Current human activity is degrading the environment and depleting biotic and abiotic resources at unheard-of rates, inducing global environmental change and jeopardising the development of humankind. The structure of human activity determines which resources are extracted, how they are transformed and where and how they are emitted back to the environment. Thus, the structure of human activity ultimately determines the human–Earth System interaction and human-induced environmental degradation. Several theories and empirical findings suggest that a cyclic structure would lower the resource requirements and emissions of the economic system, decoupling production and consumption from their environmental impacts. However, the cyclic structure has not been fully characterised nor related to the resource requirements or emission generation estimates of environmental impacts as calculated through models representing the physical structure of the economic system. This thesis is interested in developing tools to analyse the physical structure of the economic system and, ultimately, to develop a method to identify its cyclic structure and relate it to the environmental impact induced by economic activity. Using this new knowledge, it might be possible to reduce the environmental impact of the economy by altering its physical structure.
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University of Cambridge
Prof. Douglas Crawford-Brown