Table of Contents

Handbook of Ecological Economics

Handbook of Ecological Economics

Edited by Joan Martínez-Alier and Roldan Muradian

This Handbook provides an overview of major current debates, trends and perspectives in ecological economics. It covers a wide range of issues, such as the foundations of ecological economics, deliberative methods, the de-growth movement, ecological macroeconomics, social metabolism, environmental governance, consumer studies, knowledge systems and new experimental approaches. Written by leading authors in their respective areas of specialisation, the contributions systematize the “state of the art” in the selected topics, and draw insights about new knowledge frontiers.

Chapter 5: Social metabolism: a metric for biophysical growth and degrowth

Marina Fischer-Kowalski and Helmut Haberl

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, ecological economics


Addressing a social system’s metabolism means looking upon its economy in terms of biophysical stocks and flows. The term ‘metabolism’ evokes an organismic analogy: metabolism is the process by which an organism builds up and maintains its structures through exchanging energy and materials with its environment throughout its life. Such an analogy is warranted for social entities that share some of the key system characteristics of organisms: the ability to create and reproduce their own elements, a high degree of internal interdependency between system compartments, and the ability to reproduce a clear boundary vis-à-vis their environment while exchanging energy and materials. ‘The substantive meaning of economics derives from man’s dependence for his living upon nature and his fellows. It refers to the interchange with his natural and social environment, insofar as this results in supplying him with the means of material want satisfaction’ (Polanyi, 1968, p. 139).

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