Politics And Sustainable Development

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The meaning of 'sustainable development' is largely determined by an individual's ideological viewpoint. The present Labour Government in this country - and its Conservative predecessor, along with many major parties in Europe, on discovering the environment as a political issue - would consider itself steward rather than master. This view of man's relationship to the environment and the difficulties the world community faces is shared by the United Nations, the European Union and most of the scientific community, including many in the city planning and design professions. The stewardship perspective is the one that, in the main, has been presented so far in this chapter. It represents the views of those who believe that environmental problems can be solved within the present political and economic system. It is not the only viewpoint. Dobson (1990) distinguishes two diametrically opposed views on sustainability and the environment. The establishment viewpoint he labels 'green' with a lower-case 'g', while those who believe that sustainability depends on the system being fundamentally changed he describes as 'Green' with a capital 'G'. The literature on the topic however, would indicate a spectrum of greens rather than a strict dichotomy: the ideology of all those shades along the spectrum of greenness is determined by their attitude to the environment. The 'Green' ideology or 'ecologism' takes The Limits to Growth (Meadows, 1972) as an axiom: 'Greens will admit that the report's estimates as to the likely life expectancy of various resources are over-pessimistic and they will agree that the Club of Rome's world

Figure 1.2 Circulation in the compact city computer models were crude, but they will subscribe to the report's conclusion that the days of uncontrolled growth... are numbered' (Dobson, 1991). Green ideology also questions the current dominant paradigm with its foundation in The Enlightenment, science, technology and the objective of rational analysis (Capra, 1985). The Green's world view removes man from centre stage:

Green politics explicitly seeks to decentre the human being, question mechanistic science and its technological consequences, to refuse to believe that the world was made for human beings - and it does this because it has been led to wonder whether dominant post-industrialism's project of material affluence is either desirable or sustainable. (Dobson, 1990)

Ecologism goes beyond humaninstrumental or paternalistic care for the natural world, and argues that the environment has an independent value that should guarantee its existence. Green ideology puts forward the idea that a new paradigm is necessary for solving the problems now faced by mankind. Such a paradigm should be based upon holism - a systems view of the world - and interconnectedness rather than the present mechanistic and reductionist view of nature.

Two most interesting books - Greening Cities, edited by Roelofs (1996) and Design for Sustainability by Birkeland et al. (2002) - move the tone and content of the discussion of design for sustainable development along the spectrum of greens from the paler tints associated with the establishment view towards the full-bodied saturated hue of Green associated with 'Eco-feminism': 'Feminist theory delves into the reasons for this marginalisation of people and nature in environmental design. Feminists... have explained how physical and social space is shaped by dichotomies in Western thought. Mind, reason, spirit order, public and permanence have been considered masculine, while ignorance (the occult), body, emotion, chaos, private and change have all been considered feminine. These dichotomies justify the repression of any subject on the feminine side, as these attributes are deemed inferior in Western patriarchal culture. This repression works by making the inferior subject, such as 'nature' conform to its relevant masculine subject, in this case 'culture'.' (Hirst, in Birkeland, 2002).

If politics - as often asserted - is the art of the possible, then the approach to sustainable development will vary from place to place and from time to time in any given place. Sustainable development policies must be politically acceptable, which in a democracy means welcomed - or at least tolerated - by the electorate. In Britain, neither party is advocating radical redistribution of wealth, though the Government's advocacy of the remission of Third World debt is a welcome move in that direction. Both main parties are committed to economic growth as the engine for sustainable development. Clearly, a pragmatic environmentalist in this political situation would advocate policies, which by 'Green' standards would be inequitable and be more or less inadequate for the purpose of sustaining the environment of the planet for long-term human occupation. While this book will be informed by political realism, nevertheless it is surely not too much to expect political leadership on issues other than war and international terror. From time to time more radical ideals of sustainable development may be advocated, or some of the many exciting 'Green' experiments reported.

Pearce et al. (1989), in their report for the UK Government, Blueprint for a Green Economy, attempted to integrate ideas about sustainable development within the establishment viewpoint, fully accepting the political consensus aiming at economic growth: 'The call for lifestyle changes usually confuses two things: the growth of an economy, and the growth of resources used to sustain that economic growth. It is possible to have economic growth (more Gross National Product - GNP) and to use up fewer resources. There are very good reasons as to why we should prefer this solution to the problem to one in which 'lifestyle change' means reducing GNP per capita. The first is that GNP and human well-being are inextricably linked for the vast majority of the world's population. Failure to keep GNP high shows up in the misery of unemployment and in poverty. Anti-growth advocates are embarrassingly silent or unrealistic on how they would solve problems of unemployment and poverty'. A 'hair-shirt' policy - however necessary it is thought to be - has less than universal political appeal.

A major problem for sustainable development is the way that values are attached to the environment. For economists - and particularly those who espouse a neoclassical position - the starting point for the discussion is the trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection. Corrections to environmental problems, it is argued, inevitably carry costs for economic growth, and with it the level of consumption. 'This concern with the cost of environmental measures serves to disguise the problem that neo-classical economics has in acknowledging that distributional issues -

both within and between generations - lie at the heart of valuation. The ''willingness to pay'' axiom, with which environmental goods are accorded value, sets aside the central issues which beset the policy agenda: who should pay, and when?' (Redclift, 1999). The two strategies for attaching value to the environment have problems. The first strategy has developed around ways of imputing market values to environmental costs and benefits, through instruments such as subsidies or tax breaks for environmentally friendly services, with pollution charges, and levies such as road charging for those activities that are less environmentally friendly. The second strategy is to 'internalize' externalities, an approach associated in Germany and the Netherlands with 'ecological modernization': here, environmental costs are refashioned into an environmentally friendly good or service, for example, where waste products are recycled and used to support new industrial outlets. Both strategies assume that individuals act alone to calculate their advantage from making market choices: there is no place for society in this view of the economy, reducing human actions to those stimulated by price signals. This perspective also confuses prices and values, so that we are in danger of 'knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing'.

Externalities are not merely environmental costs which can be refashioned into an environmental good or service. They frequently have distributive consequences and causes which carry political consequences for global markets ... environmental economics, at least in its mainstream neo-classical version, requires that we ignore the institutional context for decision-making, which in itself determines whether economic models are used at all. (Redclift, 1999)

Clearly, sustainable development without the political pain that would accompany a reduction of resources or a redistribution of existing resources requires some level of growth. There are two difficulties associated with measuring that growth in order to present an accurate picture of well-being and a true picture of environmental depreciation. The first is the method by which economic growth or well-being is measured. The second concerns how we measure the use and abuse of environmental resources. We have seen how difficult it is to measure the value attributed to the environment. 'Economic growth' in the past has been measured using some misleading indicators. GNP is constructed in such a manner that it does not fully express the standard of living of the population: for example, if pollution damages health, resulting in the cost of health care rising, this results in an increase of GNP. A rise in GNP of this nature would seem to be an improvement in living standards and not a decrease in the quality of life. In national accounting, the cost of the depreciation of man-made capital is recorded, while the value of the degradation in the environment or the depreciation of environmental capital is fraught with difficulty. Using up natural resources is equivalent to the capital depreciation of machines and infrastructure. It has, however, been suggested that one could be traded-off against the other, so that if natural resources are used to create man-made infrastructure useful for future generations, then the total stock of capital would be undiminished: such a proposition begs many questions, not least of which is the actual resource depleted in such action and its 'value'. Just how environmental costs are quantified and how GNP takes such costs into account or how it is adjusted to reflect more closely the development of human well-being is debatable.

The debate depicted as 'growth versus environment' is still very much a live issue in the context of sustainable development. In some cases growth may involve loss of environmental quality or a decrease in non-renewable resources. In other situations, conservation of the environment may mean the loss of the possibility of economic growth: 'but sustainable development attempts to shift the focus to the opportunities for income and employment possibilities from conservation, and to ensuring that any trade-off decision reflects the full value of the environment' (Pearce et al., 1989). Redclift (1999) would define this as 'ecological modernization', but still within the neo-classical economic tradition. This may be the most that is possible in the present political climate.

Traditional forestry and fishing industries have long practice in the art of maintaining sustainable yields from the environment by harvesting at a rate that is equal to or less than the regenerative capacity of the crop. Failure of the industry to conserve its capital stock would result in the disappearance of the resource, and with it the industry. This analogy is appropriate in some ways for a discussion of sustainable development: it emphasizes a concern for the future and the value of good husbandry, or living within the capacity of the supporting environment. National economies, however, do not rely entirely upon renewable resources, nor does the analogy apply comfortably to economies which aim to grow or increase output. The over-exploited North Sea fishing grounds may be a better analogy for industrial growth without regard to stocks: a time arrives when the industry itself is in danger, and draconian measures are necessary to conserve stocks and ensure regeneration of the resource. The decimation of the British and Irish fishing fleets are witness to the greedy exploitation of a valuable 'common'. Non-renewable resources such as oil or natural gas when used for human well-being must - if sustainable development is a goal - be capable of being replaced by other renewable resources. For example, the use of fossil fuels should be accompanied by the development of renewable energy sources such as wind, water and solar power. Interesting experiments in the development of renewable energy sources - though not always welcomed by the local population -have been or are being implemented throughout Europe.

Proposals by the Crown Estate to build 250 wind turbines off the Lincolnshire coast, which form part of the world's largest programme of offshore wind farm development, aim to meet some of the objections to such turbines being located inland in sensitive areas of natural beauty. According to UK Government Minister Stephen Tims, 'These wind farms will not only put us on the path to providing 10 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2010, but they will also help us to meet our aim of generating 20 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2020.' (Planning, 4th July 2003 and 9th April 2002). Projects like this are part of the UK energy strategy, but they are thought to be overoptimistic according to the report State of the Nation 2003 (quoted in Planning, 11th July, 2003).

Figure 1.3 Wind farm, Bellacorick, County Mayo, If that report's prognosis for the parlous Ireland. The wind farm is sited state of UK energy supplies when North on 'cut-away-b0g' Sea gas runs out early this century is correct, then projects like this become even more important for the national interest. An earlier example of an experimental wind farm was established in Bellacorck, Mayo, Ireland, on cut-away-bogland: it is far less damaging to the landscape than its near-neighbour, a more traditional generator (Figures 1.3 and 1.4). Projects like this illustrate Pearce's line of reasoning, which leads him to develop further the definition of sustainability: 'So, sustainability means making sure that substitute resources are made available as non-renewable resources become physically scarce, and it means ensuring that the environmental impacts of using those resources are kept within the Earth's carrying capacity to assimilate those impacts.' (Pearce et al., 1993).

Figure 1.4 Power Station, Bellacorick, County Mayo, Ireland. The power station is fed by local peat bogs

Figure 1.5 Checklist for assessing impacts of urban developments

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Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable.

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