F&ES 626b / 2016-2017

Socioeconomic Metabolism – Advanced Seminar

Credits: 2 or 3

Spring 2017: Time and location TBA
Spring OCI Listing    

Human systems - like factories, cities, and countries - are mobilizing, i.e. consuming, increasing amounts of material and energy resources from nature for the development, operation, and reproduction of our technological society. Materials accumulate in society, forming the infrastructure and long-lived products that enable increased populations, lengthened live-spans and increasing levels of comfort; and eventually leave societies as wastes.
The Socioeconomic metabolism (SEM) concept enables us to look at resource consumption, material accumulation, and waste production as processes of an evolving social “organism” over decades and centuries. SEM describes the material and energy flows within a society managed to ensure its reproduction and development.
Socioeconomic metabolism asks (and answers) questions like:
  • How much materials do societies consume? How much do they discharge?
  • Why do they consume and discharge these amounts? What drives resource consumption?
  • Why do some societies become more successful (i.e. better quality of life, more affluent, more educated, etc.) even while using less materials and energy?
  • How does the metabolic profile of societies transition through development into industrialized and post-industrial societies?
  • Can humanity decouple its development from resource and energy consumption and therefore from environmental pressures?
  • Can we use the materials we’ve already consumed more efficiently?
  • How far can we take this metabolism analogy? If societies have a metabolism, are there “healthier” metabolisms? Can societies become obese? Can societies go on a diet?
This advanced graduate seminar is focused on gaining an up-to-date understanding of the SEM literature and of the material and energy flow analysis (MEFA) methodologies which provide the quantitative underpinning of SEM. We will build up our understanding of SEM to be able to comprehend and thoroughly critique the seminal works of the field from its foundations to the most recent sophistications. The grading is based upon class participation and a term paper.

Students who wish to engage in and complete a Material Flow Analysis research project in conjunction with the research team can sign up for an additional credit.
Online Course Information: