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Social Metabolism & Impacts

Human societies depend on a continuous throughput of materials and energy for their reproduction. Raw materials must be extracted from the environment, transformed into goods and services (e.g. food, housing and mobility) and eventually all materials are released back to the environment as emissions and waste. Free energy and socially organized human labor are required to keep this social metabolism going.

Lead: Prof. Helga Weisz, Deputy Lead: Peter-Paul Pichler, Administration/Coordination: Manuela Lubinsky

Sustainable social metabolism

The social metabolism varies by orders of magnitude in scale and in composition historically and among contemporary societies. Contingent on the available social techniques to capture free energy, we distinguish three socio-metabolic regimes: the foraging regime (intentional use of fire), the agrarian regime, (the reproduction of biomass flows is managed through agricultural techniques), and the industrial regime (the dominant technique to capture free energy is burning fossil fuels).

The industrial metabolism has a dual role for human societies and the environment. By using the atmosphere as the major waste dump, the industrial metabolism is the main cause of global warming. At the same time the industrial metabolism has so far been the only metabolic regime that allowed bringing millions of people out of poverty.

Our future lab seeks to understand the metabolism of various social systems (countries, economic sectors, cities, settlement types, households, etc.), what it contributes to global warming and other environmental impacts, how it is affected by global warming, and how a sustainable social metabolism, that creates wellbeing for all, could look like. Empirically, we focus on cities and human settlements, health care, inequality, climate migration in agrarian societies, and international climate mitigation policy.

We use a variety of methods from industrial ecology, social and computational sciences, including energy and material flow analysis, MRIO based environmental footprinting, econometric analysis, agent based modelling, demographic models, qualitative interviews, complex network analysis and machine learning.

Core research questions

  • What are the distributional aspects (social, temporal and spatial) of the social metabolism, how are they regulated and what are their social implications?
  • What are the core determinants of the interaction between climate impacts, migration dynamics and outcomes on wellbeing in agrarian communities?
  • How should international policies be designed to achieving long-term climate goals?

Team

Helga Weisz
Helga Weisz
Lead
Peter Paul Pichler
Peter Paul Pichler
Deputy Lead
Manuela Lubinsky
Manuela Lubinsky
Admin/Coordination
Mechthild Becker
Mechthild Becker
Scientific Assistent
Camille Belmin
Camille Belmin
PhD Candidate
Jonas Bergmann
Jonas Bergmann
PhD Candidate
Julia Blocher
Julia Blocher
PhD Candidate
Thiago Garcia
Thiago Garcia
EPICC Project Lead
Ingram Jaccard
Ingram Jaccard
PhD Candidate
Marlene Kuschmann
Marlene Kuschmann
Student Assistant
Claudia Meintzinger
Claudia Meintzinger
EPICC Project Coordinator
Anastasiia Polianskaia
Anastasiia Polianskaia
Student Assistant
Detlef Sprinz
Detlef Sprinz
Global Environmental
Policy Lead
Johannes Többen
Johannes Többen
BYMARKA PostDoc
Himani Upadhyay
Himani Upadhyay
PhD Candidate
Kira Vinke
Kira Vinke
EPICC Project Lead
Ole Jakob Weber
Ole Jakob Weber
Student Assistant

Current and recent guests

Recent Publications

Vinke, Kira (2019): Unsettling Settlements-Cities, Migrants, Climate Change. Rural-urban climate migration as effective adaptation?., Studies on international environmental policy, vol 18, Lit Verlag, Münster

Creutzig, Felix; Franzen, Martina; Moeckel, Rolf; Heinrichs, Dirk; Nagel, Kai; Nieland, Simon; Weisz, Helga (2019): Leveraging digitalization for sustainability in urban transport. Global Sustainability, 2

Pichler, Peter-Paul; Jaccard, Ingram S.; Weisz, Ulli; Weisz, Helga (2019): International comparison of health care carbon footprints. Environmental Research Letters, 14 (6), pp. 064004

Avrami, Lydia; Sprinz, Detlef F. (2019): Measuring and explaining the EU’s effect on national climate performance. Environmental Politics, 28 (5), pp. 822-846

Dimitrov, Radoslav; Hovi, Jon; Sprinz, Detlef F.; Sælen, Håkon; Underdal, Arild (2019): Institutional and environmental effectiveness: Will the Paris Agreement work?. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 10 (4), pp. e583

Hovi, Jon; Sprinz, Detlef F.; Sælen, Håkon; Underdal, Arild (2019): The Club Approach: A Gateway to Effective Climate Co-operation?. British Journal of Political Science, 49 (3), pp. 1071-1096

Kelman, Ilan; Orlowska, Justyna; Upadhyay, Himani; Stojanov, Robert; Webersik, Christian; Simonelli, Andrea C.; Procházka, David; Němec, Daniel (2019): Does climate change influence people’s migration decisions in Maldives?. Climatic Change

Köppel, Martin; Sprinz, Detlef F. (2019): Do Binding Beat Nonbinding Agreements? Regulating International Water Quality. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 63 (8), pp. 1860-1888

Mohan, Divya; Prabhakar, S.V.R.K.; Upadhyay, Himani (2019): Identifying adaptation effectiveness indicators using participatory approaches: A case study from the Gangetic Basin. Climate and Development, 11 (4), pp. 287-301

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