The University of Arizona

Linking ecological debt and ecologically unequal exchange: stocks, flows, and unequal sink appropriation

Rikard Warlenius


Ecological debt is usually conceptualized as the accumulated result of different kinds of uneven flows of natural resources and waste, but these flows are seldom referred to as ecologically unequal exchange. Ecologically unequal exchange, on the other hand, is usually defined as different flows of resources and waste, but the accumulated results of these flows are seldom referred to as ecological debt. In this article, influential definitions and conceptualizations of ecological debt and ecologically unequal exchange are compared and the notions linked together analytically with a stock-flow perspective. A particular challenge is presented by emissions of substances that have global consequences, most importantly carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. They form part of ecologically unequal exchange, but what is unequal is not the exchange of resources or energy, but the appropriation of the sinks that absorb these substances. New concepts, unequal sink appropriation and the more specific carbon sink appropriation are proposed as a way of highlighting this distinction.

Key words: ecological debt, ecologically unequal exchange, unequal sink appropriation, carbon sink appropriation

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