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The Political Economy of Energy, Environment and Development

서울대학교 환경대학원
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  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Political Science


This paper examines the environmental implications of the emerging world order of development and underdevelopment. In particular, it considers the prospect that the environment is being socially shaped and, in a specific sense to be examined below, reconstituted by political and economic forces. In our view, what is popularly called "environment," more classically "nature," is undergoing a process of social capture which eventually may make it a "system" subject to political and economic "laws". Although the present energy-environment-development regime is only about 300 years old (dating to the spared of a coal-economy, steam technology and wage labor), it appears to have concurrently institutionalized a world order of social inequality unknown in previous human history and attained a level of technological sophistication that threatens several million years of climate, biological and social evolution. An effort is made below to begin construction of a theoretical framework for conceiving the social origins of this threat and its implications for society and nature. The paper is divided into four sections. The first section reviews the political economy of energy, environment and development which has prevailed since industrialization. The period is characterized as one of expanding commodification of social existence. Nature is seen as successively drawn into the commodification process; but, until recently, its role was limited to serving mainly as a resource mine or a reservoir for the absorption of industrial waste. Under these conditions, it was analytically feasible to focus on the social structure and ignore the possibility that nature was being structurally affected. We argue, however, that commodification has spread to the natural structure-including climate, atmosphere and global temperature-and that conventional distinctions between natural and social structures and laws may now be outmoded. Indeed, the dualistic treatment of society and nature may represent an impediment to conceiving newly evolving relations in the political economy of energy, environment and development. The third section explores the meaning and implications of the social appropriation of natural order. The paper concludes with a discussion of the links between commodification, the appropriation of mature and social inequality.

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