Conclusion

Even if there does not exist - and maybe never will exist - any fully integrated model, striving towards such a model gives us valuable insights about the economic forces steering material use and how this might affect the environment. Weaknesses yet to be fully addressed include the impact of possible future scarcity, as reflected in non-declining resource prices, and the negative impact of pollution on unpriced but essential environmental assets. In short, more needs to be done in terms of accounting for the impact of resource use on the economic system.

Up to now, forecasts of the consumption of different types of materials have been essential since many of the environmental and resource problems are rooted in this consumption. Total material use can also serve as an indicator of sustainable development. For example, Hinterberger et al. (1997) propose total material requirement (TMR) as a better indicator than 'constant natural capital'. However, the risk in focusing on TMR is that it is easy to overlook small, but very damaging, material streams. For this purpose studies like Dellink and Kandelaars (2000) might serve better.

Despite their many weaknesses, general equilibrium models must still be regarded as useful tools for studying interactions between different sectors of an economy and the environment. There is, however, a need for dynamic multisectoral models that capture both the material balance perspective and endogenous technological progress.

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