The Social Metabolism of Quiet Sustainability in the Faroe Islands

This paper investigates the interrelations between social metabolism and socio-ecological sustainability in the Faroe Islands in a long-term perspective. It traces the trajectory and changes in socio-metabolic configurations from the time of settlement until today and shows how social metabolism has increased to very high per capita levels during the past century. The analysis departs from the recognition that a decrease in social metabolism, i.e., a net reduction in throughput of natural resources in human economies, is necessary in order to curb the impending ecological crisis. It is argued that parallel to the growth oriented formal Faroese economy, economic food-provisioning practices rooted in the traditional, and ecologically sustainable, land management system continue to be practiced by Faroese people. These practices can be conceptualized as practices of so-called “quiet sustainability” and their contribution is estimated in bio-physical metrics of weight. The analysis shows that practices of “quiet sustainability” contribute significant quantities of certain food items to the local population thereby enhancing food security and food sovereignty. Moreover, these practices are an integral element in the biocultural diversity, which has constituted the Faroe Islands for close to two millennia. Therefore, they should be considered real alternatives to import-based consumption and taken into account in sustainability discourse and policy to a higher degree than is currently the case.