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Developing a political-industrial ecology: The case of Los Angeles’s water supply metabolism

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
July 10, 2015

This paper develops a political-industrial ecology to explore the urban water supply metabolism of Los Angeles (Cousins and Newell, 2015), which sprawls across the American West. Specifically, the paper incorporates theory and method from urban political ecology and industrial ecology to more fully capture the social and political processes shaping the water supply metabolism of Los Angeles. First, to explore how spatial form influences the material metabolism of water, we incorporate spatiality into the traditional life cycle assessment (LCA) approach by coupling it with GIS. The result reveals that the water sourcing and conveying life cycle phases have the largest carbon footprint. The outcome of this intervention advances the LCA enterprise by being more geographically nuanced, but also reveals the need for downscaled, or utility-scale, modeling to provide more accurate carbon footprints. Then to explore the social and political dimensions of Los Angeles’ water supply metabolism we use interviews and historical analysis to provide a critical exploration of how Los Angeles’ various water supply infrastructures came to be and illustrate how a sustainable transition based on a narrow carbon calculus is problematized by historical circumstances and strategic new paradigms to secure water resources. The political-industrial ecology approach offers valuable insights into the spatiality of material metabolisms and the socio-political processes (re)shaping naturesociety relationships.

Cousins J. C. and J. P. Newell. 2015. A political-industrial ecology of water supply infrastructure for Los Angeles. Geoforum 58: 38-50.

Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Water Resources
Publication Type
Conference Proceeding
Full Citation
Cousins, Joshua, and Joshua Newell. (2015) “Developing a political-industrial ecology: The case of Los Angeles’s water supply metabolism.” Proceedings of 8th International Society for Industrial Ecology Biennial Conference. University of Surrey, United Kingdom. Abstract 720: p.650.