-30Biomass (share of DEC) [%] >95 10-30 0.1-0.3 Source: Krausmann et al. 2008 3. Dematerialization or shifting environmental burdens from north to south (ecological unequal exchange) 26
  27. 27. Meadows et al. (1972) argued that economic growth wouldhave to be stalled in order to remain within the earth’scarrying capacityAs opposed to Meadows, Ayres and Kneese’s solution wasmore subtle and acceptable to economists…it was noteconomic growth that mattered but the growth in the materialthroughput of human societies that was significant. 27
  28. 28. 28
  29. 29. Unequal distribution of global resources (for the year 2000)100%90%80%70% D - Ld - ow60% D- Ld - nw D - Hd50% I - Ld - ow I - Ld - nw40% I - Hd30%20%10% 0% S h a re o f p o p u la tio n S h a re o f te rrito ry S h a re o f G D P Slide courtesy: Fischer-Kowalski and colleagues 29
  30. 30. 4. Relating material and energy flows with conflicts Environmental conflicts• Conflictual Political Ecology is a research tradition that focuses on issues of management of natural resources and the environment, often with “conflict” as the point of departure; deals with ecological distributional conflicts;• Ecological unequal exchange looks at the resource flows between north and south in historical and contemporary context within the framework of political economy (power and economic relations dominate trade) Studies in conflictual Political Ecology began in the 1980s with geographers studying rural areas on the changing relations between social structures and the use of environment taking into account differences in class, caste, income, power, gender, labour and knowledge; 30
  31. 31. Conflictual Political Ecology• For instances, explanations of land erosion in the mountain regions by peasants was explained by the fact that they are forced to farm mountain slopes because the fertile valley land is appropriated by large landholdings• Or, in other cases, because of state policies, peasants are caught up in a “scissors crisis” of low agricultural prices, which forces them to shorten fallow periods and intensify production; increased soil erosion and land degradation • In other cases, communal system of collectively fallowed lands break down because of the pressure from population growth or market, leading to overgrazing; degradation of land (supports the ‘tragedy of the commons’) Conflictual Political Ecology• Other examples may not include the market or take place in fictitious markets; thus, potential conflicts may arise due to inequalities in per capita exosomatic energy consumption and in the use of the Earth’s recycling capacity of carbon dioxide emissions;• Or, the territorial asymmetries between sulphur dioxide emissions and the burdens of acid rain;• Or, the intergenerational inequalities between the enjoyment of nuclear energy (or emissions of carbon dioxide), and burdens of radioactive wastes and global warming; • Classical economists disguise these ecological distributional conflicts by terms such as “externalities” and “market failures” while political ecologists or ecological economists call these “cost-shifting successes” in space and time; 31
  32. 32. Types of Ecological Distributional ConflictsName DefinitionEnvironmental racism Dumping of toxic waste in locations inhabited by Arfrican Americans, Latinos, Native AmericansToxic imperialism Dumping of toxic wastes in poor countriesEcological unequal Importing products from poor regions orexchange countries at prices which do not take into account of exhaustion or of local externalitiesEcological debt Claiming damages from rich countries on account of past excessive emissions or plundering natural resourcesTransboundary pollution Applied to Sulphur dioxide emissions crossing over from Europe and causing acid rainBiopiracy The appropriation of genetic resources without adequate payment or recognition of IPR Guha & Martinez Alier 1997, Martinez-Alier 2002 Types of Ecological Distributional ConflictsName DefinitionEcological Footprint Ecological impact of regions or large cities on the outside spaceOmnivorous vs. Contrast between people living on their ownEcosystem people resources and those living on the resources of others / territoriesIndigenous Use of territorial rights and ethnic resistanceenvironmentalism against external use of resources of regulationSocial ecofeminism The environmental activism of women motivated by their social situationEnvironmentalism of the Social conflicts with an ecological conflict of thepoor poor against the rich Guha & Martinez Alier 1997, Martinez-Alier 2002 32
  33. 33. Reported tree plantation conflict cases world- wide (excluding Indonesia and Malaysia, until November 2009)Metabolism of cities and conflicts • Cities require large inputs of material and energy resources, but they have very little productive land of their own; they depend on hinterlands (national or international) for their supply of materials and energy for their metabolism (infrastructure, food, products) as well as waste disposal; corporations and enterprises organise this production – supply – disposal chain for the city at profitable rates, while ignoring proper compensation and externalities of the hinterland populations… E.g. Barcelona produces 800 t of waste each day, dumped in rural sites, leading to conflicts 33
  34. 34. Energy metabolism of Catalan The conflicts in Catalan can be seen as a problem of energy metabolism where energy production takes place in rural hinterlands (nuclear, wind); while city dwellers enjoy most of the energy supply, and capitalists make high gains in this production – supply chain, the low economic compensation as well as externalities are borne by the rural populations;Monetary and physical trade balance in Equador Source: Vallejo (2010) 34
  35. 35. Resource extraction and conflicts in Equador Source: Vallejo (2010) The “power” of indicators 35
  36. 36. Indicator development is a political processWhich indicators to create, and which numbers goes into an indicator, and remains outside, what is the systems boundary – is a political process and has embedded power relations;The science of indicators can be highly useful for activist agenda; to reveal existing inequalities and imbalances between those privileged and those marginalisedIndicators may serve as evidence in court, seek new state regulations, or in getting mass public supportSynergism between ecological economics and political ecology; mutually complementary How do these national and global processes affect the sustainability of local systems? 36
  37. 37. Thank you for being silent! 37