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Trends in social metabolism and environmental conflicts in four Andean countries from 1970 to 2013

Abstract

In the global map of environmental injustices (http://www.ejatlas.com), the Andean countries (AC) report many ecological distribution conflicts. Our hypothesis is that the patterns of such conflicts are explained by the structural shifts of the economies and the concomitant changes in their metabolic profiles. Since the 1990s, these countries went through a strong reprimarization process, which changed their social metabolism as well as intensified environmental pressures and conflicts. In monetary terms, in the AC group of countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia), the primary sector increased its importance both in exports as well as in GDP. In the metabolic dynamics, the Domestic Extraction of materials (measured in tons) increased by a factor of 3.4 after jumping from 336 to 1145 MT between 1970 and 2012. This was driven by the fossil fuel and mining sectors. This reality was reflected in the environmental conflicts. Mining, fossil fuels, biomass and hydropower plants are the most conflictive sectors. The research in this article relies on a study of material flow analysis for the four AC carried out by the authors as well as 244 environmental conflicts reported in the EJAtlas until August 2016. The shifts in the metabolic–economic patterns help explain the dynamics and characteristics of the environmental conflicts in the AC. Such conflicts produce social mobilizations, which if successful, might help move society towards sustainability and environmental equity.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The regional domestic extraction was obtained from the simple summation of the physical statistics of each one of the four Andean countries. For the physical commercial balance and export data, the commerce amongst the same Andean countries were taken out to avoid double counting.

  2. 2.

    Notice that water flows are not included in MFA, because they are one or two orders of magnitude larger than the MF. Notice also that a parallel Accounting of Energy Flows can and should be done to have a full picture of the Social Metabolism, but it is not done here for the sake of brevity. Production of electricity from coal, oil and natural gas is anyway indirectly reflected in the Material Flows, but not the electricity from water power (nor from wind power, or photovoltaic). There are many conflicts in AC because of hydroelectricity (as explained later), and also a few from wind energy—which are expressed as conflicts on land grabbing or land acquisition (Avila 2017 this issue).

  3. 3.

    The collection of the cases has been based on work with students, NGOs, academic centers and researchers, conflict observatories, a review of news and press web pages, consultations with those affected, and field visits.

  4. 4.

    The “metabolic profile” of a country or a region is defined by the amount of usage of the materials and its structure, where two big material groups are differentiated: biotic components (agricultural, forest and fishing biomass) and abiotic components (fossil fuels and the metallic, industrial and building materials).

  5. 5.

    Even though in Ecuador there is a great potential of copper franchised to Chinese companies, which generate conflicts as in Shuar territories in the south-east, in Intag in the north, and other cases.

  6. 6.

    This graph identifies the quantity of environmental conflicts started in different years since 1970. The EJAtlas database form registers the starting year (and the final year, if appropriate) of each environmental conflict.

  7. 7.

    Since May 24, 2017 there is a new president in Ecuador: Lenín Moreno Garcés.

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Acknowledgements

Support from the project “Social Metabolism and environmental conflicts in Andean and Central American Countries” (MESOCA-ANCA), CI 2826, Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia, is acknowledged. We are grateful to careful revisions by Joan Martinez-Alier (ICTA UAB) and by two anonymous reviewers. Funding was provided by Universidad del Valle (Call for Strengthening of the International Visibility of 2014).

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Correspondence to Mario Pérez-Rincón.

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Handled by Leah Temper, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain.

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Pérez-Rincón, M., Vargas-Morales, J. & Crespo-Marín, Z. Trends in social metabolism and environmental conflicts in four Andean countries from 1970 to 2013. Sustain Sci 13, 635–648 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0510-9

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Keywords

  • Environmental conflicts
  • Environmental justice
  • Neo-extractivism
  • Andean countries
  • Social metabolism
  • Material flow analysis