The Environmentalism of the Poor
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The Environmentalism of the Poor

A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation

Joan Martinez-Alier

The Environmentalism of the Poor has the explicit intention of helping to establish two emerging fields of study – political ecology and ecological economics – whilst also investigating the relations between them.
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Chapter 3: Indices of (Un) Sustainability, and Neo-Malthusianism

Joan Martinez-Alier


3. Indices of (un)sustainability, and neo-Malthusianism Because of the shortcomings of money valuation, ecological economists favour physical indicators and indices in order to judge the overall impact of the human economy on the environment. Therefore, we leave here aside monetary corrections to GNP, such as El Serafy’s (see above), or Hueting’s, which computes the economic costs of adjusting the economy to norms or standards of pollution and resource extraction. Where do the norms and standards come from? Are they themselves subject to social and political negotiations? We also leave aside Cobb’s and Daly’s ambitious Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), first calculated for the United States, which has inspired work in many countries, and whose end-result is a figure in money terms commensurable with GNP, though often showing quite a different trend (Daly and Cobb, 1989, 1994). The main physical indices of (un)sustainability discussed at present are as considered below. HANPP, ECO-SPACE, EROI, MIPS AND DMR HANPP HANPP (human appropriation of net primary production) is proposed by Vitousek et al. (1986). The NPP is the amount of energy that the primary producers, the plants, make available to the rest of living species, the heterotrophs. It is measured in tons of dry biomass, in tons of carbon or in energy units. Of this NPP, humankind ‘coopts’ around 40 per cent in terrestrial ecosystems. The higher the HANPP, the less biomass is available for ‘wild’ biodiversity. The proportion of NPP appropriated by humans is increasing because of population growth,...

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