The global agenda

In general terms, it seems appropriate to characterize the first half of the 1980s as a period in which environmentalism retreated from the public stage to establish new institutions and new forms of competence. In the late 1980s environmental concern emerged once again into the broader public sphere, but now in a new more "global" and professional guise. A range of new environmental problems - climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity - replaced local problems as the main areas of concern, and the solution to these problems came to be characterized in the vocabulary of sustainable development, following the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, which drew on terminology previously articulated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the World Conservation Strategy of 1980.

In the 1980s, in large measure because of deregulation and a weakening of state controls over economic development, a new type of capitalist expansion began to be recognized. Globalization, as it has come to be called, is based on a number of technological innovations in telecommunications and information-processing and distribution, which make it possible to conduct business and financial operations across national boundaries. But it is also based on an ideology, or value-system, that tends to glorify individual risk-taking and entrepreneurship. In the 1980s, this neo-liberal ideology was on the offensive and it strongly influenced environmental politics by shifting responsibility over decision-making directly into the hands of the corporations. No longer would the state seek to regulate the behavior of companies in some kind of socially mandated direction. In Britain and the United States at first, and then throughout the industrialized world, the doctrines of globalization and neo-liberalism led to a fundamental reconstitution of the frameworks of environmental politics and policy-making. The key element in the emerging doctrinal framework was cooperation instead of confrontation. Business and government would work together in order to achieve a kind of socio-economic development that took environmental costs and use of resources into account. A greener, cleaner, mode of industrial production would be a central ingredient in the new doctrine of sustainable development.

The discourse of sustainable development served to redirect environmental politics in three main ways. On the one hand, and most significantly, there was an internationalization of the environmental agenda, and with it an emphasis on trade, foreign aid, and development assistance as well as technology transfer. Secondly, there was an opening up to new actors and political constituencies. The Brundtland Report had been written by a committee composed of scientists and government officials, but also by representatives of non-governmental organizations and business firms. The quest for sustainable development was thus a mission that challenged the sectorial "autonomy" of the environmental movement. In calling for the integration of economics and ecology and for the linking of environmental problems to other issues of income and resource distribution, poverty alleviation, armed conflict, and gender equality, the Brundtland Commission reframed the ecological problematic. Finally, the quest for sustainable development opened up environ-mentalism to the social sciences. In order to provide a knowledge base for the comprehensive program of global recovery that was outlined in the report, there was call for contributions from many areas of expertise and not only from natural science, which had previously occupied that role.

The internationalization phase can be seen, in retrospect, as a kind of transition period from the oppositional politics of the 1970s to the more diffuse and "constructive" politics of the 1990s. In terms of the mobilization of traditions, sustainable development was a major effort -or perhaps a last attempt - to combine the different ecological traditions into one overall perspective. In many ways, it was inevitable that there would be fundamental conflicts, and that new dichotomies would emerge as the doctrine was put into practice.

Because of its generality and all-inclusiveness, the quest for sustainable development inspired vastly different kinds of social actor, and thus led to a range of different interpretations. The professionals within business and government, as well as within the "mainstream" environmental-movement organizations, transformed the quest into more instrumental terms while, for many local activists and so-called deep ecologists, sustainable development took on rather ethical and moral connotations (Sachs 1999). Soon there would be quite different "discourses" and practices that would emerge as the quest for sustainable development was appropriated into specific national political cultures, organizational structures, and institutional contexts.

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