The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology
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The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology is a major interdisciplinary reference work on the developing field of environmental sociology. It consists of over 30 specially commissioned essays by leading scholars from around the world. These original essays examine a wide range of environmental issues in the developed and developing world as well as formerly centrally planned countries to present a truly international perspective. Together they analyse theory and concepts, philosophical and empirical issues as well as offering practical policy advice.
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Chapter 19: Industrial metabolism, economic growth and institutional change

J.B. Opschoor


J.B. Opschoor INTRODUCTION The metabolism between the biosphere and the economy is putting increasingly unsustainable pressures on the environment. In this chapter this metabolism is explored especially in relation to the activities that give rise to them: the production and consumption of goods and services and all related activity that this entails (such as trade and transport). We focus on production, which has been defined by Boulding as the planned transformation of matter using energy, knowledge and technology (Boulding, 1978). Production thus defined is society’s way of enabling the satisfaction of its needs. Technological innovation and changing patterns of consumption and production may alleviate the pressure on the environment, but - as we shall see - it is to be doubted theoretically and on empirical grounds that these forces will operate spontaneously at desirable levels if sustainability is to be achieved, given the institutional structures fostering the development of economic activity. An analysis will be made of some of the forces furthering the delinking of economic growth and environmental pressure, and possibilities to accelerate this delinking will be indicated, focusing on options for institutional change. SOCIETY’S METABOLISM Human activities directly or indirectly imply interaction with the natural environment in several ways. It is in the environment that the sources of energy and matter are found which feed and fuel these activities. Moreover, activities give rise to material and energetic residuals that end up in the environment. The interactions between economic activity and the environment have been metaphorically labelled society’s ‘metabolism’...

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