Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Ideology and Politics: Essential Factors in the Path toward Sustainability

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Ideology and Politics: Essential Factors in the Path toward Sustainability

Article excerpt

With the Kyoto protocol coming into force we can expect media attention to focus on governments' efforts to reduce global warming. While some have questioned how effective such efforts will be due to the number of countries who have not signed on (notably the USA), the potential effectiveness of efforts to combat climate change, and more generally to achieve a sustainable society, can better be understood in the light of ideological and socio-political contexts. This paper argues that ideology and socio-political structure are essential considerations in the path toward a sustainable society. Four models are discussed in terms of their potential to achieve sustainability.

The review of ecological devastation, much of it occurring in the past 100 years, exposes our economy to be an "extractive economy" (Berry, 1997). An extractive economy depletes non-renewable resources, exploits renewable resources beyond their capacity to survive, and causes irreparable damage to land, sea and air (see Coates, 2003a; Foster, 1999; McLaughlin, 1993; Trainer, 1985). Further, the production of toxins along with industrial and domestic effluent greatly exceeds the healing and regenerating capacities of the Earth (see Colborn, Dumanoski & Myers, 1997). The Earth cannot cope with such excesses as human activity has changed the chemistry of the planet and altered the eco-systems upon which modern civilization depends. In fact, no eco-system on Earth is free from the pervasive influence of chemical discharges (Vitousek, Mooney, Lubchenko, & Melillo, 1997). Accompanying this environmental impoverishment has been human exploitation and impoverishment (see Chossudovsky, 1998; Kassiola, 1990; Korten, 1995; Latouche, 1993). Despite considerable information and public attention to environmental concerns, people at large and many businesses and governments have not been motivated to take these issues seriously and have not engaged in effective action toward sustainable practices.

It is our contention that the major reasons for this lack of concern and action stem from Western society's embeddedness in a particular set of values, beliefs and assumptions, and a socio-political structure, which are at the foundation of public and individual action. It is this embeddedness in the assumptions and beliefs of modernity, which Spretnak refers to as the 'denial of the real' (1997), within the context of liberal capitalism that stands in the way of people and governments developing effective responses to, and also becoming involved in, the promotion of environmental and social justice. This system of beliefs, referred to as modernity, places absolute confidence in technology and science, and has unquestioned confidence in consumer-oriented and market-driven growth and development. Paul Hawken captures this when he states that modernity has "quite naturally produced a dominant commercial culture that believes all resources and social inequities can be resolved through development, invention, high finance and growth - always growth" (1993, p. 5).

Exploitation and destruction, along with development, are the outcomes of modern society and in particular, its values and beliefs, and political structure. While this belief system has had many achievements it has also had its "dark side" (Capra, 1982) - environmental and social injustice. However, many people are so embedded in modernity that they are incapable of recognizing that it is "the structures and processes of everyday life that cause environmental destruction and social injustice" (Coates 2003a, p. 27). Sadly, most people have not explored the assumptions and beliefs which inform their own, and their society's actions. Successful environmental and social justice initiatives will not be forthcoming in the absence of a critical examination of foundational beliefs and socio-political contexts. It is essential to recognize that "Environmental issues are ... social and cultural issues" (Rogers, 1994, p. …

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