Abstract

The social value of water resources must be considered when reforming water prices, improving water policy, protecting water resources and devising allocation methods. However, current social value theories for water resources are often unsound. The social value of water resources is defined here based on social system theory. Energy flow within a combined social–ecological system is analyzed, and an emergy analysis method for ecological economics is introduced for unified quantification and to improve the accounting method of the social value of water resources. Taking Zhengzhou in east-central China as an example, the social value of water resources is calculated for 2015. The water resources' total social emergy was 6.04 × 1021 solar equivalent joules (sej) and the unit value was 6.58 × 1012 sej/m3. This corresponds to 3.88$/m3, indicating that the social value of water resources is enormous. This paper proposes that the social value of water is an important component of its ecological economic value, and its social value should therefore be considered by water policy makers. Research of this type can be effective in helping to protect water resources and encourage efficient water use.

Introduction

Water has always greatly influenced the development of human society. Water resources are crucial not only to the physical well-being of any society but also often to its spiritual or sacred life (Jiang, 1998). The realization of the value of water resources is the basis for formulating water policies. However, due to the complex composition of social values of water resources and diverse manifestations, research on the social value of water resources still lacks a perfect evaluation system and accounting method which makes it difficult to fully evaluate the value of water resources. Research on the social value of water resources helps to clarify their significance and function in the sustainable development of the economy and society, and is of great significance for promoting water saving, improving water policy and alleviating shortages.

The value of water resources based on Marx's labour value theory and utility value theory does not consider their social value within the social system (Jiang, 1998). Environmental value theory considers not only entity value – which is tangible and material – but also intangible factors such as comfort value (Li, 1999), which involves the social attributes of water resources. Increasing awareness of the environmental and ecological costs of development has stimulated research into water resources' effects on the wider ecosystem. Sayan & Kibaroglu (2016) stated that water resources have an economic production function relationship to human life and productivity. Li et al. (2009) proposed them to have similar relationships to leisure and human landscape function. Overall, previous work has laid the foundation for research into the social value of water resources that can holistically consider their economic, social and ecological–environmental value. Wang (2004) studied the economic and ecological–environmental value of water resources but did not discuss their social value. Ma et al. (2013) researched the social value composition of a different natural resource: cultivated land. Liu & Yin (2015) reported the social value of paddy to derive mainly from social stability and security. These works are all earlier than the research on the social value of water resources. Water resources complement social systems and thus embody great social value. However, the social value of water resources remains relatively poorly explored because it is abstract – it has not been strictly defined – and the currently used models for calculating it (e.g., the shadow price model, marginal opportunity cost model and fuzzy mathematical models) cannot unify the ecological and economic inputs of energy, materials, money, and so on. This lack of a unified calculation standard and methodology must be addressed by defining precisely the social value of water resources and by improving the accounting method for the social value and social contribution rate of water resources. This would greatly aid future ecologically balanced economic and societal development.

The creativity of this work lies in the introduction of social system theory to explore the meaning of the social value of water resources. It analyzes the definition of the social–ecological system and introduces the emergy theory of ecological economics. Our analysis of the inputs and outputs of various energy flows in the social–ecological system leads to an energy system diagram and emergy comprehensive diagram, which aim to provide new ideas for improving the accounting methods for the social value of water resources and provide a reference for the formulation of water policy.

Method

Description of the study area

Zhengzhou is located in the southern part of the North China Plain and the lower Yellow River, lying northeast of central Henan Province, between 112° 42′–114° 14′ E and 34° 16′–34° 58′ N. The total area of Zhengzhou city is 7,446 m2; it has a northern temperate continental monsoon climate with an annual average temperature of 15.6 °C. There are 124 large and small rivers in the territory of Zhengzhou City and 29 rivers with larger river basins belonging to the Yellow River and Huaihe River.

The average precipitation of Zhengzhou was 582.1 mm in 2015, whilst the total volume of water resources was 839.83 million m3, of which surface water resources were 424.74 million m3, groundwater resources were 683.87 million m3, and the double/overlapped counting of surface water and groundwater was 268.41 million m3. In 2015, the total water consumption in Zhengzhou City was 1.673 × 109 m3, which is in line with the requirement of Henan Province (the target water volume was 2.102 × 109 m3 for Zhengzhou's most stringent water resources management and control in 2015). Breaking this down into sub-categories: agricultural water consumption was 474.54 million m3, industrial water consumption 482.36 million m3, domestic water consumption 520.81 million m3, and ecological water consumption 195.54 million m3. In 2015, the per capita water consumption of Zhengzhou was 191 m3, whilst wastewater discharge was 707.11 million tons, of which domestic sewage was 515.80 million tons, accounting for 72.9% of the total.

Definition of the social value of water resources

Definition based on social system theory

Social system analysis was pioneered by Talcott Parsons who, in ‘The Social System’, defined a social system as comprising a series of interacting and mutually influencing actions by individual actors and groups of actors (Parsons, 1951). A social system can be divided into four main levels: the first is the social value system that determines the norm; the second is the social norm system; the third is the social collective system that reflects the social norms; and the fourth level is the social role system formed by individual action. In China, the concept of social systems was developed and researched beginning in the 1980s. Liu & Wu (2003) defined a social system as being a specific function of society and having a value with three aspects: it should consist of humans and their surrounding temporal–spatial environment; there is an organic connection between the whole social system and its elements, among its elements, and between the whole and the environment; third, all social systems have specific functions and value. This paper draws on the achievements of previous research and extracts four parts of the social system: policy and decree; ideology and culture; science and technology education; and organization and management (Figure 1). An analysis of the social value of water resources can aid decision making in all four parts.

Fig. 1.

The four parts of the social system and their interconnections.

Fig. 1.

The four parts of the social system and their interconnections.

Social system theory applied to the social value of water resources can clarify the relevant subjects and objects and their interactions, and thus help to rigorously formulate the social value of water resources. The subjects here are human beings: as actors in the social system, they have physical, social and mental characteristics to be considered. The object refers to the water resources ecosystem with managed energy and material flows. The relationship between subjects and objects is expressed as the direct or indirect influences of the present state, production activity and function of water resources on the subjects' characteristics: these influences are the social value of the water resources. The social characteristics of water resources include their effects on the ecosystem and on supporting human life; they exert influence through social feedback on human well-being, including spiritual and psychological factors, and the development of human social organizations (such as the state), which in turn affect the water resources.

Based on the above analysis, this paper combines the inherent natural and economic attributes of water resources with the values of social system theory. It considers the overall effect of water resources on human beings based on common material production activities and the social value of water resources given to be determined by their natural and economic attributes, which affect social and individual well-being (including economic, mental, spiritual and psychological), and the sum of the resulting value generated.

Composition of the social value of water resources

Previous research has generally summarized the social value of water resources as labour recovery value, recreational value and scientific research value (Lv, 2009). Their varying degrees of bias necessitate comprehensive and scientific reconstruction of the social value assessment system of water resources. Social system theory, given its inherent subjectivity (Zhang, 2007), should consider the following characteristics when composing a social value of water:

  • (1)

    Physical. Water is crucial to human health and thus to any human activity. Vegetation, and thus the landscape, also depends on water.

  • (2)

    Social. Social equity, cohesion and participation are all augmented by water resources and comprise the main factors of the social capital part of social value.

  • (3)

    Psychological. Water influences knowledge, culture, tradition and religion, thus affecting the psychology of a society and its members; this should also be acknowledged in the social value calculation.

This paper divides the social value of water resources into four value categories: social security, social stability, knowledge and human landscape (Figure 2):

  • (1)Social security value. This component considers the fundamental necessity for water in maintaining human life and health: a basic living security value. Water resources require management, which provides employment and thus an employment security value. They also have an endowment insurance value for those engaged in water-related work.

  • (2)Social stability value. The social stability value includes positive and negative values. The positive values, which aid social stability, include the safety of drinking water, water food products and the water conservancy infrastructure (the construction of water conservancy infrastructure supports other industries and agriculture). For example, the value of irrigation can be enhanced through water conservancy projects, increasing grain output and maintaining social stability. Water is also used for disaster relief, such as extinguishing fires, thus ensuring public safety and social stability. Conversely, managed water resources can have disadvantages: one such negative value contribution is flooding in torrential rain. Anthropogenic pollutants discharged into water can affect the environment and also social stability (Jiang, 1998).

  • (3)Knowledge value. Rapid economic and societal development has been accompanied by worldwide water shortages, and increasing research attention is focusing on water resources in order to help society. Such work contributes to the research value. Rivers and lakes preserve the environment and inspire cultural life, further increasing the knowledge/education value.

  • (4)Human landscape value. Water resources improve the landscape in two main ways: aesthetically and recreationally. The beauty of waterfalls, rivers and lakes, and the use of water in cities to improve their appearance, provide visual and spiritual enjoyment, improve mental health and make people happy. Recreational activities include boating, swimming, fishing and hunting.

Fig. 2.

Composition of the social value of water resources.

Fig. 2.

Composition of the social value of water resources.

Emergy analysis of social value

Theoretical basis of the social–ecological system

The conflict between mankind and nature is a global issue, and the solution to this conflict lies in acknowledging the interdependence of nature and human society and devising a theoretical framework for the sustainable development of mankind and nature as a unified system. Ma (1984) argues that while social, economic and ecological systems are each different systems, their states and development rely on the other systems, and so they must be regarded together as one social–economic–ecological complex system. Ye & Wen (2010) proposed ‘orderly human activity’ to study the harmonious relationship between man and nature. These theories emphasize the integration of socio-economic and natural ecosystems with human managers incorporated into the whole system.

Studies outside China have shown that a social–ecological system is a complex adaptive system comprising closely interrelated social (people) and ecological (nature) systems influenced by internal and external factors (Gumming et al., 2005). The combined system has characteristics of unpredictability, self-organization, nonlinearity, multistability, threshold effect, historical dependence and has many possible outcomes (Ostrom, 2009). It provides new ideas for solving the problem of sustained and steady development of mankind and nature.

Recent research has studied the resilience, adaptability and sustainable development of the social–ecological system from the perspective of complex system dynamics. However, there is little research on the energy flows and value generated by natural resources in the system. Within the water resources eco-environment system, water is mainly driven around the water cycle by solar energy. The energy carried by the water mainly consists of chemical energy, gravitational potential energy, kinetic energy, heat energy and internal energy. Economic and societal development continues to increase the demand of human society for more and better-quality water resources. Humans interfere with water's natural circulation by using materials, science, technology and labour. Water conservation and water treatment projects, sewage treatment and other measures can use the chemical and gravitational potential energy of water resources more effectively to improve society. The social–ecological system of water resources is an energy system and thus the flow, conversion and storage of energy should be analyzed from a holistic perspective.

The inputs of this system include natural resources, materials, energy, money and information, which are complex and difficult to unify in dimension. Therefore, few studies have investigated the social value of natural resources generated in the social–ecological system. Considering the system as an energy system leads to the introduction of emergy analysis to solve the problems of social–ecological analysis. The social value calculation of water resources based on the social–ecological system and emergy theory is a new approach to quantifying the value of natural resources.

Emergy theory

The theory of ‘emergy’ was founded by the famous American system-ecologist Odum in the 1980s. Emergy refers to the quantity of another category of energy contained in one flowing or stored energy. Emergy transformity is a conversion relationship between different qualities of energy; it is the amount of another type of energy that forms per unit of substance or energy (Odum, 1996). Given that all kinds of energy are directly or indirectly derived from solar energy, emergy analysis converts different kinds of incomparable energy in a system to the same standard solar energy (Lan et al., 2002). The conversion of materials or money into emergy can be formulated as: , where M represents the emergy (sej), is emergy transformity (sej/J or sej/g), and B represents energy or weight of materials (J or g).

Emergy theory and analysis methods provide new ideas for the process analysis of a social–ecological system and the formation process of social value, which not only further deepens the understanding of energy flow, transformation and storage of a social–ecological system but also provides a common scale to measure and compare materials, energy and money. Emergy theory and analysis methods actually solve the problem of the difficulty of unifying the dimension of inputs, and make it possible to quantify the social contribution rate of water resources. The steps of an evaluation based on emergy theory are as follows:

  • (1)

    Conduct a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics and processes of energy flows in the water resources' social–ecological system and collect the data.

  • (2)

    Enumerate and calculate the main inputs and outputs of the system and social contribution rate of the water resources, compiling an emergy analysis table.

  • (3)

    Construct an energy system diagram and emergy comprehensive diagram.

  • (4)

    Calculate the emergy and monetary value of social value of the water resources, evaluating the social contribution of the water resources.

Emergy/money ratio

The emergy/money ratio is defined as the equivalent emergy of the unit currency in a country (or region), that is, the ratio of emergy to money (Lan et al., 2002). The emergy/money ratio equals the total annual energy inputs of the country (region) divided by the annual money circulation (Gross Domestic Product; GDP). The total annual emergy inputs of the country (region) include renewable environmental resources, nonrenewable environmental resources, imports and external resources. In addition, any exported commodities and resources are not used in the country (region) and should be deducted.

The higher the emergy/money ratio, the more emergy the unit currency needs, ie the greater the proportion of natural resources used in the production process; conversely, in countries (regions) with low emergy/money ratios, their natural resources contribute less to economic growth. The emergy/money ratio realizes the conversion between money and emergy. In the application and analysis evaluation, this solves the problem of the difficulty of uniformly measuring the natural environmental value and the monetary value.

Construction of an energy and emergy network diagram of a water resources social–ecological system

An energy analysis of a water resources social–ecological system shows that a water cycle is accompanied by the interaction and conversion of various flows of matter, energy and money. A social–ecological system is composed of human beings, their temporal–spatial environment, and the organic connection between humans and the environment. Therefore, as water resources and other inputs necessary for their utilization combine to generate social value, all the above should be considered as the inputs of a water resources social–ecological system. The occupational classification (2015 edition) of the People's Republic of China gives the following occupations (with their codes) as being closely related to water resources and their use, producing social value: scientific researchers (2-01); engineers and technicians (2-02); security and fire personnel (3-02); hotel, tourism, entertainment workers (4-04); fishery production personnel (5-04); and water conservancy facilities maintenance and management personnel (5-05).

Overall, the main inputs of a water resources social–ecological system are renewable environmental resources (including mainly wind, solar and water chemical energy), nonrenewable environmental resources (including food and non-food living security), fixed assets of the whole society (in addition to local government), local public finance investment, and government funded investment. The energy inputs framework of the system is shown in Figure 3.

Fig. 3.

Inputs of a water resources social–ecological system.

Fig. 3.

Inputs of a water resources social–ecological system.

An energy system diagram (Figure 4) intuitively expresses the energy and material inputs and outputs, from which the social contribution rate of water resources can be easily calculated.

Fig. 4.

An energy system diagram of a social–ecological system.

Fig. 4.

An energy system diagram of a social–ecological system.

Various energy system factors are classified according to ecological resource characteristics to produce an emergy comprehensive diagram (Figure 5) which reflects the relationship between the inputs and outputs of the system. Among them: represents the total emergy input of renewable environmental resources; represents the total emergy of nonrenewable environmental resources; is the emergy input of water resources; is the total emergy of the fixed assets invested by society as a whole; is the government investment; and represents the total outputs of the water resources social–ecological system.

Fig. 5.

Emergy comprehensive diagram of a water resources social-ecological system.

Fig. 5.

Emergy comprehensive diagram of a water resources social-ecological system.

All the energy, materials and money inputs in , , , , are collected in the process quantitatively and the different quantitative units are unified by means of emergy transformation.

Emergy calculation of the social value of regional water resources

In a natural–artificial complex system, water resources produce social value by interacting with other system elements. The value is generated by the combined effect of inputs such as resources, materials, money, and science, technology, information and labour. To calculate the social value of water resources, their contribution must be extracted. The social contribution rate of water resources used here refers to the ratio of the amount of useful results produced by water resources to the resources consumed and occupied by the social–ecological system. It is an important indicator of the social value of water resources and reflects their contribution in the system's emergy flow. However, it remains only a qualitative analysis (Wu, 2013). Therefore, it is of great importance to calculate the social contribution rate and contribution of water resources scientifically and rationally, and then to extract the social value of water resources.

The social contribution rate of water resources is calculated by the emergy analysis method of ecological economics; i.e., the material, energy and money inputs of the system are calculated on an energy scale. The social contribution rate is the ratio of water resources emergy to the total emergy input of the system. This paper focuses on the social contribution rates of domestic water, eco-environment water and the total water of an ecological-economic system. The formulas used are as follows: 
formula
(1)
 
formula
(2)
 
formula
(3)
 
formula
(4)
where represents the total energy inputs of the social–ecological system.

The outputs of the system are essentially the social security value and the social stability value. However, as there is no standard to measure these indicators, they are replaced by index data that can best represent them.

The social security value includes basic living security value, employment security value, and endowment insurance value. The basic living security value is quantified based on the calculation method of minimum living security standards which is most widely used in the world. Sen (1979) divided the basic living security line into two parts: food and non-food. The food line is determined according to the minimum caloric needs of people, focusing on a ‘full stomach’. The non-food line considers the minimum clothing, housing, fuel, education, medical care, transportation and other necessities beyond basic physiological needs; this is ‘face saving’.

The Chinese Nutrition Society, in accordance with the World Health Organization's 1985 ‘Energy and Protein Requirements’ report, gives a standard of 2,200 kcal/person/day for adults aged 18–60 as the minimum calories required for calculating the basic living security line.

Determining the type and quantity of food should be combined with the food consumption characteristics of the research area. Based on the main agricultural and sideline products in 36 large and medium-sized cities, the following foods were selected as the food list for calculating the food line: cereals: japonica rice (50%), flour (50%); meat and poultry: lean pork (60%), lean beef (10%), lean mutton (10%), chicken (20%); eggs: eggs; fish and shrimp: carp (50%), grass carp (50%); milk and dairy products: milk; beans and soy products: tofu; fat: salad oil; fruit and vegetables: cabbage (25%), tomatoes (25%), rapeseed (25%), apples (25%). According to the calories available per 100 grams of edible portions, the weight of the edible portion that provides the required calories can be calculated (Yang, 2012).

The food emergy line is calculated as follows: 
formula
(5)
where is the weight of each type of food corresponding to 2,200 kcal, is the solar transformity of the food, and P is the total number of people in the study area.
The non-food emergy line is calculated using the Engel coefficient for low-income groups (5% or 10%): i.e., the food line/total consumption spending × 100% = Engel coefficient. Simplification leads to: 
formula
(6)
where E represents the Engel coefficient of low income groups.
The basic living security value of water resources is as follows: 
formula
(7)
The basic living security value per m3 water is: 
formula
(8)
where represents the domestic water consumption in the study area.
Employment security and old-age security are aimed at workers in water-related industries. The employment security value is quantified using the total number of employees in the industry and the solar transformity of human labour of 3.49 × 1015 sej/person/year (adult labour force aged 18–59) (Lan et al., 2002). Thus: 
formula
(9)
where is the total number of technicians in the water conservancy industry, and is the number of personnel in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fisheries.
The employment security value per m3 water is: 
formula
(10)
where represents the total amount of water consumed in an Ecological-economic system in the study area.
The endowment insurance value is calculated with reference to the various findings about old-age security. Cheng et al. found a clear ‘labour supply effect’ on the pension system, and old-age security has reduced the labour force participation rate and labour supply time, affecting social value (Cheng, 2014). Statistical analysis of data from a baseline questionnaire of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study led Wang and other researchers to conclude that old-age security can significantly reduce the working hours of the elderly by 121.55 hours per year (Wang et al., 2015). Here: 
formula
(11)
where represents the difference of the labour supply time of old-age security. is the total labour time, is the solar transformity of human labour (elderly labour force aged 60–75) using 2.59 × 1015 sej/person/years (Lan et al., 2002).
The endowment insurance value per m3 water is: 
formula
(12)
The social stability value of water resources is their value for safeguarding national security and social stability. It refers to the state water safety strategy, including planning and utilization to ensure a certain quantity and quality of water resources. Cost theory can quantify this value by using the state expenditure of constructing and protecting water resources and water conservancy infrastructure. That is to say, the value of the country's water safety strategy should be greater than or equal to the necessary cost of implementing it (Cao et al., 2014). Thus: 
formula
(13)
The social stability value per m3 water is: 
formula
(14)
where is the cost of water conservation and protection (10,000 yuan); is agriculture, forestry, and water expenditure (10,000 yuan); is water conservation project protection expenditure (10,000 yuan); is reservoir support expenditure (10,000 yuan).
Flooding seriously affects social stability and its management requires large investments of materials, money and labour. For example, entering the 21st century, the establishment of a modern information system and a flood control team for flood control and disaster reduction was proposed. Therefore, the quantification of the negative value of social stability caused by floods should consider the relevant materials, money, science and technology (Wan & Wang, 2011) required for flood control and disaster mitigation and their corresponding solar transformity. Hence: 
formula
(15)
where is the materials inputs for flood control and disaster reduction, and is their corresponding solar transformity (Lan et al., 2002).
The negative value of social stability caused by water pollution is quantified by the discharge of domestic sewage in the study area and the solar transformity of polluted water ( = 7.52 × 1012 sej/m3) (Zhang & Jiang, 2008). Hence: 
formula
(16)
where is domestic sewage discharge (m3), and is the solar transformity (sej/m3) of polluted water.
The negative value of social stability is therefore: 
formula
(17)
The negative value of social stability per m3 water is: 
formula
(18)
The knowledgevalue is quantified by the total number of academic papers in the study period and the solar transformity per paper. The specific steps are as follows. First, taking the research area as a search key word, academic papers published in the research period were retrieved from the Chinese journal full-text database. Assuming an average of six pages per article, the average number of pages published per year in the study period was calculated. The results of Meillaud's ‘Evaluation of a building using the emergy method’ were then used to derive the solar transformity of the academic papers as 3.39 × 1015 sej/P (Meillaud et al., 2005). Thus: 
formula
(19)
The knowledge value per m3 water is: 
formula
(20)
where is the total number of articles in the study area during the study period (articles), and is the solar transformity of an academic paper (sej/P).
The human landscape value considers the contribution of water resources to regional tourism revenue (see the Tourism Sampling Survey Data in: National Tourism Administration, 2016), greenbelt coverage area, and the solar transformity of green space as a quantitative standard (3.46 × 1016 sej/hm2) (Jia, 2012). Hence: 
formula
(21)
The human landscape value per m3 water is: 
formula
(22)
where L is the total tourism revenue (100 million yuan); is the proportion of natural landscape scenery in total tourism revenue; S is the per capita green area (hm2); is the solar transformity of green space (sej/hm2); is the ecological water consumption.

Results and discussion

Emergy accounting of the social value of water resources in Zhengzhou city

Zhengzhou city emergy/money ratio

According to the calculation method described above, the emergy/money ratio of Zhengzhou in 2015 is shown in Table 1. The original data are taken from: Zhengzhou Water Affairs Bureau (2015), Zhengzhou Municipal Bureau of Statistics (2016a, 2016b) and Henan Provincial Bureau of Statistics (2016).

Table 1.

Emergy/money ratio of Zhengzhou City in 2015.

Items Original data Original unit Solar transformities (sej/unit) Solar emergy (sej) 
1 Renewable resources   1.10 × 1021 
 1.1 Solar energy 3.75 × 1019  1.00 3.75 × 1019 
 1.2 Wind energy 6.29 × 1016  6.32 × 102 3.97 × 1019 
 1.3 Rainwater chemical energy 2.14 × 1016  1.82 × 104 3.90 × 1020 
 1.4 Rainwater gravity potential energy 4.67 × 1016  8.89 × 103 4.15 × 1020 
 1.5 Earth rotation energy 7.45 × 1015  2.90 × 104 2.16 × 1020 
2 Nonrenewable resources    2.02 × 1023 
 2.1 Raw coal 1.02 × 1018 3.98 × 104 4.08 × 1022 
 2.2 Thermal power generation 1.60 × 1017 1.60 × 105 2.56 × 1022 
 2.3 Steel 6.28 × 106 1.40 × 1015 8.79 × 1021 
 2.4 Aluminum 5.06 × 106 1.60 × 1016 8.09 × 1022 
 2.5 Glass 3.00 × 104 8.40 × 1014 2.52 × 1019 
 2.6 Nitrogen fertilizer 5.71 × 104 3.80 × 1015 2.17 × 1020 
 2.7 Phosphate fertilizer 4.12 × 103 3.90 × 1016 1.61 × 1020 
 2.8 Pesticide 4.25 × 104 1.62 × 1015 6.89 × 1019 
 2.9 Plastic 3.31 × 105 3.80 × 1014 1.26 × 1020 
 2.10 Cement 2.18 × 107 2.07 × 1015 4.52 × 1022 
 2.11 Net loss of topsoil 5.62 × 1015 6.25 × 104 3.51 × 1020 
3 Import and external resources   3.72 × 1020 
 3.1 Commodities 2.58 × 1010  1.22 × 1010 3.15 × 1020 
 3.2 Foreign investment 3.83 × 109  1.22 × 1010 4.67 × 1019 
 3.3 Foreign exchange earnings of tourism 1.80 × 108  5.80 × 1010 1.04 × 1019 
4 Export   4.84 × 1021 
 4.1 Commodities 3.12 × 1010  2.05 × 1010 6.41 × 1020 
 4.2 Labour 2.10 × 109  2.00 × 1012 4.20 × 1021 
Total inputs of system energy (sej) 1.99 × 1023 
Gross Domestic Product (¥) 7.31 × 1011 
¥/$ 6.23 
Emergy/money ratio (sej/¥) 2.72 × 1011 
Items Original data Original unit Solar transformities (sej/unit) Solar emergy (sej) 
1 Renewable resources   1.10 × 1021 
 1.1 Solar energy 3.75 × 1019  1.00 3.75 × 1019 
 1.2 Wind energy 6.29 × 1016  6.32 × 102 3.97 × 1019 
 1.3 Rainwater chemical energy 2.14 × 1016  1.82 × 104 3.90 × 1020 
 1.4 Rainwater gravity potential energy 4.67 × 1016  8.89 × 103 4.15 × 1020 
 1.5 Earth rotation energy 7.45 × 1015  2.90 × 104 2.16 × 1020 
2 Nonrenewable resources    2.02 × 1023 
 2.1 Raw coal 1.02 × 1018 3.98 × 104 4.08 × 1022 
 2.2 Thermal power generation 1.60 × 1017 1.60 × 105 2.56 × 1022 
 2.3 Steel 6.28 × 106 1.40 × 1015 8.79 × 1021 
 2.4 Aluminum 5.06 × 106 1.60 × 1016 8.09 × 1022 
 2.5 Glass 3.00 × 104 8.40 × 1014 2.52 × 1019 
 2.6 Nitrogen fertilizer 5.71 × 104 3.80 × 1015 2.17 × 1020 
 2.7 Phosphate fertilizer 4.12 × 103 3.90 × 1016 1.61 × 1020 
 2.8 Pesticide 4.25 × 104 1.62 × 1015 6.89 × 1019 
 2.9 Plastic 3.31 × 105 3.80 × 1014 1.26 × 1020 
 2.10 Cement 2.18 × 107 2.07 × 1015 4.52 × 1022 
 2.11 Net loss of topsoil 5.62 × 1015 6.25 × 104 3.51 × 1020 
3 Import and external resources   3.72 × 1020 
 3.1 Commodities 2.58 × 1010  1.22 × 1010 3.15 × 1020 
 3.2 Foreign investment 3.83 × 109  1.22 × 1010 4.67 × 1019 
 3.3 Foreign exchange earnings of tourism 1.80 × 108  5.80 × 1010 1.04 × 1019 
4 Export   4.84 × 1021 
 4.1 Commodities 3.12 × 1010  2.05 × 1010 6.41 × 1020 
 4.2 Labour 2.10 × 109  2.00 × 1012 4.20 × 1021 
Total inputs of system energy (sej) 1.99 × 1023 
Gross Domestic Product (¥) 7.31 × 1011 
¥/$ 6.23 
Emergy/money ratio (sej/¥) 2.72 × 1011 

Emergy analysis table of the social–ecological system of Zhengzhou city

According to the data obtained from Table 1, the emergy/money ratio of Zhengzhou City in 2015 is 2.72 × 1011sej/¥. Applying emergy theory to the social–ecological system of Zhengzhou, using actual data and corresponding solar transformities, allowed the emergy flow to be calculated and compiled in an emergy analysis table (Table 2) to obtain the social contribution rate of water resources.

Table 2.

Emergy analysis table of the social–ecological system of Zhengzhou.

Items Original data Original unit Solar transformities or Emergy/Money Ratio (sej/unit) Solar emergy (sej) 
1 Renewable resources    3.42 × 1022 
 1.1 Solar energy 3.75 × 1019 1.00 3.75 × 1019 
 1.2 Wind energy 6.29 × 1016 6.23 × 102 3.92 × 1019 
 1.3 Water chemical energy 1.67 × 109 m3  3.39 × 1022 
  1.3.1 Living water 5.21 × 108  4.71 × 1013 2.45 × 1022 
  1.3.2 Eco-environmental water 1.96 × 108  2.50 × 1013 4.90 × 1021 
  1.3.3 Industrial water 4.82 × 108  7.56 × 1012 3.64 × 1021 
  1.3.4 Agricultural water 4.75 × 108  1.80 × 1012 8.53 × 1020 
 1.4 Earth rotation energy 7.45 × 1015 2.90 × 104 2.16 × 1020 
2 Nonrenewable resources    7.51 × 1022 
 2.1 Food 1.20 × 1016  5.65 × 1021 
  2.1.1 Cereals 4.28 × 1015  8.30 × 104 3.55 × 1020 
  2.1.2 Meat and poultry 1.11 × 1015  1.69 × 106 1.88 × 1021 
  2.1.3 Eggs 4.57 × 1014  1.71 × 106 7.82 × 1020 
  2.1.4 Beans and soy products 7.17 × 1014  9.00 × 105 6.45 × 1020 
  2.1.5 Fruits and vegetables 4.54 × 1015  3.50 × 104 1.59 × 1020 
  2.1.6 Milk and dairy products 5.25 × 1014  2.00 × 106 1.05 × 1021 
  2.1.7 Others 3.97 × 1014  1.96 × 106 7.78 × 1020 
 2.2 Non-food living security 9.34 × 1010 7.44 × 1011 6.95 × 1022 
3 Fixed assets of the whole society (in addition to local government) 1.12 × 1011 ¥ 2.72 × 1011 3.04 × 1022 
  3.1 Agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery 8.71 × 109  2.72 × 1011 2.37 × 1021 
 3.2 Manufacturing industry 1.26 × 1010  2.72 × 1011 3.42 × 1021 
 3.3 Scientific research and technical service industry 7.11 × 109  2.72 × 1011 1.94 × 1021 
 3.4 Water, environmental and public facilities management industry 7.72 × 1010  2.72 × 1011 2.10 × 1022 
 3.5 Culture, sports and entertainment industry 6.27 × 109  2.72 × 1011 1.70 × 1021 
4 Local public finance investment 5.93 × 109 ¥ 2.72 × 1011 1.61 × 1021 
5 Government fund investment 1.35 × 109 ¥ 2.72 × 1011 3.66 × 1020 
Engel coefficient 29.16% 
Total emergy consumption of the social-ecological system (sej) 1.42 × 1023 
Social contribution rate of living water ξL 17.31% 
Social contribution rate of eco-environment water ξE 3.46% 
Social contribution rate of ecological-economic system ξS 23.93% 
Items Original data Original unit Solar transformities or Emergy/Money Ratio (sej/unit) Solar emergy (sej) 
1 Renewable resources    3.42 × 1022 
 1.1 Solar energy 3.75 × 1019 1.00 3.75 × 1019 
 1.2 Wind energy 6.29 × 1016 6.23 × 102 3.92 × 1019 
 1.3 Water chemical energy 1.67 × 109 m3  3.39 × 1022 
  1.3.1 Living water 5.21 × 108  4.71 × 1013 2.45 × 1022 
  1.3.2 Eco-environmental water 1.96 × 108  2.50 × 1013 4.90 × 1021 
  1.3.3 Industrial water 4.82 × 108  7.56 × 1012 3.64 × 1021 
  1.3.4 Agricultural water 4.75 × 108  1.80 × 1012 8.53 × 1020 
 1.4 Earth rotation energy 7.45 × 1015 2.90 × 104 2.16 × 1020 
2 Nonrenewable resources    7.51 × 1022 
 2.1 Food 1.20 × 1016  5.65 × 1021 
  2.1.1 Cereals 4.28 × 1015  8.30 × 104 3.55 × 1020 
  2.1.2 Meat and poultry 1.11 × 1015  1.69 × 106 1.88 × 1021 
  2.1.3 Eggs 4.57 × 1014  1.71 × 106 7.82 × 1020 
  2.1.4 Beans and soy products 7.17 × 1014  9.00 × 105 6.45 × 1020 
  2.1.5 Fruits and vegetables 4.54 × 1015  3.50 × 104 1.59 × 1020 
  2.1.6 Milk and dairy products 5.25 × 1014  2.00 × 106 1.05 × 1021 
  2.1.7 Others 3.97 × 1014  1.96 × 106 7.78 × 1020 
 2.2 Non-food living security 9.34 × 1010 7.44 × 1011 6.95 × 1022 
3 Fixed assets of the whole society (in addition to local government) 1.12 × 1011 ¥ 2.72 × 1011 3.04 × 1022 
  3.1 Agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery 8.71 × 109  2.72 × 1011 2.37 × 1021 
 3.2 Manufacturing industry 1.26 × 1010  2.72 × 1011 3.42 × 1021 
 3.3 Scientific research and technical service industry 7.11 × 109  2.72 × 1011 1.94 × 1021 
 3.4 Water, environmental and public facilities management industry 7.72 × 1010  2.72 × 1011 2.10 × 1022 
 3.5 Culture, sports and entertainment industry 6.27 × 109  2.72 × 1011 1.70 × 1021 
4 Local public finance investment 5.93 × 109 ¥ 2.72 × 1011 1.61 × 1021 
5 Government fund investment 1.35 × 109 ¥ 2.72 × 1011 3.66 × 1020 
Engel coefficient 29.16% 
Total emergy consumption of the social-ecological system (sej) 1.42 × 1023 
Social contribution rate of living water ξL 17.31% 
Social contribution rate of eco-environment water ξE 3.46% 
Social contribution rate of ecological-economic system ξS 23.93% 

Emergy evaluation of the social value of water resources in Zhengzhou city

According to the evaluation method described above and the data obtained from Table 2, the statistical data of Zhengzhou City were taken and compiled in a social value calculation table (Table 3).

Table 3.

Social value calculation table of the water resources of Zhengzhou.

Value types Original data Emergy output (sej) Emergy output per unit (sej/m3Monetary value per unit ($) Proportion 
Basic living security value P = 9,568,935; EFP = 6.14 × 1021;
ENFP = 3.31 × 1021; E = 65%;
ξL = 17.31%; WL = 5.21 × 108 
1.64 × 1019 3.14 × 1012 1.85 47.73% 
Employment security value P1 = 458,915; P2 = 1,252,132;
ξS = 23.93%; WS = 1.67 × 109;
τ1 = 3.49 × 1015 
1.43 × 1019 8.54 × 1011 0.50 12.98% 
Endowment insurance value ΔT = 121.55; T = 215.75;
τ2 = 2.59 × 1015 
5.98 × 1019 3.58 × 1011 0.21 5.46% 
Social stability value – Positive value R1 = 1,151; R2 = 716,326;
R3 = 23,707; R4 = 27435;
WS = 1.67 × 109 
2.05 × 1019 1.23 × 1012 0.73 18.73% 
Social stability value – Negative value EMF = 2.44 × 1020; EML = 2.33 × 1020;
QL = 5.16 × 108; τ3 = 4.52 × 1011 
4.77 × 1019 5.93 × 1011 −0.35 −9.02% 
Knowledge value T = 113,605; τ4 = 3.39 × 1015;
ξS = 23.93% 
5.53 × 1019 3.31 × 1011 0.20 5.05% 
Human landscape value L = 892.6; η = 19.6%;
S = 0.71 × 10−2; τ5 = 3.46 × 1016;
WE = 1.96 × 108; ξE = 3.46% 
2.46 × 1020 1.26 × 1012 0.74 19.07% 
Total  6.04 × 1021 6.58 × 1012 3.88  
Value types Original data Emergy output (sej) Emergy output per unit (sej/m3Monetary value per unit ($) Proportion 
Basic living security value P = 9,568,935; EFP = 6.14 × 1021;
ENFP = 3.31 × 1021; E = 65%;
ξL = 17.31%; WL = 5.21 × 108 
1.64 × 1019 3.14 × 1012 1.85 47.73% 
Employment security value P1 = 458,915; P2 = 1,252,132;
ξS = 23.93%; WS = 1.67 × 109;
τ1 = 3.49 × 1015 
1.43 × 1019 8.54 × 1011 0.50 12.98% 
Endowment insurance value ΔT = 121.55; T = 215.75;
τ2 = 2.59 × 1015 
5.98 × 1019 3.58 × 1011 0.21 5.46% 
Social stability value – Positive value R1 = 1,151; R2 = 716,326;
R3 = 23,707; R4 = 27435;
WS = 1.67 × 109 
2.05 × 1019 1.23 × 1012 0.73 18.73% 
Social stability value – Negative value EMF = 2.44 × 1020; EML = 2.33 × 1020;
QL = 5.16 × 108; τ3 = 4.52 × 1011 
4.77 × 1019 5.93 × 1011 −0.35 −9.02% 
Knowledge value T = 113,605; τ4 = 3.39 × 1015;
ξS = 23.93% 
5.53 × 1019 3.31 × 1011 0.20 5.05% 
Human landscape value L = 892.6; η = 19.6%;
S = 0.71 × 10−2; τ5 = 3.46 × 1016;
WE = 1.96 × 108; ξE = 3.46% 
2.46 × 1020 1.26 × 1012 0.74 19.07% 
Total  6.04 × 1021 6.58 × 1012 3.88  

Table 3 shows that the total social emergy value of water resources in Zhengzhou was 6.04 × 1021 sej in 2015, with a unit value of 6.58 × 1012 sej/m3 and corresponding monetary value of 3.88 $/m3. These calculation results show that water resources play an important social function and contain enormous social value. The social security value accounts for 66.17% of the total value: the basic living security value is 1.85 $/m3, the employment security value is 0.50 $/m3, and the endowment insurance value is 0.21 $/m3, totalling 2.57 $/m3. This value is higher than the city's domestic water price in 2015, indicating that the current social security value of water resources is underestimated, resulting in a serious imbalance between social and economic values. Previous studies of water resource social value has rarely involved social stability values, knowledge value and human landscape value; in this study, they account for 8.87%, 9.29% and 14.55%, respectively (or 32.71% of the total), which means that they are important components that should not be ignored when calculating the social value of water resources. Indeed, considering these three values when formulating water policies will better reflect the social equity of water resources.

In sum, raising the consumption cost of water within an appropriate scope will not only help to protect increasingly scarce water resources in Zhengzhou and prevent excessive losses, but it would also stimulate a more efficient, economical and intensive usage, which is of great significance to ensuring people's livelihoods and national stability.

Conclusions

This study applies social system theory to explore the significance of the social value of water resources. Energy flows within a social–ecological system were analyzed, and emergy analysis from ecological economics was introduced to quantify the contributions of nature to economic and social development. This paper is a breakthrough both theoretically and methodologically in establishing the importance of studying the natural, economic and social characteristics of a complex system, and their interrelations, and in analyzing the contribution of water resources to the operation process of a social–ecological system so as to calculate the social contribution rate and the social value of water resources.

The case study presented here shows that emergy analysis of the social contribution rate and social value of water resources can effectively evaluate the true contribution and value of water resources in a social–ecological system. This method is feasible. However, due to the complexity of the value of water resources and the indeterminate nature of the inputs and outputs of a social–ecological system, the application of emergy theory to assess the value of water resources needs further research. Depending on the availability of data, some of the outputs here use alternative outputs, such as material data and government spending. Given that statistical data of materials and various government security standards are predicted from government censuses of residents, using them as the basis to measure the social security value of water resources may lead to that value being higher than it is in reality. At the same time, there is some interdependence between various kinds of values and, therefore, there is a certain degree of overlap in measurement. Overcoming the problems of overestimation and double counting remains to be studied further.

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Thirteenth Five-Year plan of national key development No. 2017YFC0404400, No. 2017YFC0404404 and No. 2017YFC0404404-01. The authors are grateful to colleagues and friends who shared their economic, social and hydrological data with us. We also thank three reviewers for insightful comments that improved an earlier version of this manuscript.

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