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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interregional ecology - resource flows and sustainability in a globalizing world Kissinger, Meidad


In a globalizing world, trade has become essential to supporting the needs and wants of billions of people. Virtually everyone now consumes resource commodities and manufactured products traded all over the world; the ecological footprints of nations are now scattered across the globe. The spatial separation of material production (resource exploitation) from consumption eliminates negative feedbacks from supporting eco-systems. Most consumers remain unaware of the impacts that their trade dependence imposes on distant ecosystems (out of sight out of mind). I take the first steps in developing a conceptual and practical framework for an ‘interregional ecology’ approach to exploring and analyzing sustainability in an increasingly interconnected world. Such an approach accounts for some of the ‘externalities’ of globalization and international trade. It underscores the increasing dependence and impact of almost any country on resources originating from others and recognizes that the sustainability of any specified region may be increasingly linked to the ecological sustainability of distant supporting regions. I empirically describe and quantify some of the interregional material linkages between selected countries. I document the flows of renewable resources into the U.S. and quantify the U.S. external material footprint (EF) on specific countries. I then document the physical inputs involved in production of most agricultural export products from Costa Rica and Canada. Finally, I focus on major export products such as bananas, coffee and beef in Costa Rica and agricultural activities in the Canadian Prairies and document some of the ecological consequences (loss of habitat, soil degradation, water contamination and biodiversity loss) of that production. My research findings show increasing U.S. imports, increasing reliance on external sources and growing external ecological footprints. They also show how production activities mostly for overseas consumption led to changes in ecological structure and function in the studied export countries. This dissertation adds a missing trans-national dimension to the sustainability debate effectively integrating the policy and planning domain for sustainability in one region with that in others. While my research focuses mainly on documenting the nature and magnitude of interregional connections I also consider some of the implications of the interregional approach for sustainability planning.

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