Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Ecology of Global Economic Power: Changing Investment Practices to Promote Environmental Sustainability

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Ecology of Global Economic Power: Changing Investment Practices to Promote Environmental Sustainability

Article excerpt

This paper explores how we can use the power of power" to address environmental challenges and to institute changes. Rather than confining power to its destructive role, the effort here is to reconceive of such power as also representing critical capacities for redressing that destruction. Some of the key features of economic globalization could, in principle, facilitate the task of reallocating a good share of investment capital to environmentally sound projects rather than to the destructive large-scale projects so typical today. A similar repositioning is critical for cities, a second important source of environmental damage; the specific features of cities also represent possible solutions to that damage. This paper examines how the power of global corporate capital and the power of major cities, both representing destructive forces, can be conceptualized as sources of solutions.

Goal 7 of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to "ensure environmental sustainability." What is often left out of the picture is that the organizational architecture of the global economy itself, characterized as it is by a highly concentrated command structure that controls growing shares of worldwide investment capital, could be used to meet this goal. This enormous concentration is a key element in thinking about transforming the uses and aims of this investment capital, a task that would seem almost impossible if investment capital were widely diffused among small investors. One of the targets identified in MDG 7 is to "integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources." With respect to the "Global Partnership" to achieve the MDGs that is prescribed by MDG 8, it is important to recognize that economic globalization could, in principle, accommodate a broader range of forms of state participation than we usually think of. (1) The possibilities for such heightened state participation in the governance of the global economy are generally not recognized by analyses that conclude that privatization and deregulation bring about a declining significance of the state. State institutions remain extremely important for the implementation of new environmentally sound regulatory criteria and standards and for development assistance. But the questions of global corporate capital and of major cities cannot be reduced to questions of state regulation.

Humankind increasingly relates to the various stocks and flows of environmental capital through cities and vast urban agglomerations. Thus cities generally are part of the larger project of establishing sustainable economic practices. Technical developments have radically transformed the relationship between humans and the rest of the planet, making urbanization the center of the environmental future. Further, rural populations increasingly have become consumers of products produced in the industrial economy. The rural condition has evolved into a new system of social relations that diverges profoundly from older rural economic cultures, which worked with biodiversity. These developments all signal that the urban condition is a major factor in any environmental future. When it comes to using the power of power to advance particular parts of the larger project, the particular types of cities that become strategic are global cities.

Cities and urban regions are a type of socio-ecological system marked by a whole new set of interrelations between, on the one hand, constructed features and material practices and, on the other, various ecological systems. In the current stage, the systemic characteristics of this interrelation are mostly in the form of environmental damage. A growing number of researchers and activists are calling for the need to use and build upon those features of cities that can make cities into a socio-ecological system, with positive outcomes for environmentally sensitive growth and development. …

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