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Reducing Society's Metabolism

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In the widespread adoption of global sustainable development goals and policy, one of the new central themes of relevant environmental and economic research has been the reduction of society's metabolism. This refers to the physical flows and transformation of material and energy that fuel the human economy. Since the late 1980s, there has emerged a diverse array of ‘physical economy’ approaches that utilize some form of material flow analysis (MFA) to quantify the pattern of flows of material and energy into, within, and out of the economic system. In principle, the reduction of the human socioeconomic metabolism, and appropriate changes in technology and consumption, are highly consistent with Buddhist economics. Indeed, MFA may be one of the most valuable devices for encouraging and implementing a global ‘green’ technological and economic system (‘technoeconomic paradigm’) that helps realize the type of benefits proffered under the vision of Buddhist economics. This chapter describes the general nature of the links between the material flow analysis techniques, and the central themes of the Buddhist economic way to a sustained and harmonious co-existence of humans within the rest of the natural environment.

At first, the notion of a ‘Buddhist’ economics appears as a severe oxymoron. The selfish want-fulfillment and material gain considered to pervade the intention and actions of economic activity would seem to stand directly at odds with the Buddhist world view. However, this presumption is based on confusion about economics and misunderstanding about this social science's true boundaries and defined realm of interest. Economics is concerned with identifying and understanding the patterns in a society's unavoidable activities related to ‘livelihood’ – the people's source of maintenance for their physical and social needs given scarcity in the appropriate resources. The extension of livelihood activities for human welfare into the materialism and endless individual pursuit of personal gratification under a competitive, capitalist market system, or any other economic order, does not define the study of economics. Economics is focused upon livelihood behavior and is not represented by the social aspirations and relations that characterize economic systems as they have developed in particular historical and geographical contexts.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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