Handbook of Ecological Economics
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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.
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Chapter 9: Water: ecological economics and socio-environmental conflicts

Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos and Joan Martínez-Alier


There is a hydrological cycle, which would also exist if there were no humans (Arnell, 2005). Driven by sun energy, this cycle has a fundamental importance in the regulation of climate and in life on the planet (Ehrlich et al., 1977). Yet human agency has come to shape the circulation of water, through canals and dams, with abstractions for irrigation and drinking water and the modifications of the chemical, biological and hydromorphological properties of the watercourses for the benefit of some sectors of the population, and to the detriment of others. This is the hydro-social cycle (Swyngedouw, 2009b; Boelens, 2013). Humans require certain amounts of water of different quality (for example, for drinking, agriculture or to cool thermoelectric power stations). Following Naredo (1997: 14), the ‘gradient’ of the water quality tends to decrease since it is available in the form of rain or snow until it reaches the sea. Through human agency, water accumulates polluting substances and organisms – making it unavailable for some human uses – until it reaches its maximum level of entropy on reaching the sea (Ma et al., 2009). Then, solar radiation returns water to the clouds and the cycle continues, although the global entropy production may have been expanded (Michaelian, 2012).

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