Is Sustainability Stuck in a Vicious Circle?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:20
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Andreas MAYER, Institute of Social Ecology, Austria
Anke SCHAFFARTZIK, Institute of Social Ecology, Austria
The first decade of the 21st century increased the impression that humanity is far off from finding viable solutions to current sustainability problems. The price we pay for our ability to identify the obstacles to a consistent and effective sustainability policy is the impression that these obstacles may be insurmountable. There can be no doubt that the current level of resource use cannot be sustained in the future without putting the biophysical foundations of future generations at risk. Levers with which to slow the growth of and eventually decrease resource use are urgently needed but have yet to be identified. Despite a better understanding of trade-offs and synergies between different forms of resource use, economic wealth, and social wellbeing, consensus on how to define, prioritize, and attain the according targets and goals has yet to be reached. This must include a consideration of the distribution of benefits and burdens associated with current and targeted future patterns of resource use.  From the theory of social ecology comes the concept of social metabolism which we argue offers crucial insights into understanding current and possible future resource use patterns. The associated tool box contains the method of material flow accounting through which metabolism can be quantified. We will demonstrate how the ‘biophysicality’ of human societies is linked to their social, political, and economic dimensions. We can thereby demonstrate that the social metabolism approach allows us to explore levers for ecological, economic, and social sustainability.