From vision to reality

As we have seen, the environmental movement emerged at a time when many of us could imagine, along with John Lennon, that there was no such thing as country, or possessions, or religion: that there was, or could be, a "brotherhood of man." As those counter-cultural, neo-romantic sentiments have faded into the collective memory, the dreams, or visions, of yesteryear have run up against a number of very real constraints and coun-terforces, among which the inbred traditions of national political cultures have been among the more intractable. Nationalisms and provincialisms have been reinvented with a vengeance over the past thirty years, and they have twisted and counterattacked everything that has come in their path. In relation to environmentalism, national political cultures have all but obliterated the visionary, universalizing ambitions of the environmental movement, and one of the results has been that the emerging ecological culture has been configured into so many national shades or shapes of green.

Whether we like it or not, it has become ever more apparent that there are significant national differences in the ways in which societies function. The idea of national character, which had been so disastrously tainted in the interwar years, when Hitler and Stalin constructed their totalitarian belief systems on the basis of reactionary forms of nationalism, has been rekindled, not the least because it has shown itself to be such a potent force in a supposedly globalized world. National identities exert a powerful hold over people and have become important resources in an age of increasing anonymity and individualization. And, in the social sciences, "theory" has tried to catch up with "practice," as new concepts have been invented to account for the influence of culture on such matters as technological, social and economic development.

In the 1980s, Christopher Freeman identified a particular "national system of innovation" of state-industry collaboration at work in the Japanese approach to technology policy in the postwar era, and Bengt-Ake Lundvall and his colleagues applied the same term to characterize a very different kind of rural "industrial block" as the key to the Danish industrialization process of the nineteenth century (Freeman 1987; Lundvall, ed. 1992). The notion of "social capital" which Robert Putnam derived from his studies of socio-economic development in northern Italy has been recently applied to social life in the United States as well (Putnam 2000). Putnam has argued that regionally distinctive cultural patterns in the form of locally based network relationships and interactions were crucial elements in "making democracy work" in northern Italy, that is, in providing a sense of solidarity and trust that had proved essential for effective governance and economic growth (Putnam 1993). In the United States this type of social capital has been eroding, according to Putnam, as more and more Americans are "bowling alone." The revival of interest in community and "strong democracy" that has been so visible among public-minded intellectuals in the United States in recent years indicates the need for rethinking the role of cultural ties in social life. Throughout the social sciences there has been a growing recognition that "culture matters," that cultural patterns and rituals, national identities and traditions, continue to play a fundamental role in social interaction even in an age of intensifying global reach and economic expansion. From all aspects of the academic spectrum, the identification of cultural factors in political and economic life has become an important concern.1

In the particular area of science and technology studies, which is where I have been working, it has become increasingly common, following Freeman and Lundvall, to refer to "systems of innovation" at both the national and regional levels, as important formative influences on policy decisions and technological developmental trajectories (Edquist 1998). But most analysts, for reasons of training and expertise, appear to have limited their interest to the economic, or instrumental, components of policy-making, and have tended to neglect the broader cultural dimensions. It can be argued, however, that contemporary differences in policymaking, and in politics more generally, reflect the impact of somewhat less visible and more long-standing patterns of "habituation," as was already indicated by Thorstein Veblen at the time of the First World War when he compared the British and German paths to industrialization and eventual conflict (Veblen 1915).

In this chapter I want to indicate how contemporary environmental politics have been shaped in significant ways by institutional and cultural patterns, or modes of social capital, that manifest themselves in particular ways in particular national settings. On the one hand, there is what we can call a national policy, or governance, style (see Vogel 1986; Jasper 1990). In this respect, there are major differences in regard to the location of decision-making and the more general sites of politics, that is, whether they tend to be centralized or decentralized, accessible or closed, opaque or transparent. Countries with strong "populist" traditions such as Denmark and the United States provide substantial power to local authorities and comparatively open access to decision-making, while other countries with stronger statist orientations, such as Sweden, France, and China, tend toward less directly accessible and more centralized forms of governance.

There are also differences in relation to what might be termed con-flictual or consensual modes of policy-making. Countries with bipolar party systems, such as Britain and the United States, tend to differ dramatically from countries with multiparty systems, such as Denmark and Germany, where there are often governments with broad political representation that leads to a more "consensual" approach to decision-making. In Germany, the influence of the Green Party on national and regional politics has been out of all proportion to the party's electoral support. In the United States and Britain, on the other hand, where representation for small parties is more or less impossible, environmental politics has been channeled more effectively into non-governmental organizations.

There are also significant differences among countries in regard to the kinds of opportunities that are made available for public interest, or social-movement, organizations (Kitschelt 1986; Tarrow 1994). What students of social movements have termed "political opportunity structures" reflect the types of influence that non-governmental organizations can have on decision-making; from a more cultural perspective, we can think of them as the broader set of social contexts within which movements and activist organizations operate, and which thus include opportunities for economic, cultural, and political activities (see Della Porta and Diani 1999).

A second set of conditioning factors are national mentalities, or what the anthropologist Mary Douglas has termed "cultural biases" (Douglas 1978). Because of differences in geographical conditions and attitudes to nature people in different countries have come to think about environmental politics through different linguistic and discursive frameworks (Hard and Jamison 1998). People living in countries like the United States and Sweden, with large wilderness areas and long, relatively formalized traditions of nature conservation, tend to approach environmental politics and environmental knowledge production quite differently from densely populated countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark. These differences are based both on the types of ideas that have been articulated through the centuries by intellectuals of various kinds and on actual developmental experiences in science, technology, and economics. What the economists refer to as "competitive advantage" is based on a long history of social and cultural selection in the realms both of ideas and inventions.

Finally, there are differences that have crystallized more recently in relation to how environmental movements have mobilized and combined the different ecological traditions that we discussed in chapter 3. Most crucial for our understanding of national shadings of greening are the ways in which the formative conflicts and controversies of the 1970s worked themselves out in different countries, the particular social ecological imprints, or legacies, that have been left in the collective memory.

In this chapter, I primarily draw on the historical experiences of Sweden and Denmark and my native United States to illustrate how we might make meaningful distinctions among national shades of green. Having worked in both Sweden and Denmark I have had many occasions to reflect on the differences between these small neighboring lands where many contemporary environmental policy innovations of international significance have first taken place. Since their historical experiences are, in many ways, so similar to one another a closer look at their differences can perhaps give us a clearer understanding of how national peculiarities remain influential in an age of globalization and homogenization. I try to extend the range of my presentation by referring to experiences in other parts of the world, particularly in those countries where I have done some research, such as Vietnam and India. My effort is by no means meant to be exhaustive; I simply want to indicate some of the ways in which national cultural traditions make a difference in the ongoing transformations of environmental politics.

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