Living with Nature: Environmental Politics as Cultural Discourse

Living with Nature: Environmental Politics as Cultural Discourse

Living with Nature: Environmental Politics as Cultural Discourse

Living with Nature: Environmental Politics as Cultural Discourse


Despite the optimism of the `Earth Summit' held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the politics of environmental sustainable development has reached an impasse. Why do issues of environmental protection continue to take a back seat to economic competition, particularly in the international realm? Once the environmental problem was widely recognised, it was held that consensus could be reached. In practice, however, the development of sustainability had often continued to merely extend earlier technocratic practices and solutions, which fail to take into consideration the specific cultural questions. Living With Nature seeks to place the question of the dynamics of environmental crisis within a socio-cultural dimension of the existing economic and political institutions. The book argues for a need to find a new balance between a theoretical analysis of the debate and an appreciation of local circumstances, norms and knowledge. Politically, it implies an implicit understanding of the way in which we live together with nature.


Maarten Hajer and Frank Fischer

In many analyses of contemporary environmental politics, the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro marks the moment in which the awareness of the global dimension of the ecological crisis was 'finally' accepted and confronted politically around the world. This global turn facilitated a new way of seeing and apprehending the world. It portrayed environmental problems in terms of a major 'ecological crisis' and, paradoxically, hinted at a solution. All environmental problems should, we learned, be understood in terms of a broader all-encompassing ecological 'problematique'. This new way of seeing created the basis for the new political strategy of 'sustainable development', delineated in the 1987 United Nations' Brundtland Commission report Our Common Future. With Brundtland and Rio an era of persuasion and learning came to a close as the world finally seemed to appreciate that when it comes to the environment, 'we are all in the same boat'.

Rio certainly spelled out some massive problems: the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the limited sustainable pathways to development in the South, the need to fight poverty and stop deforestation, as well as the need to develop new strategies for water resources management and the protection of biodiversity. What is more, Rio established Agenda 21', a package of long-term goals that were to form the basis of a concerted effort to address these problems. in the spirit of the common bonds acknowledgement at the 'Earth Summit' it was also agreed to reconvene after five years to 'renew the spirit' and 'keep the momentum'. Environmental discourse had turned global and the time had come for serious policy making.

The 'Rio-plus-Five' conference held in New York in 1997 was, above all, a wake up call. It offered a very disturbing finding--none of the important commitments made at Rio had been kept. in spite of the agreement to bring down carbon dioxide emissions to the 1990 levels by the year 2000 . . .

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