Abstract

If social scientists are going to make a contribution to environmental policy-making that is commensurate with the severity of biophysical trends, they must develop analytic tools that go beyond marginal improvement and a production focus where key actors escape responsibility via distanced commerce and the black box of consumer sovereignty. One means is to construct an ecologically informed “consumption angle” on economic activity. The first approach is to retain the prevailing supply-demand dichotomy and address the externalities of consumption and the role of power in consuming. The second approach is to construe all economic activity as “consuming,” as “using up.” This approach construes material provisioning in the context of hunter/gathering, cultivation, and manufacture and then develops three interpretive layers of excess consumption: background consumption, overconsumption, and misconsumption. An example from timbering illustrates how, by going up and down the decision chain, the consumption angle generates questions about what is consumed and what is put at risk. Explicit assignment of responsibility for excess throughput becomes more likely.

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