Social Metabolism and Conflicts over Extractivism

  • Joan Martinez-Alier
  • Mariana Walter


The natural resource conflict dimension of environmental governance is usually centred on the social and political aspects of production systems and has hardly addressed the biophysical features of the natural resources themselves. Here we aim to address renewable and non-renewable resource-extraction conflicts in Latin America in the context of a changing global social metabolism and increasing demands for environmental justice (M’Gonigle, 1999; Sneddon, Howarth and Norgaard, 2006; Gerber, Veuthey and Martínez-Alier, 2009; Martinez-Alier et al., 2010). “Social metabolism” refers to the manner in which human societies organize their growing exchanges of energy and materials with the environment (Fischer-Kowalski, 1997; Martinez-Alier, 2009). In this chapter we use a sociometabolic approach to examine the material flows (extraction, exports, imports) of Latin American economies and furthermore look into the socioenvironmental pressures and conflicts that they cause. Sociometabolic trends can be appraised using different and complementary indicators. For instance, the Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production (HANPP) measures to what extent human activities appropriate the biomass available each year for ecosystems (Haberl et al., 2007). Other examples are indicators that study virtual water flows, the energy return on investment (EROI) or a product life cycle.


Virtual Water Environmental Governance Ecological Economic Political Ecology Ecological Distribution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Joan Martinez-Alier and Mariana Walter 2016

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  • Joan Martinez-Alier
  • Mariana Walter

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