Small island states and jurisdictions face enormous sustainability challenges such as isolation from global markets, tenuous resource availability, heavy reliance on imports to meet basic needs, coastal squeeze, and reduced waste absorption capacity. At the same time, the adverse effects of global environmental change such as global warming, extreme events, and outbreaks of pandemics significantly hinder island economies’ progress towards sustainability, and consistently rank them high on various vulnerability indices. This talk introduces the concept of socio-metabolic risk, defined as systemic risk associated with the availability of critical resources, the integrity of material circulation, and the (in)equitable distribution of derived products and societal services in a socio-ecological system. Drawing on years of socio-metabolic research on islands, I will argue that specific configurations and combinations of material stocks and flows and their ‘resistance to change’ contribute to the system’s proliferation of socio-metabolic risk (SMR). For better or for worse, these influence the system’s ability to consistently and effectively deliver societal services necessary for human survival. Governing SMR would mean governing socio-metabolic flows to avoid potential disruptions in the circulation of critical resources and the maintenance of vital infrastructures and services while inducing interventions towards positive social tipping dynamics. Such interventions will need strategies to reconfigure resource-use patterns and associated services that are sustainable as well as socially equitable.
Simron Singh (Ph.D. Lund University, Sweden) is Professor in the Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo, Canada. As a sustainability scholar, he is interested in the long-term system dynamics of society-nature interactions. Using small islands as a scope, he conducts socio-metabolic research to investigate the systemic links between material and energy use, ecosystem health, and human wellbeing. His research draws on concepts such as socio-metabolic risk, collapse, and transitions. He is founder and lead of the research program Metabolism of Islands, that seeks to inform science and policy on ways island economies can achieve resource security, meet socioeconomic goals, and build system resilience against the impacts of climate change. He is the executive Secretary of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE), chairs the inaugural board of Island Industrial Ecology within ISIE, and also serves as co-chair of Risk-KAN, a global research and action network on emergent risks and extreme events, where he also leads the working group on the Metabolic Risk on Islands. For a full list of publications, please visit Singh’s ResearchGate page.