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Journal Article

Understanding Socio-metabolic Inequalities Using Consumption Data from Germany


Schuster,  Antonia
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Otto,  Ilona M.
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Schuster, A., Otto, I. M. (2023): Understanding Socio-metabolic Inequalities Using Consumption Data from Germany. - Capitalism Nature Socialism, 34, 4, 97-118.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_27853
The Earth’s population of seven billion consume varying amounts of planetary resources with varying impacts on the environment. We combine the analytical tools offered by the socio-ecological metabolism and class theory and contribute to a novel social stratification theory to identify the differences in individual resource and energy use. This approach is applied to German society, we use per capita greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as a proxy for resource and energy use and investigate socio-metabolic characteristics of individuals from an economic, social and cultural perspective. The results show large disparities and inequalities in emission patterns in the German society. For example, the GHG in the lowest and highest emission groups can differ by a magnitude of ten. Income, education, age, gender and regional differences (Eastern vs. Western Germany) result in distinct emission profiles. We question the focus on individual behavioral changes and consumption choices to reduce carbon emissions instead of structural changes through political decisions. We argue that emission differences are directly linked to the effects of inequalities and class differences in capitalist societies. Our research results show that natural resource and energy consumption are important for explaining social differentiation in modern societies.