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Sustainable Development as a Problem of Global Distribution

Research project in Human Ecology

Project's title: Sustainable Development as a Problem of Global Distribution: Transdisciplinary Theory and Methods for Tracing Environmental Load Displacement (The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agriculture and Spatial Planning)

Project's duration: 2008-2010

Contact person: Alf Hornborg


This project pursues a currently emerging reconceptualization of uneven and unsustainable development in terms of asymmetric flows of material resources between different sectors of national or global economies. It explores the general problem of environmental load displacement, i.e. how the negative consequences of environmental deterioration tend to be shifted to economically more marginalized populations and areas at various geographical scales. This is done by applying transdisciplinary theoretical frameworks and non-monetary metrics to case studies in northern Latin America.

Building on recent social science research integrating world-system analysis and ecological economics, it calculates physical trade balances and ecological footprints in case studies of Latin American involvement in international exchange. The two non-monetary metrics are applied to extant trade statistics and the results systematically compared to various data on human development as well as to GIS maps of the distribution of environmental problems such as carbon dioxide emissions, eutrophication, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and soil erosion.

The objective is to explore connections between resource flows, development, and environmental degradation, and to strengthen transdisciplinary Swedish competence in the complex conceptual issues and empirical methods for identifying ecologically asymmetric trade and environmental load displacement.