Keywords: sustainability science, environmental sociology, ecological economics, global environmental change, challenges, realism, constructivism, metabolism, discourses, conflict analysis, utilisation competition, ecological resources, sustainable development, economic development, social dynamics
Utilisation competitions over ecological resources: uncovering the social nature of the environmental problem
One principle of the sustainable development strategy is to maintain the ecological integrity of our bio–physical environment. Another is the preservation of capacities for economic development in contemporary societies. In order to examine if both goals can be combined the social dynamics of emerging environmental problems need to be investigated. A study by US sociologist Dunlap may serve here. It presents three basic functions of nature for human society: I) environment as the origin of vital resources; II) as a waste and recycling depot; III) as a habitat for life. The strong and weak points in his concept of competing utilisation functions are then discussed and the need for an interdisciplinary paradigm is stated. This involves realistic as well as constructivist methodologies and should equally well explore bio–physical, political–economic and socio–cultural dimensions of possible conflicts. Finally an advanced approach for analysing the dynamics of utilisation competition over ecological resources is offered.