Metabolic profiles of countries and ecological distribution conflicts
Joan Martínez Alier
“Social metabolism” is a notion that links up the natural sciences and the social sciences, and also human history. Work has been done by some groups in Europe in order to operationalize the old idea of looking at the economy from the point of view of “social metabolism”. That idea arose in the 1850s. (Marx used the word Stoffwechsel, and referred explicitly to the metabolism of cells and organisms which also existed in human society. However, neither himself nor Marxist authors did calculations of the use of materials and energy in the economy). The ideas in the late 19th century and early 20th century of other European authors such as S.A. Podolinsky, L. Pfaundler, J. Popper-Lynkeus, P. Geddes are now recognized as harbingers of today’s Ecological Economics and Industrial Ecology. Around 1910 Lotka (writing in German in Wilhelm Ostwald’s journal) introduced the distinction between the endosomatic consumption of energy and the exosomatic use of energy by humans. “Social metabolism” expresses the idea that an economy is like an organism that takes resources from the outside and discharges wastes.
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