Environmentalism in an entrepreneurial age

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In the course of the 1990s, as sustainable development came to be placed on the international political agenda, other trends were also manifesting themselves in the disparate worlds of knowledge-making. On the one hand there has been a general trend towards transnational collaborations and policy-coordination, along with decreasing direct national state control. In many European countries, there have been significant reductions in state funding for research and development activities and increased support to programs and initiatives within the European Union. On the other hand there has also been a growing commercialization and privatization of research and development activities, and a concomitant encouragement and fostering of entrepreneurship in universities, government ministries, and local governments. These developments have been characterized as a new, externally determined "mode" of knowledge production, which transcends traditional disciplinary and institutional boundaries, and which represents a fundamental challenge to the norm and value systems of universities and knowledge-producing institutions in general (Gibbons et al. 1994).

These entrepreneurial approaches to science and technology are not all of one piece. Entrepreneurs have emerged within both the governmental sphere and the traditional business world. And there have been many efforts to establish a more explicit entrepreneurial culture, or value system, within universities by means of new forms of research funding and external educational programs, as well as in the formation of new expert identities and roles. Meanwhile, there has been a shift in many environmental "non-governmental" organizations to new tasks having to do with green consumption, sustainable development, and cleaner products. A kind of entrepreneurial ethos has made its way into many previously critical, or even radical, green parties and environmental organizations. And new types of organization, more exclusively oriented to consulting activities and advising business firms, have also sprung up: for instance, the Natural Step, which originated in Sweden, and has now established branches in Britain and the United States (Dekker et al. 1998).

The doctrinal, or discursive, shift in the world of science and technology to the new tasks of sustainable development has come to involve new combinations of corporate, governmental, and non-governmental actors. Emphasis is increasingly given in many national and international research and development (or R&D) programs to the institutionalization and development of environmental management procedures and so-called cleaner technologies. As such, environmentally oriented knowledge production is no longer the responsibility of a delimited sector; rather, environmental concern has begun to be diffused across the entire realm of science and technology policy in relation to a variety of different, and often conflicting, projects. A growing number of business firms have adopted new methods of environmental management, including environmental auditing, recycling of waste products, and more efficient uses of resources and energy in production processes, while new forms of regulation and policy-making have developed at the national and transnational levels (see Hukkinen 1999).

Ecological modernization, as these entrepreneurial processes are sometimes called, has been the dominant form of integration over the past decade. With its strong faith in technology, its proponents have been led to envision a new age of green engineering and what Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawken have recently termed "natural capitalism." Their argument is that capitalism has failed to deal adequately with environmental problems, because it has not been capitalist enough. The task is to calculate the true costs of productive activities, and increase enormously the efficiency with which resources, physical, human, and social, are utilized. "If there is to be prosperity in the future," they write, "society must make its use of resources vastly more productive - deriving four, ten, or even a hundred times as much benefit from each unit of energy, water, materials, or anything else borrowed from the planet and consumed" (Hawken et al. 1999: 8). Like the concept of eco-efficiency that is being promulgated by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, natural capitalism puts the main responsibility for achieving sustainable development in the hands of private, commercial corporations; and, as we shall see, the perspective of green business, or natural capitalism, has indeed served to revitalize many industrial branches and to provide workable solutions for many environmental problems (see DeSimone and Popoff 2000).

But while the advocates of green business attempt to integrate ecology into a capitalist mode of production, critics claim that the continuing operations of that very mode of production are serving to exclude growing numbers of people around the world from productive activity in, for example, matters of food supply (e.g. Shiva 2000). In the name of globalization, resources are continually being expropriated from one part of the world to another, and transnational corporations, with the support of Northern governments and their unlimited faith in "free trade," continue to carry out their activities without paying regard to ecological principles (Gorelick 1998). While one side of the business world speaks with a new kind of green and clean rhetoric, the all-too-brown and dirty reality continues to dominate actual corporate behavior, as well as the policies of such bodies as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization; as the demonstrations in Seattle in November 1999 and after have come to contend, "free" trade is by no means fair and equitable (Agarwal et al. 1999). Major reforms in the way in which capitalism operates, and the ways in which capital flows and other financial exchanges are regulated, are perhaps even more crucial than changes in technology and productive efficiency (see French 2000). Thus, even if the utilization of material resources does become more efficient, there remains a continuing and increasing waste and exploitation of human resources due to the very operating procedures of the capitalist system itself.

In a curious kind of cultural dynamic, the solving of material problems tends to create new kinds of human problems. There are always losers, as well as winners, in new outbursts of creative activity and technological innovation. That is why there has emerged an entirely different kind of integration in environmental politics over the past ten years or so - an integration between environmentalism and various struggles for justice and dignity, equity and tolerance, and for the pursuit of sustainable livelihoods. Here, the ambition is to empower human communities to solve their own multiple problems - of resource use, employment, communications, health, education - rather than buying into a global capitalist system that has created most of those problems in the first place. It is these competing and disparate approaches to environmental politics that we will be delineating in the following chapters.


This chapter draws on material previously published in Jamison and Eyerman 1994 and Jamison 1996.

1 The exchange between Leo Marx and Lawrence Buell in the New York Review of Books in 1999 is a case in point. For Marx, Thoreau was not the ecocentric thinker that Buell makes him out to be in his book on the continued importance of nature writing (Buell 1996), while for Buell it is the very ecocentrism, the rejection of industrial society, that makes Thoreau such an attractive, and relevant, figure. By returning to nature, and propounding an alternative set of biocentric or arcadian ecological values, Thoreau serves as a source of inspiration for what Buell terms "ecocritical" movements.

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