So often the politics of sustainability is reduced to a series of banner statements and media release bantering, The Politics of Green Transformations however goes deeply into the fundamental architectures of power, technology, society and economics to outline the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to a sustainable global society.
Edited by Ian Scoones, Melissa Leach and Peter Newell, it brings together a collection of essays by academics at the University of Sussex in the UK that were inspired by a series of discussions at the UK Economic and Research Council’s STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre.
One of the themes that recurs throughout many of the essays is the contested nature of what is meant by “sustainability” and the ways in which the original concept as outlined by the Bruntland Commission has become reduced in some quarters to “greenwash”.
Another theme is what exactly is meant by “green”. Is it the deep green school of thought that insists economic growth is incompatible with sustainability and shows minimal concern for global equity? Is it the “dark green and red” approach described in an essay by Stephen Spratt where the redistribution of wealth to lift developing nations out of poverty is an inseparable part of the sustainability paradigm?
Or is it something else, where a revolutionary leap in technology, finance and governance decouples economic growth from trashing the planet while still ensuring an adequate standard of living for every human being on this resource-limited planet?
The breadth of thought in the essays makes this more a springboard for visioning and conceptualising than a manifesto. Overall, it makes a clear case that both the community – the grass roots – and the highest echelons of finance and political power need to be engaged in the process for genuine change to occur.
There are some fabulous insights and observations, like the idea that if we were to spread emissions certificates across the entire world on a per capita basis, the developing world that is low in emissions could actually sell certificates to polluters in developed nations and generate income to put towards betterment.
Spratt’s essay, Financing Green Transformations, is of particular relevance to the property sector in Australia. He outlines the current state of the world financial sector, and the expectations of return and risk appetite each has, and then relates this to how green innovations including improving energy efficiency and developing renewable energy projects could be financed – and why often they aren’t.
Peter Newell’s essay, Green Transformations in Capitalism, also resonates with the current state of affairs in Australia. He examines the question of sustainability through a political economy lens, and how the “balance of social forces in particular historical epochs has a profound impact on the ‘nature’ of transformation that is considered possible and desirable at a particular conjuncture.”
He writes, “Taken together, a political economy approach provides the sort of understanding of power and structure that is absent in much of the conventional theorising about transitions and green transformations. A more explicitly political and historical analysis allows us to move beyond glib statements about ‘green growth’ and ‘win-win solutions’ to reveal the conflicts, trade-offs and compromises that are implied by a fundamental restructuring of the economy and the relations of power which will determine which pathway is chosen. The ‘incumbent’ regime of existing actors and interests that benefit from ongoing reliance on a fossil fuel economy and that have played such a decisive role in the development of capitalism over the last century and beyond will not give up their position easily. Nor in likelihood will states that depend indirectly on the revenues generated by these actors and that have, so far, showed little appetite for initiating structural change.”
As Mariana Mazzucato writes in her essay, The Green Entrepreneurial State, “‘Nudging’ economies is not conducive to igniting a real green transformation.”
She says that real courage exists in countries like China, that “use state resources to give a serious ‘push’ to green technologies, by committing to goals and funding levels that attempt seemingly impossible tasks.”
In its entirety, this is a book that will help anyone in the sustainability realm to rise above the frustrating vicissitudes of the electoral cycle and endless argy-bargy into a bigger picture view of the global potential to make a safe and beneficial transition to sustainability.
It also makes it perfectly clear, that actually, this is not really a matter of choice – it is an absolute imperative. The choice lies in how we go about it.