In this review of some of the main forms of critical ecology I have identified a number of dilemmas that affect the kinds of knowledge that are being made, and, in particular, the kinds of barrier or constraint that the emerging ecological culture is up against. One of the most significant problems is that however much we do, and however creative we try to be, there are simply fewer places in which we are allowed to operate. There is a diminishing public space that is open for the flowering of the ecological culture. It gets harder and harder to share the earth.
A major part of the problem is the aggressive nature of the dominant culture. Through its enormous array of products, its seemingly endless capacity to commercialize any possible human need or vice, and, not least, its colonization of other life worlds, the dominant culture draws us into its grasping arms. Even in the various projects of "public participation" that have been carried out around the world in the quest for sustainable development it is the private sector, the business culture, that all too often takes the lead. It is not that business involvement is not desirable, it is that all business involvement carries a price-tag with it. No company, no money-making operation is interested in doing something for nothing.
So it is crucially important that in our societies we have other, noncorporate, spaces for social learning and cognitive praxis. We need a public sphere that means something; we need to have opportunities for coming together, for sharing what we know, for discussing freely and critically the challenges that confront us collectively as communities and societies. Effective public engagement in environmental politics needs people who are willing to be involved, who, in one of its various forms, have an
"ecological consciousness"; but there are also a number of supportive conditions, or social innovations, that are even more important if that consciousness is to be cultivated and able to contribute to cultural transformation.
From research into Local Agenda 21 projects, as well as into a wide range of other examples of public participation in the quest for sustainable development around the world, we are able to identify some factors that make it possible to combine, or recombine, the different critical ecologies into meaningful activity. One feature of many of the projects that I studied is that they have both the support of some centrally placed public authorities - we may term these "enlightened civil servants" - as well as a receptive local base of support. People must feel that their participation is meaningful. Enlightened civil servants are important as promoters of social innovations and they are the ones who must translate a new approach or method or concept into the relevant public (or private) space. In the making of the so-called Infralab, or Infrastructural laboratory in the Netherlands, for example, where local citizens are brought into decision-making processes on a regular and organized basis, it was an official at the Ministry of Transportation who simply realized that things had to be done differently concerning new transportation projects. In the "green guides" program in Denmark, as well as in countless other projects of urban ecology or local energy planning, civil servants in the Ministry of the Environment were given the task of making participation happen. It was necessary for public officials to break out of their normal routines, to socially innovate. Enlightened civil servants, often together with people who work for a non-governmental organization, have served to bring both professionalism and valuable "official" connections to a wide range of projects (see Jamison, ed. 1998).
At the same time, bridge-builders are needed; those who can facilitate interaction across and among various social divisions and boundaries. These functions are increasingly undertaken by ad hoc networks that are either established for particular campaigns or events or operate within particular sectors or areas of interest. There are now climate action networks, renewable energy networks, organic agriculture networks, ecological design networks and environmental justice networks that bring together people who work in professional organizations or environmental think-tanks with local activists and personal environmentalists.
In 1999 I was invited to a meeting of the Sustainable and Peaceful Energy Network for Asia (SPENA). In many ways, SPENA is a good example of both the strengths and weaknesses of the kind of networks that are so crucial for effective environmental politics. SPENA is composed of energy activists from different Asian countries and at the meeting I
attended, the network's second annual gathering, the group comprised a retired engineering professor from India, university professors from Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines, a long-time activist of all trades from Malaysia, several people from anti-nuclear groups in Japan (whence came both the initiative and the funding), and a number of young people involved in grass-roots projects. There were also a few friends from Europe who came to share our experiences as well as representatives from Greenpeace and a couple ofinternational environmental think-tanks based in Asia.
On a beautiful tropical island, for four days we discussed strategy together, and it was remarkable to see how much useful work could be done, how many experiences could be exchanged, and how much inspiration such a gathering could give. The opportunity to meet and most especially to learn from others in a varied field is extremely important. Most of those who are active need to do too many things to support their activism (and/or academic work). We need to raise funds, report to funders, fill out forms, follow rules, as well as carry out all the routine tasks of our lives, which leaves less time for meeting on a regular basis.
There is an important role for us all to play in keeping open space for communication and recombination. Indeed, this is an increasingly crucial, but often neglected, task in the evolving politics of the environment. In the 1960s and 1970s, as we have seen, environmental and other new social movements carved out public spaces for creative experimentation that provided opportunities for interaction among concerned scientists and concerned citizens. There were science shops, alliances of workers and academics, radical science journals, citizen review boards, renewable energy workshops and a rather wide-ranging search for new forms of cognitive praxis and public involvement in knowledge-making.
In the intervening years, the conditions for such interaction have changed dramatically, as environmental movements have become differentiated and subdivided, and as activism has become more and more a business like any other. In addition, universities throughout the world have grown ever more commercialized, and the academic way of life has come to be strongly colored by the acquisitive and highly competitive values of the marketplace. Academics are more or less required to become entrepreneurs if they are to be successful in their careers; they must seek funds and opportunities for research as well as making direct and indirect connections with business firms. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with opening universities to the commercial marketplace so long as opportunities remain for other kinds of activity. But in many countries the space for critical reflection is getting smaller and, if it exists at all, it is seldom found at universities.
This means that there need to be stronger efforts to provide a counterweight to the commercializing tendencies that dominate our contemporary world. In relation to environmentalism, somewhere in the interface between universities, public agencies and non-government organizations, we require a more explicit place for "strategic reflection": for questioning and developing alternatives to the dominant culture's ongoing incorporation of the quest for sustainable development. In some countries this kind of strategic activity has been institutionalized in organs for technology or risk assessment, often closely associated with regional and national parliaments. But as the closing of the Office of Technology Assessment, the advisory body for the US Congress that was established in the early 1970s and closed in the late 1990s, clearly testifies, these officially mandated "public spaces" for reflection and debate are highly politicized and dependent on the support and patronage of ruling elites. As it has developed in Europe technology assessment has primarily been a way to tame and domesticate debate, and, even in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, where technology assessment has been perhaps most highly developed, it has been difficult for the institutionalized bodies to play more than a marginal role in policy-making. Innovative practices, such as the Danish consensus conferences, have emerged, but the kind of broad, public debates that characterized the "social movement" period of environmentalism in the 1970s has not been able to be replicated in these official organs and formal institutions (see Miettinen 1999). Efforts to mobilize resistance to globalization in organizations such as the French-initiated Attac campaign point to the importance of popular, voluntary forms of organization that are often missing in professional institutions (Clinell 2000).
Universities have traditionally prided themselves on their autonomy and their pursuit of academic freedom, and those remain important values to uphold. But they should not become vague abstractions, defending "neutrality" and inaction at the expense of critical reflection. As many universities now align themselves ever more closely to corporate and business interests at least some of them, or some who work within the universities, need to contribute more of our resources, our time, and intellectual energy to working with other "actors" in the society. The risks are fairly obvious: while the brokers of green business are busily recruiting the most enterprising and entrepreneurial, it is often the most militant and extreme of the "critical ecologists" who remain willing to take them on.
This chapter draws on research conducted in the PESTO project, as well as in the project, The Transformation of Environmental Activism (TEA), supported by the European Union and coordinated by Christopher Rootes. On both projects, research assistance has been provided by Magnus Ring.
1 The largely non-reflective attitudes to science in environmental movement organizations have been discussed in a number of writings by Steven Yearley (e.g. Yearley 1991, 1994, 1995). Wolfgang Rudig has recently examined the work of a number of environmental think-tanks as part of a British research program in the public understanding of science (Rudig 2000), but otherwise these forms of cognitive praxis, curiously, have remained unexamined by both environmental social scientists, and students of science and technology.
2 Skepticism about the new products has been particularly intense in Europe. For a recent overview see Scientific American, April 2001.
3 The study was conducted by Bente Halkier as part of the Danish Strategic Environmental Research Program and involved a number of focus group interviews with parents of small children. What the study revealed was how varied are the meanings of political, or ecological, consumption when examined in detail. Even among those parents who were sympathetic to environmental concerns and arguments there was an easily reached threshold of "guilt" and even annoyance when too many decisions and choices are relegated to the individual level.
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Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.