From the section board

Socio-Economic Metabolism

This is an interesting time for Socio-Economic Metabolism research. Over the past few years we’ve seen prices for primary resources rising and becoming more volatile which has meant that natural resource use has gained in political recognition and prominence. At the same time, the relationship between metabolism and environmental impacts, including climate change, has become more widely appreciated. Take Australia as an example: On 1 July Australia became one of the first countries that have legislated a price on carbon by taxing large polluters. Of course there are many exemptions, and compensation is paid to trade exposed companies and lower income households, but the new legislation still represents a serious political attempt to reduce emissions. Australia is also moving to a resource rent tax to replace its royalties regime for mining companies, and is planning to invest the gains from the new tax into regional infrastructure, the pension system and lowered company tax for small and medium enterprises. These significant changes demonstrate the importance natural resources and emissions currently have in public policy in Australia. 


I suppose the same is true internationally. The information we provide with our science has become more relevant to policy making and business planning. This was also reflected in the recent Gordon Research Conference which, for the first time, asked about the contribution of Industrial Ecology research to the huge global questions of food security, and supply security of strategic natural resources in the face of growing population and consumption. 


While many of the environmental problems we are facing today are of a global nature, national policy imperatives and antagonism prevail, as was apparent from the recent Rio+20 meetings. It remains an important question for all of us, I suppose, how the scientific information we provide can be turned into relevant knowledge for other groups in society. I certainly still feel challenged explain how our research is meaningful and might be turned into political action if we are to turn the looming environmental and natural resource use crisis around. One way to approach this question would be to better integrate social science with industrial ecology research. Another way is to focus more on the policy insights that our research can bring when we meet in Darmstadt and Beijing later this year. 


As scientists, we are used to writing journal papers, books and project reports but engage much less with more broadly accessible media. This means that we only rarely need to express our findings in a generally accessible way. I have recently written a number of small pieces for conventional media but there is a lot more we could do, especially in times of modern communication media.


There is more mundane business to report. For the first time our board has a treasurer in Hiroki Tanikawa form Nagoya University and a member responsible for outreach and communication in Shi Lei from Tsinghua University. Our section has only a very small budget, sourced through income from our section conferences, but even a small amount of money requires a dedicated person to look after it. Communication will be a focus over the next two years, and we plan to finalise the section’s web presence. We have also increased our capacity through co-opting Makarand Dehejia as a board member. He brings his extensive knowledge about governance and the corporate sector to the board. 


The new board members are as follows:

  • Heinz Schandl (chair)
  • Helga Weisz (vice-chair)
  • Hiroki Tanikawa (treasurer)
  • Shi Lei (outreach and publicity)
  • Kazuyo Matsubae-Yokoyama
  • Daniel Mueller
  • Makarand Dehejia (co-opted)
  • Katy Roelich (student representative)


I wish all of you who reside in the Northern Hemisphere a nice and relaxing holiday season and hope that the winter in the Southern Hemisphere shows some mercy to people like me who suffer in the cold weather.


Heinz Schandl