A Sustainable Alternative
points from Ewa Charkiewicz, on possibilities for using Sustainable Development
as an available and institutionalised route towards alternative visions.
There has been much disappointment about how the notion of sustainable
development has been re-framed into a project of ecological modernisation.
But at the same time, sustainable development is one of the few already
established footholds that provide resources to oppose neoliberal economic
Neoliberal discourse governs by excluding and delegitimising any talk
on alternatives. Alternatives are shown as mutually exclusive opposition
to globalisation and dismissed as a return to local closed markets and
traditional communities. But Sustainable Development provides an available
and institutionalised route towards alternatives.
2. Ecological modernisers
If sustainable development is such a contested concept, change the terms
and focus to Sustainable Production and Consumption, SP&C. SP&C
are the core of sustainable development and have already acquired institutional
footholds. The focus on means or tools for change make it more coherent
and manageable, allowing it to escape the "amoeba-like" diffused
and contested meanings of sustainable development. While still burdened
by connotations of technocratic global ecology, the concept also embraces
alternative policy and action tools that are a counterweight to technocratic
eco-efficiency approaches. The SP&C toolkit includes policy and strategies
for sustainable products, fair trade, local markets, "civilising"
global product chains, and such goodies on the agendas of environmental
governance as precautionary principle, company reporting, extended producer
responsibility, environmental footprints.
on SP&C link it with reduction of poverty and improved quality of
life, it has the potential to integrate social, environmental, and political
dimensions of sustainability that have been separated from each other
with the neo-liberal turn in governance. In the Southern contexts SP&C
is talked about as anti-poverty livelihoods strategy to hedge local communities
against the risks and volatilities of global economy.
(3) North vs South.
The paradoxical metaphor of the (rich) North and the (poor) South persists
in both mainstream and critical debate. The neo-liberals promise that
the South will one day become like the North, and debates on globalisation
follow in the colonial, ethnocentric footprints of (under)development
One of the ways to challenge the Washington consensus, economic liberalism,
unfettered economic growth, etc. is not only to deconstruct unequal relationships
with the South, but also to deconstruct the North.
First it should be limited to North/West. Despite appearances, for the
majority of East Europeans, every day life is closer to that of developing
countries than to the media-projected affluence of the West. In the last
decade the highest increases in poverty have been in Africa and in the
transition economies of the former second world, which have now become
a part of the global South.
The global South has even extended into the North/West. Alternative indicators
designed to measure quality of life show that real income poverty and
time poverty have increased in the North Western countries, in particular
in the former working class/new service class, and also among the former
middle class. The quality of life would have decline further, if not for
the increase in household indebtedness (consumer credit) and entry of
women into the labour market (Schor, Segal, Rowbotham, ISEW of Cobb &
Daly, United for Fair Economy, and others).
The loss of security, and the new costs, unexperienced by previous generation,
eg. the costs of education which has been increasingly privatised put
additional pressure on household budgets. The restructuring of the North
West, has taken its toll on perceptions of well-being and resulted with
psycho-social stress of globalisation and accelerating and profound changes
in work arrangements, means of generating income, social status, gender
relations, etc. The psycho-social costs of global restructuring include
the rise of domestic violence and violence at work. While these experiences
are shared by almost all societies worldwide, the "North/West"
has its problems unnamed and unchallenged. Declining material quality
of consumption, including the decline in the durability of goods, is masked
by new consumer aesthetics and symbolic projections of quality and the
ever increasing supply of seemingly new cheap consumer products manufactured
in distant and local "global souths." According to neo-liberal
global contract, the social and environmental costs of consumption are
disproportionately transferred the to the South.
4. Gender and governance
Environmental and ecological economists locate the roots of ecological
crises in the assumptions of neo-classical economics that do not take
environmental costs of production and consumption into account. Feminists,
including DAWN members, unpacked the concepts of free markets to show
how macro-economic policies, markets and households are gendered and gender
biased, and how social and environmental costs of consumption, production
and reproduction are disproportionately transferred to women.
To make these costs visible, feminists developed the concepts of reproductive
or care economy (women's unpaid work in reproduction of labor, caring
for children, sick, disabled, and elderly family members, household work).
The extent the monetary economy depends on the care/reproductive economy
parallels its dependence on the subsistence economy and nature's economy.
The care economy plays a buffer role, absorbing and mitigating the costs
of structural adjustment and the risks of financial crises and global
economic volatility. This buffer function is over-stretched, so is the
regenerative capacity of ecosystems. Rents and profits are not only derived
from acceleration of production and consumption, and from externalising
environmental costs of production and consumption, but also because the
social costs are neither gender differentiated nor accounted for.
Environmental discourses, whether the ecological modernization or environmental
justice kind, are gender blind. We need to make visible the linkages between
feminist and environmental critiques of economic governance.
Re-focussing on gender differences makes it possible to break the top
down approach of eco-technocratic discourse, which glosses over any differences
in political and economic power and responsibilities for the environment
among people as citizens, workers, consumers, producers, and corporations
Not only the environmentalists should take feminist concerns on board.
Many feminists prioritise women's equal access to the market and more
equitable division of the benefits of economic growth, without acknowledging
that current economic growth patterns undermine nature's economy and the
base for life on earth as we know it. As Bella Abzug put it, women should
not strive to enter into a dirty stream.
lens on quality of life
Quality of life has been linked to environmentally sustainable development
by way of putting on the agenda people's every day life, more quality
time, emphasis on community values, participatory governance, and locally
oriented production and consumption. Feminists have questioned romantic
approaches to community values. Religious fundamentalism, Catholic, Moslem
or other, is defending its own ideas of traditional local communities.
The integration of feminist and environmental agendas for quality of life
requires the questioning of blanket endorsement of community values.
Re-written from feminist standpoints, the quality of life agenda should
include the issues of health and reproductive health. One of the pillars
of the environmental debate is the critique of hydro-carbon economy. The
thrust of the critique is that current models of economic undermine the
resource base and regenerative capacities of ecosystems and therefore
undermine livelihoods and prospects for sustainable growth.
They also damage human and environmental health, including reproductive
health. In particular, the introduction of xeno-biotic substances (chemicals
such as used in pesticides or solvents), unknown during the millions of
year of evolution, is responsible for the disruption of immune, neurological,
and hormone systems in the body. They affect reproductive health not only
of individuals but also of future generations, therefore threatening the
reproduction of whole species, including humans. Given the transfer of
social costs of reproduction to women, and women's direct role in reproduction,
they bear the brunt of the costs of dirty growth.
The transition to sustainable production and consumption is a strategy
to protect human and environmental health.
Environmentalists' efforts to base models of governance of chemicals and
GMOs on the right to know and precautionary principle correspond and overlap
with feminist efforts and stakes in protecting women's reproductive health.
6. Global social contract.
Discussions of environmental governance are often focussed on international
treaties, laws, or on proposals for establishing a World Environment Organisation
(WEO) to provide a counterweight to WTO. While important, the discussion
should also extend to proposals for a global social contract that integrates
issues of social justice, environmental justice, and gender justice, and
provides a fair basis for negotiating the interests of producers and consumers,
employees and corporations. To this list one would like to add fair shares
of environmental space and equitable relations among women and men. The
Johannesburg Summit provides an opportunity.