Diversity is a key characteristic of resilience and ability to adapt to change. The challenges facing us across the globe demand action both to mitigate, and adapt to environmental, social and economic change. Each of the thematic areas discussed in this book is presently experiencing a crisis: rising oil prices and fears for fuel security, food price rises and shortages, and the threat of economic recession following the 'credit crunch' are signs of tensions in regime systems of provision, prompting greater creativity and innovation in green niches. As mainstream infrastructures of provision are put under pressure, there is greater opportunity for niche solutions to be taken on board by the regime in an attempt to re-stabilise and recover from crisis. Arguably, a diverse range of systems of provision, emerging from innovation in socio-technical systems, and extending beyond the confines of current mainstream institutions and into increasingly self-reliant and empowered communities, will prove the best defence against external shocks. There is a need for diversity and pluralism in social institutions - for a 'better choice of choice' for consumers (Levett et al., 2003). The innovations studied here are specific grassroots responses to the impacts of economic globalisation, as well as environmental risk and social vulnerability. These responses are multi-dimensional, and create space for the expression of different sets of values, objectives and motivations than is possible within the conventional economy. As such, they are valuable experimental, innovative niches, and are the repository of some of the more radical transformative impulses for sustainable consumption driven by ecological citizenship.
It is increasingly evident that the most mundane consumption choices have implications around the globe, and consumers are exhorted to choose responsibly and embrace the political participation opportunities offered with every shopping trip. Ecological citizenship offers a practical, everyday framework for understanding and expressing action which reflects a sense of justice about environmental and social matters through collective efforts to change the institutions which reproduce unsustainable consumption. The policy challenge now is to support those fledgling initiatives seeking to build new institutions for environmental governance, and enable them to grow, thrive and propagate. Supporting alternative development goals and values alongside the familiar market infrastructure is the key to a diverse, robust, adaptable set of social infrastructure and institutions, within which sustainable consumption can be an effective process of change. By combining improvements to the mainstream policy strategy with explicit support for a diversity of alternative approaches which build new social and economic institutions for consumption, governments could harness the energies of ecological citizens working at the grassroots to make significant strides along the road to sustainability.
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