From opposition to cooperation

As I suggested in chapter 1, it is possible to place the different strategies, or approaches, in the world of environmental politics along a continuum between two poles, or opposing "cultural formations". On the one hand there is the dominant formation of green business, or commerce, which seeks to divert environmentalism into profit-making directions, integrating the quest for sustainable development into processes of global corporate expansion. On the other hand there are the various "residual formations" of ecological resistance, or critical ecology, which tend to draw environmental struggles into all sorts of political and social campaigns: for justice and equity, community and consumer empowerment, as well as for cultural survival and local resistance to the various effects and repercussions of globalization. In this and the following chapter I explore the relations between the emerging ecological culture and these two contemporary poles of environmental politics by means of illustrative examples. I begin by examining the challenge of green commerce and in chapter 6 I look at some of what I term the dilemmas of activism in the world of ecological resistance, or critical ecology.

The oppositional stance that tended to dominate the political discourse of environmentalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s has come to be supplemented in the 1990s by what has been termed the discourse of ecological modernization (Hajer 1995; Mol and Sonnenfeld 2000). Whether we see it as cooperation or cooption, as seeking greater influence or simply selling out, there can be little denying the fact that much of what was once a movement composed primarily of voluntary activists has gone to market. During the past fifteen years environmentalism - or a large number of people who are involved in environmental politics - has come in from the cold, and many are the efforts to redefine environmental politics as a "positive-sum game" in which economic growth can be combined with, or even reinvigorated by means of, environmental improvements. Business leaders who banded together after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 to form a World Business Council for Sustainable Development identify "eco-efficiency" as a new driving force for industrial progress (DeSimone and Popoff 2000). Former activists such as Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken speak of a new age of "natural capitalism" in which economic activity can be adapted to ecological laws and principles (Hawken et al. 1999). And on our television screens we are treated to advertisements in which leading oil and automotive companies, previously openly antagonistic to environmental measures, proclaim their change of heart and tell us, among other things, how they have recruited environmentalists to help them save the earth.1

While there can be no doubt that many corporate officials and business leaders have come to acknowledge the need to pay more regard to the environment, many of the actual practices of the companies they run and/or represent all too often continue to follow "business as usual." The precepts of deregulation and privatization that were put firmly on the policy agenda in the 1980s have tended to infect many ecological transformation processes with what might be called a commercial virus. It is not that the companies are doing nothing, for many are indeed doing a great deal; it is rather that the quest for sustainable development is being reduced or limited to those activities that can turn a profit. All too many efforts, whether it is appropriate or not, are determined by relations of competition and marketability.

The institutional mechanisms by which programs are selected and corporate strategies are designed tend to combine environmental objectives and economic objectives without taking care to distinguish among the very different criteria of evaluation and means of implementation that come into play (Hukkinen 1999). Of course, in some companies, the fortuity of circumstance can make an environmental project also a money-earner. But after more than a decade of chanting the mantra of ecological modernization - "pollution prevention pays" - there is little evidence that environmental improvements in general are good for business. There are simply too many other factors at work; and in recent years there have also developed a number of other commercial options in information technology and genetic technology that have drawn capital, as well as ingenuity and creativity, away from the green marketplace. And there are always competitors who remain obstinately anti-ecological.

At the same time the underlying instrumental mindset - and with it the belief in what the Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright has called the "myth of progress" - has not been sufficiently modified by those who propound the virtues of eco-efficiency and natural capitalism to take into account less acquisitive values that the ecological culture envisions and represents (von Wright 1993). Under the assumption that "you can have your cake and eat it, too" environmental concern is instead being reinvented as a kind of enlightened consumer behavior. An inherently collective vision of solidarity with non-human nature - a "partnership ethics" - has, like so much else in our societies, been turned into a pursuit of market shares and economic gain (Merchant 1999). However, self-interest works both ways, as the protests by farmers and truck-drivers against environmentally motivated tax increases on diesel fuel that took place across Europe in the summer of 2000 so visibly demonstrated. There is no indication that consumers in general are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products, nor is there any evidence that green products can be as cheap to produce as the products that propelled the environmental movement in the first place. What is economically beneficial for some tends to be costly for others, which is why cultural transformation - an underlying change in beliefs and values and knowledge - is such an important part of any meaningful environmental politics. In order to change behavior people need a reason to believe and, even more crucially, they need a motive that is relevant for them. And we should remember that however valuable specific technical and managerial improvements might be for an individual branch or company, what is done by any one firm tends to be cancelled out by the continuing expansion of production as a whole (Pellow et al. 2000).

Take the efforts to control the automobile, for example. In the 1960s the automobile was shown to be "unsafe at any speed," as Ralph Nader put it, as well as being the major cause of air pollution (Nader 1966). Abroad public debate ensued and a number of alternatives were proposed and tested, ranging from non-polluting automobile engines to new-fangled safety devices and imaginative forms of public transit. At the first Earth Day in 1970, when the ecological culture began to manifest itself, a few cars were buried as a way to symbolize the message of the movement. The car was not merely to be improved or made "environmentally friendly"; the task was to do away with it altogether. As one "radical technologist"

put it in the mid-1970s:

the accent must be far more on reducing the amount of travel than on looking for the technological 'fix'. The crucial changes must be social rather than technological. We shall have to live closer to our work and shop locally, buying locally grown food and locally made goods consisting far more of local materials ... In short, the key to alternative transport lies in the alternative to transport. (Rivers 1976: 227).

Soon, however, not one but several "technical fixes" had been developed - the catalytic muffler as a filtering device for automotive air pollution, airbags and better seatbelts to improve the chances of surviving crashes, unleaded and more energy-efficient fuels, as well as electronic instruments of production and distribution - that more or less ended the debate until the late 1980s, when it reemerged in relation to the new discourse of sustainable development. As part of the new doctrine transportation was also to become environmentally friendly and many were the plans in the late 1980s and early 1990s to reorganize transportation systems along more sustainable lines. The auto companies, as Mitsubishi put it in a widely disseminated advertisement, refocused their research and development efforts with only one ambition in mind: to "save the earth." Environmental think-tanks, such as the World Resources Institute, set out to count the "real" costs of transportation. Amory Lovins, who had been actively involved in the energy debates of the 1970s, developed the notion of the "hypercar" to show how new production methods and management techniques could allow companies to make cars that were cleaner and less damaging to the environment. The Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Bank, and many other governmental and intergovernmental bodies, set up committees and research programs to develop criteria for sustainable transportation. And even Greenpeace announced plans to develop a green car (Jamison 1995).

Again, however, business interests have gone on the offensive and become dominant, largely turning the quest for sustainable development into the acquisition of market niches. The automobile manufacturers have developed electric cars for some, "cleaner and leaner" production processes for others, and moved much of their marketing effort to the rapidly "modernizing" developing countries, where there is less of a public debate to respond to. But while the technical fixes have been coming fast and furious, there has been relatively little attention paid to how all the new technologies can be used most appropriately. As Amory Lovins and his co-authors put it, "the car is being reinvented faster than the implications of its reconception are being rethought" (Hawken et al. 1999: 47). The fact that green cars, or hypercars, do little if anything to improve the environmental and social costs of automotive transportation without a fundamental change in thinking about mobility is obvious; and yet it is against their interests for car-makers to challenge the ruling value system with its belief in progress and, more specifically, in the "love of the automobile" (Sachs 1992). In the projects of sustainable transportation it is often the car-makers who, by virtue of their greater resources and "expertise", assume responsibility and end up setting the agenda and the terms of implementation (e.g. Hajer and Kesselring 1999). But overall responsibility for sustainable transportation cannot be given to business, however green its representatives claim themselves to be. In this as in so many other areas there needs to be a coordination ofdifferent efforts; otherwise high-speed trains and hypercars are cancelled out by increases in consumption and transport and by the innovative products that sidestep the pollution and safety regulations, such as the not-so-small trucks that are becoming an increasing part of the idea of the good life - at least for a certain section of the market. As long as mobility itself is not understood and transformed into more ecological patterns the individual technical fixes will continue to propel the "treadmill of production" (Schnaiberg and Gould 1994).

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