FAQS

What is MAGIC?

General

15 December 2017

MAGIC (“Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing Nexus Security”) is a four-year project funded under the H2020-WATER-2015-two-stage programme; topic “Integrated approaches to food security, low-carbon energy, sustainable water management and climate change mitigation” (WATER-2b-2015).

MAGIC brings together, from multiple research centres across the EU, expertise in biophysical, computational, economic and social sciences underpinned by theories of transdisciplinary science-for-governance. The quantitative engine of MAGIC is MuSIASEM (Multi-ScaleIntegrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism) an innovative method of accounting having the goal of keeping coherence across scales and dimensions of quantitative assessments generated using different metrics.

The goal of MAGIC is to transform Nexus from a shorthand to signify the complexity of the relationship between water, soils energy and climate into a set of relationship over identified factors which can be systematically used to explore this complexity. This implies integrating into the analysis social challenges and stakeholders perceptions related to the climate-water-food-energy nexus. Dialogue spaces will be opened, dissemination strategies enacted and mixed qualitative-quantitative tools developed in the context of a community building exercise transcending mechanistic scientist-policy maker separation but taking full advantage of the rich spectrum of actors and institutions active in the Nexus.


For more information:

What is a socio-ecological system?

General

14 December 2017

The concept of socio-ecological systems has evolved from the seminal work of Holling, Folke, Berkes (Holling, (1998, 2001), Berkes et al. (2001), Gunderson and Holling (2002), Berkes et al. (2003)). A socio-ecological system can be defined as:

“the complex of biophysical processes taking place in a geographical area, that is controlled in an integrated way by the activities expressed by a given set of ecosystems and a given set of social actors and institutions”.

The sustainability of the metabolic pattern of “socio-ecological systems” (SES) can be studied using the concept of metabolic networks. However, this study entails facing a major epistemological challenge: the study of the characteristics of “ecological fund elements” and the characteristics of “societal fund elements” (the nodes and the flows of the metabolic network) require the simultaneous adoption of different scales of analysis.

  1. Fund elements required for expressing the ecological metabolism: (i) terrestrial ecosystems, (ii) aquatic ecosystems, (iii) primary fresh water sources (aquifers, rivers, lakes and reservoirs), (iv) soils, (v) atmosphere.
  2. Fund elements required for expressing the societal metabolism: functional elements of the society requiring (i) human activity (people), (ii) land use, (iii) power capacity (technology), and (iv) infrastructures for expressing their functions.

References:
Berkes, F., Colding, J., and Folke, C. 2001. Linking Social-Ecological Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Berkes, F., Colding, J., and Folke, C. 2003. Navigating social–ecological systems: building resilience for complexity and change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Gunderson, L. H., and Holling C. S. 2002. Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.
Holling, C. S. 1998. Two cultures of ecology. Conservation Ecology 2/2: 4. www.consecol.org/ vol2/iss2/art4.
Holling, C. S. 2001. Understanding the complexity of economic, ecological, and social systems, Ecosystems, Vol.45, pp.390-405.


For more information: M. Giampietro (2017): Structuring the perception (qualitative) and representation (quantitative) of the nexus with new concepts and narratives. In: Report on Nexus Security using Quantitative Story-Telling. MAGIC (H2020–GA 689669) Project Deliverable 4.1.

What is the nexus?

NEXUS

14 December 2017

The three definitions of the nexus used in MAGIC

In the last few years the term nexus has become very popular in sustainability discussions. It is becoming a “leitmotif” in scientific papers, policy discussions, on internet and widely used in the social media. In this deluge of references to the nexus, it is possible to identify the co-existence of different frames in which the term is used. Put in another way the term nexus right now has different “meanings” when used in relation to different semantic contexts. Hence, it is important to understand the nature of the ambiguity associated with this term.

From our literature review (and from the results of our preliminary interviews) we can say that there are three distinct frames used to interpret the term nexus, depending on the context:

Nexus a: When the term nexus is used in relation to biophysical events taking place in the external world
The nexus refers to the entanglement over biophysical flows (water, energy and food) determined by the expected characteristics of the metabolic pattern of socialecological systems.
Nexus b: when the term nexus is used in relation to the process of governance and policy making
The nexus refers to the acknowledgment existing institutions should be capable of expressing an effective system of governance (policy coherence and integrations) in relation to the three securities (water, energy and food). At the moment this is not achieved and this is a reason of concern when considering existing trends of population growth, consumption per capita and the aggregate requirement of water, energy and food inputs against the deterioration of ecosystems’ health all over the planet.
Nexus c: when the term nexus is used in relation to the problem of scientific inquiry
The nexus refers to the acknowledgment of the existence of an elephant in the room – i.e. the Cartesian dream of prediction and control is smashing against the complexity of the nexus. At the moment, we do not have effective analytical tools capable of generating useful scientific information for dealing with it.

For more information: M. Giampietro (2017): Structuring the perception (qualitative) and representation (quantitative) of the nexus with new concepts and narratives. In: Report on Nexus Security using Quantitative Story-Telling. MAGIC (H2020–GA 689669) Project Deliverable 4.1.

How is the nexus analysed in MAGIC?

NEXUS

30 January 2018

MAGIC analyses the nexus at multiple scales through the use of relational analysis (Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism - MuSIASEM). At the nation state level, we account for how much energy, water and food are consumed, produced, imported and exported. We thus identify patterns in the profile of water, energy, food and land uses at the national level. Moving down to the level of economic sectors, we identify the constituent components of the economy (the main economic sectors, such as agriculture, energy and mining, manufacturing and construction, service and government, the household sector) and describe the profile of water, energy, food and land uses at the sectoral level. Moving further down to the economic sub-sectors we arrive at a level of disaggregation that makes it possible to analyze the pattern of input use (water, energy, food, specific land-uses) that reflects the characteristics of the production processes taking place. For example, the activities of the Finnish pulp & paper sector are associated with pulp production (cutting trees) and printing, while the activities of the Italian pulp & paper sector consist mainly of printing and recycling.

The nexus between the use of water, energy, food and land use is thus tracked across different hierarchical levels of analysis and reflects not only the technical characteristics of specific lower-level functional components (economic sub-sectors and the processes taking place there) but also the mix of functional compartments and their relative size in society. In this way, trade-offs can be identified in the assessment of the policy option space: a reduction (or increase) in consumption of one element of the nexus may require (i) an increase (or reduction) in consumption of other nexus elements, (ii) a change in technology, (iii) a change in the relative size of economic sectors, (iv) a change in the mix of the activities carried out within individual sectors; (v) a change in the patterns of imports and exports of the country, (vi) a change in the level of environmental impact, (vii) any combination of the above. Thus, our 'nexus approach' consists in a systemic analysis of the metabolic pattern of society in relation to external and internal constraints and the level of openness of the economy. This systemic analysis includes a check on the feasibility, viability and desirability of the metabolic pattern.

What is Quantitative Story-Telling?

QST

14 December 2017

Quantitative Story-Telling (QST) involves a participative and deliberative analysis of the quality of proposed or available policies and narratives on governance.

QST proceeds at first and foremost ‘via negativa’, using a method of falsification of the available options with respect to:

  • feasibility (compatibility with external constraints);
  • viability (compatibility with internal constraints); and
  • desirability (compatibility with normative values adopted in the given society).

This analysis – to be performed participatively with parsimonious use of mathematical modelling and quantification – will test whether any ‘impossibility’ or bottleneck can be identified which allows a framing or option to be falsified (in the sense of proven false). A key step in the identification of the feasibility, viability and desirability domains entails looking through different lens – i.e. dimensions and scales of analysis.

In these analyses the required tools and representations are continuously adapting to the task, as the quantification strategy useful to study feasibility is not the same as the one to test viability. In turn desirability demands direct interaction with the social actors carrying legitimate but contrasting normative values (Giampietro et al. 2006). An additional analytic steps might then combine these findings in a multi-criteria setting (Munda, 2008), or using so called ethical matrices (Mepham, 1996).

A desirable feature of QST is indeed that instead of searching for an optimal solution in a given problem space (what economics offers) it strives to enlarge the problem space itself and then map its attribute in terms of feasibility, viability and desirability. This implies that more time is spent on defining the problem and relatively less in populating this with data, indicators and models.

The style of quantification adopted in QST has some characteristic features:

  • The first is a commitment to a responsible use of quantitative information. The list of don’ts include for example refrain from using models that demands as an input data which need to be made up out of thin air, and to refrain from producing digits which do not correspond to the accuracy of the estimate.
  • The second feature – which is inter alia the one needed to test the salience and relevance of model generated numbers – is to use data and model appraisal strategies developed in the tradition of Post Normal Science (PNS, Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991, 1992, 1993). Both practices are useful for taming scientific hubris, and for not treating genuine uncertainty or ignorance as if it were amenable to a computable risk, following the key distinction introduced by Knight (1921).
  • A third key aspect of quantification as advocated in QST is the use of tools from system ecology. For example Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism (MuSIASEM) is a method of accounting based on maintaining coherence a cross scales and dimensions (e.g. economic, demographic, energetic) of quantitative assessments generated using different metrics (Giampietro and Mayumi, 2000a, 2000b, Giampietro et al. 2012, 2013, 2014).

References:
Funtowicz, S.O. and Ravetz, J. R. 1991. "A New Scientific Methodology for Global Environmental Issues." In Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. Ed. Robert Costanza. New York: Columbia University Press: 137–152.
Funtowicz, S. O. and Ravetz, J. R. 1993. Science for the post-normal age. Futures, 257, 739–755.
Funtowicz, S. O., and Ravetz, J. R. 1992. Three types of risk assessment and the emergence of postnormal science. In S. Krimsky & D. Golding Eds., Social theories of risk pp. 251–273. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Giampietro, M., Allen, T.F.H. and Mayumi, K. 2006. The epistemological predicament associated with purposive quantitative analysis Ecological Complexity, 3 4: 307-327.
Giampietro, M., Aspinall, R.J., Ramos-Martin, J. and Bukkens, S.G.F. Eds. 2014. Resource Accounting for Sustainability Assessment: The Nexus between Energy, Food, Water and Land use. Routledge.
Giampietro, M., and Mayumi, K. 2000a. Multiple-scale integrated assessment of societal metabolism: Introducing the approach. Population and the Environment, 222, 109–153.
Giampietro, M., and Mayumi, K. 2000b. Multiple-scale integrated assessments of societal metabolism: Integrating biophysical and economic representations across scales. Population and the Environment, 222, 155–210.
Giampietro, M., Mayumi, K. and Sorman, A.H. 2012. The Metabolic Pattern of Societies: Where Economists Fall Short. Routledge.
Giampietro, M., Mayumi, K. and Sorman, A.H. 2013. Energy Analysis for a Sustainable Future: Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism. Routledge.
Knight, F. H. 1921. Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit, New York: Hart, Schaffner & Marx.
Mepham, B. 1996. Ethical analysis of food biotechnologies: An evaluative framework. In B. Mepham Ed., Food ethics pp. 101–119. London: Routledge.
Munda, G. 2008. Social multi-criteria evaluation for a sustainable economy. Berlin: Springer.


For more information: M. Giampietro (2017): Structuring the perception (qualitative) and representation (quantitative) of the nexus with new concepts and narratives. In: Report on Nexus Security using Quantitative Story-Telling. MAGIC (H2020–GA 689669) Project Deliverable 4.1.

What is a Narrative?

QST

14 December 2017

According to T.F.H. Allen a narrative is the result of a series of scaling operations over the perception of a given event used for identifying: (i) relevant agents, (ii) a given scale of analysis, and (iii) a direction of causality, a combination providing an explanation for the event. Narratives are essential for humans because:

1. Narratives provide anticipation, but a tricky anticipation

The representation of relevant events based on the choice of a given narrative makes it possible to describe dynamic relations – i.e. the scaling makes it possible to define a “before” and an “after” and a causal link in the plot of perceived events. This explains why models need (and depend on) a pre-analytical choice of a narrative about the events to be modeled.

2. Narratives make it possible to make sense of our perception of the reality

Narratives represent a heuristic solution adopted by humans to avoid impredicativity. When dealing with complex systems it is unavoidable to find contrasting perceptions in which: A -> B, but also B -> A (i.e. chicken-egg paradox).

Impredicativity generates a bifurcation in the definition of:

  • what should be considered a relevant agent (dependent or independent variable in the model). This choice depends on the point of view used for the perception. Governments rule on citizens over a time duration of a year, whereas citizens rule over the government at election time (over a time duration of 10 years);
  • what should be considered the right scale to be used for analysis (it blurs the definition of “before” and “after”) – the famous chicken-egg dilemma!; and
  • what should be considered the right direction of causality used to provide an explanation over the relations agents/phenomena perceived in the external world – Are farmers needed to reproduce rural communities or rural communities needed to reproduce farmers? The same impredicative relation applies to the relation between urban and rural communities.
3. Narratives cannot handle the trade-off between efficiency and adaptability

The use of narratives does not solve the impasse faced when trying to deal with the well-known and non-quantifiable trade-off between “efficiency” and “adaptability”. When optimizing efficiency (what is more efficient right now, under the ceteris paribus assumption) we systematically reduce the diversity of possible solutions: those described as “not optimal” by the chosen formalization, which is based on a given set of relevant criteria and the existing perception of external boundary conditions. Because of this forced trade-offs, more efficient systems become less capable of adapting (they lose their potentiality of expressing different functions) when the definition of relevant criteria of performance and/or the constraints determined by boundary conditions will change. When addressing the trade-offs between efficiency and adaptability (resilience!!!!) we cannot focus on the detailed indications given by models or data. Looking only at the results of models carries the risk of missing the presence of elephant(s) in the room(s). This is why, the basic goal of MAGIC is to develop an approach that will allow us to check the usefulness of the narratives that are behind the choice of models and data used as “evidence” for policy.

The usefulness of a narrative depends on the purpose and the value judgment of the agent endorsing and using the narrative (see What is a story-teller?).

References:
Allen, T.F.H. and T.W. Hoekstra 1992. Toward a Unified Ecology. New York: Columbia University Press.
Allen, T.F.H., Starr, T., 1982. Hierarchy: Perspectives for Ecological Complexity. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


For more information: M. Giampietro (2017): Structuring the perception (qualitative) and representation (quantitative) of the nexus with new concepts and narratives. In: Report on Nexus Security using Quantitative Story-Telling. MAGIC (H2020–GA 689669) Project Deliverable 4.1.

What is a story-teller?

QST

14 December 2017

The story-teller is the person (or the institution) that select and use a narrative relevant for guiding action. By doing so a story-teller endorses both the relevance of the story (in terms of framing of the issue) and usefulness (in terms of guiding action).


For more information: M. Giampietro (2017): Structuring the perception (qualitative) and representation (quantitative) of the nexus with new concepts and narratives. In: Report on Nexus Security using Quantitative Story-Telling. MAGIC (H2020–GA 689669) Project Deliverable 4.1.

How is the usefulness of narratives judged?

QST

14 December 2017

The usefulness of narratives can only be judged considering three criteria:

  1. How fair is the choice of the given purpose – when dealing with sustainability - What do we want to sustain, For whom? For how long? At which cost? – here we are in the realm of politics and moral choices;
  2. How reasonable is the choice of the given narrative when contrasting the insights provided by it with the insights that can be obtained by the consideration of alternative narratives about the issue? – here we are dealing with the quality and robustness of the knowledge associated with the adoption of the narrative;
  3. How useful is the choice of: (i) relevant agents, (ii) time scale (a before and an after in the chosen events described at a given time scale), (iii) the identification of the causality associated with the chosen explanation, – here we are in the realm of the practical problems faced when trying to generate a reliable input to be used for governance.

Looking at these quality criteria, the usefulness of the narrative depends on the “wisdom” of those that endorse it. That is, a check on the robustness of the choice of narratives requires a check on the wisdom of the policy determined by the endorsement of that narrative. The models and data to be used as “evidence” for policy are only by-products of the pre-analytical choice of narratives. The quality check on models and data is only a part of the story.

For this reason a quality check on a specific policy can only be obtained by: (i) comparing the effects of different policies suggested according to different narratives – e.g. by considering steady-state versus evolutionary changes, and (ii) analyzing the implications of the robustness of the representation of the different pre-analytical choices associated with different potential endorsements of a narrative – e.g. by considering what happens to winners and losers. This open approach implies that a given issue can be perceived in terms of either a problem or an opportunity by different actors. This heterogeneity of views can provide a variety of insights about the pros and cons of potential policies. Put it in another way, the “falsification” of narratives cannot be done looking at their “validity” in absolute term. All narratives are valid depending on the purpose of those proposing them and on their perception of what should be considered a wise thing to do.

In conclusion, the quality control on the policy implications of a given narrative can only be done by adopting view-points provided by other narratives. If the evidence generated according to a given narrative suggests to adopt a given policy, it is always wise before endorsing that narrative to consider other non-equivalent narratives capable of checking whether the policy is: (i) feasible – according to external constraints, (ii) viable – according to internal constraints, (iii) desirable according to existing institutions and normative values.

For more information: M. Giampietro (2017): Structuring the perception (qualitative) and representation (quantitative) of the nexus with new concepts and narratives. In: Report on Nexus Security using Quantitative Story-Telling. MAGIC (H2020–GA 689669) Project Deliverable 4.1.

What are the Policy Case Studies?

Case Studies

15 December 2017

MAGIC will undertake a critical appraisal of key narratives that underpin EU sustainability policies and strategies.  The quality check of policy narratives has started from EU directives and related statements in the policy areas of water, energy, CAP, environment, and circular economy, supplemented by interviews with DG and other EC staff.

 

Policy Case Studies

  • Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) 1
    • Narrative - The basis of EU farm competitiveness and its wider consequences.
  • Circular Economy (CE) 3
    • Narrative A - Imaginary of the Circular Economy.
    • Narrative B - Indicators for the Circular Economy.
    • Narrative C - Critiquing the Circular Economy.
  • Energy Policy 4
    • Narrative A - Transition to renewable energies.
    • Narrative B - Intermittency challenge.
    • Narrative C - Energy efficiency narrative.
    • Narrative D - Outsourcing challenge.
  • Environment 1
    • Narrative - Meeting environmental targets in the EU: is externalisation of food production a solution or a problem?
  • Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2
    • Narrative A - The WFD as a success story in environmental policy and integrated governance.
    • Narrative B - Europe needs to improve the aquatic environment in order to secure water for its citizens and economic benefits.

What are the Innovation Case Studies?

Case Studies

15 December 2017

The seven innovations, policy solutions or interventions that will be analysed in MAGIC are:

 

What is understood by feasibility in MuSIASEM?

MuSIASEM

30 January 2018

Feasibility refers to a metabolic pattern of society that is compatible with external constraints. All production activities, such as manufacturing, require a supply capacity for primary inputs (whose availability depends on processes outside of human control) and a sink capacity for resulting emissions (whose processing can harm the embedding ecosystems) that must be compatible with the metabolic processes of the embedding ecosystems and the larger biogeochemical cycles determining the stability of boundary conditions. Climate, soil, spatial arrangement or topography are classic elements imposing external constraints to socioeconomic performance, affecting water, agriculture and energy dynamics.

In the case of water, feasibility refers to the maintenance of adequate hydrological processes in nature such as the recharge of aquifers and rivers and their dependent ecosystems. Moving up to the scale of the global water cycle it also refers to the maintenance of glaciers or rain patterns.

In the case of food and agriculture, feasibility refers to the availability of usable land, to biodiversity, to the reproduction of healthy soil, or to climatic conditions. Again feasibility is in play when these resources cannot be generated at will by humans.

In energy, feasibility refers to the availability of primary energy sources (according to the first law of thermodynamics energy cannot be made, it must already exist in nature in the form of favorable gradients!) including crude oil, coal, biomass, solar radiation, wind, currents and waves, etc.

Feasibility is one of the three conditions of sustainability checked by the MuSIASEM tool-kit, the others being viability and desirability.

What is understood with viability of a metabolic pattern?

MuSIASEM

30 January 2018

Viability refers to the internal view of society: are we able to use the available resources to express the required functions in society? Viability implies the establishment of relations of congruence among the different patterns of behaviors expressed by the elements composing the socio-economic system. There are three dimensions of viability: technical, economic, and institutional.

In the case of water, viability refers to the compatibility between water supply and water demand (flows under human control). Supply and demand depend on hydraulic infrastructures increasing water supply, technology such as irrigation systems, water transfer schemes, water saving schemes, water consumption patterns and population.

As for food and agriculture, viability refers to the compatibility between supply and demand of agricultural products, including food, feed, and biomass for biofuels. Supply and demand depend on: labor employed by the agricultural sector, technology, energy and fertilizer use by the agricultural sector, type of diet and the size of the population.

In the case of energy, viability refers to the compatibility between supply and demand of energy, including fuels, electricity and process heat. Supply and demand are determined by: installed power capacity, labor, technology, flexibility of different technologies, end uses of energy carriers and the size and density of the population.

What does desirability mean within the MuSIASEM framework?

MuSIASEM

30 January 2018

The desirability component of sustainability refers to preserving the stability of the social fabric. Desirability is a concept inspired by the post-normal science analysis of decision stakes. To assess desirability one needs to extend the sustainability analysis beyond biophysical variables, and take into account also matters of values, desires and beliefs; as well as cultural, social and political arrangements. The analysis of desirability goes beyond the analysis of feasibility and viability and requires a reflexive attitude towards sustainability assessments.

Desirability requires a reflection on the meaning and the implication of the identity of the society (which is preserved and continuously updated because of feasible and viable processes). Therefore checking sustainability is not just about producing indicators and quantifying constraints in the feasibility and viability domains, adopting a “view from nowhere”. Desirability situates the sustainability debate in society and calls for attention towards the winners and losers of any proposed solution and towards the meaning and the implications of being a winner. As winners what are we preserving and what new attributes are we adding to our identity? Are EU citizens aware of the unavoidable tragedy of change implied by any evolutionary change? Which aspects of our identity do we accept to lose to save others?

In relation to other non-EU countries and the externalization issue, if the current living standards in Europe are to be maintained, who will benefit from this arrangement and who will suffer? If the current level of food (and meat) consumption is made viable via imports of feed, who will benefit and who will suffer from the maintenance of such a system? What if the “keep doing more of the same” strategy could suddenly fail in the future? If the current level of electronics consumption is made viable via the availability of cheap labor in South-East Asia, who will benefit and who will suffer from the internet of things?
Desirability assessments are not based on quantification or the production of indicators (although one can quantify living standards and food consumption as a quantitative story-telling exercise). Desirability is a post-normal science enquiry that can be expressed by asking: What is at stake? Who decides? How? Who is “we”? In relation to these questions, participatory methods are essential to address the issue of desirability.

What is meant by “externalization”? Is it the same thing as cost externalization?

MuSIASEM

30 January 2018

In MuSIASEM, we take a biophysical approach to the term “externalization”. When we talk about externalization, we do not only mean the externalization of costs, but also the externalization of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, energy use, land use, labour, etc. For example, to look at how much the EU’s energy sector is “externalizing” to other countries, we look at how much labour, land, water and energy are required to extract and produce the energy products that are imported into the EU, as well as the greenhouse gases that are emitted. This is similar to what is known as “virtual water” in water analyses, which accounts for the water embedded in the country’s imported goods. We expand this to also look at “virtual energy”, “virtual land”, “virtual labour”, etc., and accounting for imported goods, food and energy products. The difference between our accounting of externalization and that of environmental externalities, used for example by the OECD, is that we do not convert what is externalized in monetary terms, but keep a biophysical description of what is externalized elsewhere.

Are societal metabolism and social metabolism synonymous?

MuSIASEM

30 January 2018

No, the two approaches are distinct. While there are numerous differences, the briefest explanation is that social metabolism uses flow-flow accounting whereas societal metabolism (MuSIASEM) uses Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's fund-flow accounting. In the first case (social metabolism) the metabolism is described in terms of a set of material and energy flows without relating to the structural and functional elements of the society.  In the second case (our case) flows are described in relation to a characterization of the structural and functional elements of society. For example, looking at food security, social metabolism will provide an accounting of the aggregated amount of foods entering and leaving society. In the case of societal metabolism, the accounting includes information referring to both the supply side (external view) and the requirement side (internal view). On the supply side we specify what mix of food items is produced per unit of fund element (food kg per hour of labour, and food kg per hectare of land).  On the requirement side we specify what mix of food items is consumed per unit of fund element (food kg per day per person in different age classes). In this way we establish a connection between the assessment of the metabolized flows and the characteristics of (i) the context (in relation to the biophysical processes required for supply); and (ii) the internal parts of society (those parts metabolizing the flows under analysis).

I understand the concept of flow, but are funds the same as stocks?

MuSIASEM

30 January 2018

No, stocks are a type of flow that is stored or kept unused for a period of time. For example,  a barrel of beer or a silo full of rice. Stocks can become “active” flows whenever needed by the system. Funds, on the other hand,  represent “what the system is made of”.  Funds represent the constituent components of the system. For example, the people in a society, the buildings in a district. Fund elements require a metabolism of flows to reproduce and maintain themselves (e.g., human beings metabolize food to survive). Because of the expression of a metabolism they can “remain the same” during the period of analysis. For example, a forest can be a fund providing firewood to humans, but there exists a maximum threshold to the amount of wood that can be extracted per unit of time in order for the forest to remain alive (corresponding to the capacity of the forest to sustainably produce wood).  Indeed, to keep the forest alive, one must respect the pace at which the forest metabolizes matter and energy to produce firewood. If we decide to extract more firewood than can be produced, then the forest would simply become a stock of firewood and cease to exist once depleted. The same applies to the water of a river or aquifer or to the milk that can be extracted from a cow. The limited pace of extraction of fund-flow exploitation (forest-wood; cow-milk; aquifer-irrigation water) explains the advantages of using stock-flow exploitation.  When exploiting a stock we can extract as much flow (firewood, milk, beer) as needed to meet the supply in given circumstances. The disadvantage with stock-flow exploitation is that the stocks we use to stabilize our metabolism will become depleted at some point. This is what is happening right now with fossil energy stocks. We exploit them as a stock-flow because the reproduction pace of the reserves is much slower than the extraction pace. Fossil energy stocks have allowed society to extract as much energy input as possible and dramatically expand its economic activities. Because of this stock-flow exploitation the productive and consumptive capacity of modern society has escaped the limitations imposed by the low pace and low density of energy funds (renewable sources from natural ecosystems).