Pathways Forum #12 Energy-hungry societies and a future in flux: insights from social metabolism

In this forum, Helmut Haberl, Anke Schaffartzik and Eric Pineault introduce us to the concept of social metabolism as a tool to assess the material throughput of our societies and the implications for social justice.

Economic growth, through the increased production and consumption of goods and services, has long been narrated as resulting in better efficiency and enhanced wellbeing. Recent research, especially into questions of distribution and environmental justice, however, question this narrative. Meanwhile, the resource extraction and infrastructures needed to support economic growth also results in growing inequalities and systematic environmental degradation.

At a time where socio-environmental sustainability is paramount, is a decrease in resource use and the associated emissions compatible with sustained economic growth? How to identify and address the material structures and social processes that entrench unsustainable socio-economic systems? What transformations are needed in order to start envisioning alternative societies for a sustainable and just future?

This webinar explores how the social metabolic analysis framework provides powerful insights into the interrelations between society, environment, and economy. The session will cover the key concepts of social metabolism, and how it can be applied to sustainability issues. As a framework seeking to bridge the social and natural sciences, we will also discuss how a variety of disciplinary approaches can contribute to socio-metabolic research.