Ecological Economics

Published by Elsevier BV

Print ISSN: 0921-8009


Trends in material use and material intensity: a) domestic material consumption (DMC) by main material groups; b) domestic material consumption per capita; c) imports and exports as share of domestic extraction (DE); d) material intensity (DMC per unit of GDP in intl. 1990 $) of the Indian economy. Sources: own calculations, see text.
Development of flows of fossil and mineral materials: a) per capita domestic consumption (DMC) of ores and non-metallic minerals by main material types; b) physical net trade (imports minus exports) with fossil and mineral materials; c) DMC of fossil energy carriers, d) per capita DMC and import dependency (net imports as share of DE) of fossil energy carriers.
Development of biomass flows and livestock: a) domestic material consumption (DMC) of biomass by main material groups; please note that the material group fish is very small (between 0.1 and 0.3% of DE and DMC) and therefore not visible in the graph. As net trade with biomass is very small compared to DE, the values for DE and DMC of biomass are very similar. b) physical net trade (imports minus exports) with biomass; c) domestic consumption (DMC) of biomass; d) change in livestock by major livestock species. Sources: own calculations, see text.
India's biophysical economy, 1961-2008. Sustainability in a national and global context
ArticleFull-text available

April 2012


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India's economic growth in the last decade has raised several concerns in terms of its present and future resource demands for materials and energy. While per capita resource consumption is still extremely modest but on the rise, its sheer population qualifies India as a fast growing giant with material and energy throughput that is growing rapidly . If such national and local trends continue, the challenges for regional, national as well as global sustainability are immense in terms of future resource availability, social conflicts, pressure on land and ecosystems and atmospheric emissions. Using the concepts of social metabolism and material flow analysis, this paper presents an original study quantifying resource use trajectories for India from 1961 up to 2008. We argue for India's need to grow in order to be able to provide a reasonable material standard of living for its vast population. To this end, the challenge is in avoiding the precarious path so far followed by industrialised countries in Europe and Asia, but to opt for a regime shift towards sustainability in terms of resource use by building on a host of promising examples and taking opportunities of existing niches to make India a trendsetter.

Table 4 Embodied HANPP related to cropland, Austria 2000, breakdown by products.
Austria's consumption of animal-based products, required feedstuff and their embodied HANPP in the year 2000.
Embodied HANPP is calculated by adding conversion losses, by-flows of unused biomass and productivity changes resulting from land use (∆NPPLC) along the process chain.
Austria's net trade balance in terms of HANPP embodied in agricultural products at the bilateral level for the year 2000. Red (warm) tones show countries that supply Austria with net imports, blue (cold) tones receive net exports from Austria. White color: no data. Note the non-linear scale.
Global effects of national biomass production and consumption: Austria's embodied HANPP related to agricultural biomass in the year 2000

December 2012


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Global trade of biomass-related products is growing exponentially, resulting in increasing 'teleconnections' between producing and consuming regions. Sustainable management of the earth's lands requires indicators to monitor these connections across regions and scales. The 'embodied human appropriation of NPP' (eHANPP) allows one to consistently attribute the HANPP resulting from production chains to consumers. HANPP is the sum of land-use induced NPP changes and biomass harvest. We present the first national-level assessment of embodied HANPP related to agriculture based on a calculation using bilateral trade matrices. The dataset allows (1) the tracing of the biomass-based products consumed in Austria in the year 2000 to their countries of origin and quantifying the HANPP caused in production, and (2) the assigning of the national-level HANPP on Austria's territory to the consumers of the products on the national level. The dataset is constructed along a consistent system boundary between society and ecosystems and can be used to assess Austria's physical trade balance in terms of eHANPP. Austria's eHANPP-trade balance is slightly negative (imports are larger than exports); import and export flows are large in relation to national HANPP. Our findings show how the eHANPP approach can be used for quantifying and mapping the teleconnections related to a nation's biomass metabolism.

The demographic transition revisited: lessons for foreign aid and U.S. immigration policy

January 1994


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"The completed demographic transitions in industrialized countries inspired a model which underlies many well-meant policies affecting the Third World. However, the model's postulate--modernization and prosperity will lower fertility rates--has exacerbated rather than helped control worldwide population growth and the associated environmental degradation. Here we show that perceived economic opportunity leads to raising family size targets and to discarding elements of traditional cultures which formerly held fertility rates in check. Conversely, fertility rates fall when limits are recognized. These observations imply that a liberal immigration policy and large-scale foreign aid are counterproductive for restoring balance between population size and carrying capacity."

Development of HANPP in relation to GDP and population. Indexed (1961=1) development of GDP (1990 intl. Geary Khamis $ per capita and year), Population, HANPP (%), HANPP per capita and year and HANPP per $ GDP and year.
Mineral fertilizer use (pure nutrient of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilizer) in the six case studies.
Conceptualization of changes in HANPP and its components during the 20th century: During early periods of industrialization biomass harvest (NPPh) increased at the expense of NPP remaining in ecosystems after harvest (NPPt), mostly due to the expansion of cultivated areas. This drove increases in HANPP. The industrialization of agriculture allowed for increases in harvest by increasing the NPP of the prevailing vegetation. Additional harvest did not result in higher HANPP, but HANPP rather slight reductions in HANPP can be observed.
Development of net biomass trade from 1961 to 2008 in kgC/m²/yr in the six countries. Negative net trade means net exports, positive net imports.
Development of HANPP and its components in Austria, Hungary, the Philippines, South Africa (RSA), Spain and the United Kingdom (UK). (a) HANPP in % of NPP of potential vegetation (NPP0), (b) NPP of the currently prevailing vegetation (NPPact) in kg C/m2/yr, (c) Harvested NPP (NPPh) in kg C/m2/yr and (d) HANPP intensity (HANPP/NPPh). Sources: Calculated from the studies referenced in Table 1.
Long-term trajectories of the human appropriation of net primary production: Lessons from six national case studies

May 2012


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The 'human appropriation of net primary production' (HANPP) is an integrated socio-ecological indicator measuring effects of land use on ecological biomass flows. Based on published data for Austria, Hungary, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain and the UK, this paper investigates long-term trends in aboveground HANPP and discusses the relations between population, economic growth, changes in biomass use and land-use intensity and their influences on national HANPP trajectories. During early stages of industrialization, population growth and increasing demand for biomass drive land-cover change, often resulting in deforestation, which raises HANPP. During later stages, industrialization of agriculture boosts agricultural yields often faster than biomass demand grows, resulting in stable or even declining HANPP. Technological change improves agricultural area-efficiency (biomass provision per unit area), thereby decoupling population and economic growth from HANPP. However, these efficiency gains require large inputs of fossil fuels and agrochemicals resulting in pressures on ecosystems and emissions. Our findings corroborate the argument that HANPP alone cannot - as sometimes suggested - be used as a simple measure of carrying capacity. Nevertheless, analyses of long-term HANPP trajectories in combination with accounts of material and energy flows can provide important insights into the sustainability of land use, thereby helping to understand limits to growth.

Population, consumption and resources: Ethical issues

February 1998


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PIP This article offers several models that test concepts of optimum population and consumption: classical or utilitarian models, contractual models, and generation-relative ethical models. This article is based on a lecture presented in August 1995, at a conference organized by the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences. It is posited that classical utilitarianism casts the optimum population and consumption problem as a Genesis Problem. The authors argue that the Genesis problem is the wrong problem to study because there are no actual people. The Genesis problem asks how many people there ought to be ideally at what living standards. The unborn are not a class of people, just as mud on a river bank is not a mud hut. Actual persons and potential persons are categorically different. Actual persons have a claim that potential persons do not have. An overall ethical ordering over alternatives can only be conceived for each generation of actual people. The ethical point of view inevitably changes over time. For example, a generation in the first period consumes what they are given to consume by the older generation. In the second period, the younger generation is now the older generation who decide how many children to have and how to share nonstorable, all purpose consumption goods among themselves and future generations. Procreation is a means of making one's values durable. Human development is unfair. Those who live later benefit from the labor of their predecessors without paying the same price. Procreation and ecological preservation are a matter of ethics.

The stork, the plow, rural social structure and tropical deforestation in poor countries?

February 1996


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PIP This study is an exploration of the relationships between income, demographic pressure, technological change in agriculture, and the structure of political economies in light of cross-country differences in deforestation. The study focuses on small farmers and shifting cultivation. The analysis is based on a model developed by Larson (1994) that accounts for rural poverty, rootlessness, and distribution of landholdings. Regression equations model the average annual rate of deforestation, the relative area under forests, and a recursive model that includes both the deforestation rate and the forested area. Deforestation was reasonably well explained by a dummy variable for Asia, a rank order variable of the amount of forested area in 1980, the gross domestic product per capita in 1990, the average annual population growth rate during 1981-90, and the percentage increase in value added to agriculture during 1981-90 in 1990 dollars. Findings indicate that a 10% increase in the population growth rate increased the rate of deforestation by 10.6%. A 10% increase in income per capita increased deforestation by 49.5%. The influence of income on deforestation followed Kuznet's U-shaped curve. The turning point for reduced deforestation was income of $3500 per capita. Only Central and South America are near this income level. An increase in 1 agricultural worker per household increased deforestation by 50%. A 10% increase in smallholders' share of agricultural land reduced deforestation by 3.4%. Countries with high rural rootlessness had 23.6% less relative area under forests, suggesting that rural rootlessness rather than poverty per se leads to deforestation. The recursive model shows that demographic pressures led to deforestation and were mediated by technological change. Political economy theories of deforestation received strong empirical support.

Water flows, energy demand, and market analysis of the informal water sector in Kisumu, Kenya

March 2013


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In rapidly growing urban areas of developing countries, infrastructure has not been able to cope with population growth. Informal water businesses fulfill unmet water supply needs, yet little is understood about this sector. This paper presents data gathered from quantitative interviews with informal water business operators (n=260) in Kisumu, Kenya, collected during the dry season. Sales volume, location, resource use, and cost were analyzed by using material flow accounting and spatial analysis tools. Estimates show that over 76% of the city's water is consumed by less than 10% of the population who have water piped into their dwellings. The remainder of the population relies on a combination of water sources, including water purchased directly from kiosks (1.5 million m(3) per day) and delivered by hand-drawn water-carts (0.75 million m(3) per day). Energy audits were performed to compare energy use among various water sources in the city. Water delivery by truck is the highest per cubic meter energy demand (35 MJ/m(3)), while the city's tap water has the highest energy use overall (21,000 MJ/day). We group kiosks by neighborhood and compare sales volume and cost with neighborhood-level population data. Contrary to popular belief, we do not find evidence of price gouging; the lowest prices are charged in the highest-demand low-income area. We also see that the informal sector is sensitive to demand, as the number of private boreholes that serve as community water collection points are much larger where demand is greatest.

Physical foreign trade of biomass and biomass products in the Habsburg Empire a) in the United Kingdom b): imports presented as positive values, exports as negative values. Note that the scales are different.
Physical foreign trade relations of coal in the Habsburg Empire a) and the United Kingdom b)a: imports presented as positive values, exports as negative values. Note that the scales are different. aThe peak in the United Kingdom's exports in 1898 is due to a very high value in coal exports, reported by statistics. This may be a misreporting and will not be further analyzed.
Physical foreign trade relations in the Habsburg Empire a) and the United Kingdom b)a: imports are presented as positive values, exports as negative values. aThe peak in the United Kingdom's exports in 1898 is due to a very high value in coal exports, reported by statistics. This may be a misreporting and will not be further analyzed.
Foreign Trade and Early Industrialization in the Habsburg Monarchy and theUnited Kingdom—Two Extremes in Comparison

May 2011


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The concept of socio-ecological transitions is used to analyse the quantitative importance of physical imports and exports for the Habsburg Empire and the United Kingdom in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For the Habsburg Empire, a new dataset of foreign trade and social metabolism is presented. For the United Kingdom, the analysis relies on previously published data. Foreign trade volumes increased in both countries in the long run. Total trade volumes were much higher in the United Kingdom throughout the entire time period, on average by around a factor four. Physical factors explaining the disparities in structure and volume of foreign trade in the two countries are differences in (1) the temporal patterns of the socio-ecological transition and (2) domestic resource endowments. In both countries, energy carrying materials, i.e. fossil fuels and biomass, were the dominant resources in physical foreign trade. The analysis focuses on the physically most important material groups: coal, wood and cereals, and discusses the role of imports and exports in relation to domestic resource provision and environmental pressures. Physical foreign trade increased at a faster pace than domestic resource extraction and consumption. The socio-ecological transition was thus accompanied by rising international integration of resource supply.

Energy quality

May 2010


81 Reads

This paper develops economic definitions of energy quality for individual fuels and energy aggregates. There are use- and exchange-value concepts, as well as marginal and total measures, of energy quality. A factor augmentation or quality coefficients approach corresponds to the use-value definition while indicators based on distance functions and relative prices are exchange-value based definitions. These indicators are identical when the elasticity of substitution between fuels is infinity but diverge or cannot be computed for other interfuel elasticities of substitution. When the elasticity of substitution is zero only the quality coefficients approach is defined. I also show that 1) the ratio of an energy volume index to aggregate joules cannot be considered a complete indicator of aggregate energy quality as it does not account for quality changes in the component fuels 2) demand curve integrals do not provide information on relative use-values or fuel qualities when the elasticity of substitution is unity or less.

Knowledge and the environment

August 1999


41 Reads

Some recent analyses suggest that future increases in knowledge will, more or less automatically, alleviate or even eliminate future environmental problems. Here we examine this issue. First, we discuss whether a knowledge explosion is indeed occurring, addressing some of the problems with assessing knowledge-growth. We next consider whether growth in knowledge will help the environment; we ask whether future advances in knowledge are likely to assure benign environmental outcomes, and discuss physical limitations of reducing resource consumption. Finally, we outline policy interventions that would help produce and implement environmentally helpful knowledge. Although knowledge-growth can help attenuate future environmental problems, we are skeptical as to the ability of advances in knowledge to offset fully the adverse environmental impacts of continued growth of population and per-capita consumption. The ongoing shift from a material-based to a services-based economy reduces, but does not eliminate, the significant environmental impacts associated with the increasing scale of economic output. In addition, the ability of the economy to replace certain key natural resource inputs with knowledge inputs must eventually encounter limits. Public policy has a crucial role both in discouraging environmentally damaging forms of consumption, and in promoting the generation and diffusion of environmentally beneficial knowledge.

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