Does the Social Metabolism Drive Environmental Conflicts?

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Increases in social metabolism drive environmental conflicts. This proposition, frequently found in the literature on ecological distribution conflicts, has stimulated much research at the interface of ecological economics and political ecology. However, under which conditions is this proposition valid and useful? This chapter briefly reviews the theoretical foundations underlying this proposition and discusses further socio-metabolic properties that may shape the dynamics of environmental conflicts. Furthermore, the chapter relates the socio-metabolic perspective to other ‘grand explanations’ of environmental conflicts, particularly, to the expansion of capitalism under a neo-Marxist perspective. The chapter argues that a socio-metabolic perspective has much to offer to understand some of the structural drivers of environmental conflicts. A socio-metabolic perspective links local environmental conflicts to the resource use profiles of economies as well as to global production and consumption systems, no matter whether these are capitalist societies, resource-intensive planning economies, autocratic monarchies, or illicit resource extractions occurring in the shadow economy. The chapter closes by recalling the need to integrate biophysical and social dynamics in a balanced manner for the nuanced study of environmental conflicts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Barcelona School of Ecological Economics and Political Ecology
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

Publication series

NameThe Barcelona School of Ecological Economics and Political Ecology
ISSN (Print)1389-6954
ISSN (Electronic)2542-9531


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