The Transition to Sustainable Living and Practice: Volume 4

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(14 chapters)
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The ‘Transition Town’ (TT) movement pioneered by Rob Hopkins initially in Kinsale (Ireland) and Totnes (United Kingdom) has become the fastest growing environmental movement in the global north (Hopkins, 2008). With over 30 official TT initiatives in the United Kingdom, the concept is now spreading into New Zealand, Canada, and many more countries.1 The movement starts from two premises: (i) the reality and implications of rapid and potentially catastrophic climate change; (ii) the reality of ‘peak oil’ – an imminent, permanent short fall in oil supply, increasing year on year with massive geo-political, economic and social consequences.2 Whilst supporting national and multilateral efforts to reduce emissions and to develop new energy technologies and infrastructures, TT leaves climate change protest to environmental campaigning groups, NGOs and activists oriented towards a global civil society. Acknowledging the need for ‘government and business responses [to climate change and peak oil] at all levels’, the role of TT is to ‘create [a] sense of anticipation, elation and a collective call to adventure’ and that this grass-roots bottom-up, local activism could potentially prepare the way for more directly political action at the level of national government (Hopkins, 2008, p. 15).

The Epic of Gilgamesh is among the oldest stories remembered. One of its tales, “Journey to the Forests of Cedar,” illustrates early accounts of forest depletion (George, 1999, pp. 30–47). For timber, to expand the city of Uruk where he rules, Gilgamesh kills Humbaba, the forest guardian, who protected a great forest. Gilgamesh and his followers then stripped the forest. The gods warned Gilgamesh in dreams they sent to him on his forest journey that floods and droughts would follow his killing of Humbaba and the cutting of the cedar forests, and so it happened.

The present crisis in the global economy is more serious than anything that we have witnessed since the 1930s, yet policies designed to tackle it are limited and inadequate. Those that have been proposed, in terms of fiscal stimulus, rely on an outmoded view of the economy, where money can be used to force economic growth. Since the recognition of planetary limits such a strategy is no longer admissible. Instead, we need a global system where countries agree to limit their carbon dioxide emissions: this chapter outlines the Contraction and Convergence model (C&C), which proposes that countries do this within a framework of equal per capita emissions for all global citizens. However, within the existing financial architecture such a policy would do nothing to prevent the United States from continuing to print dollars and to use these to gain an unfair share of world production. Other countries controlling reserve currencies would also be able to avoid strict limits. The policy answer proposed is that of the Ebcu (environment-backed currency unit) – a neutral global trading currency to be used by countries that have also signed up to the C&C model.

The main focus of this chapter is to explore whether ecological utopias are capable of providing a useful contribution to our quest for an ecologically responsible future and sustainable society, and in what specific ways. I shall develop a model of ecological utopias as a distant point of orientation, or as a ‘navigational compass’. In this model ecotopias may gradually influence the course of concrete decision making in the direction of a future sustainable society. In this context, a strategic issue to be confronted by the green movement is to look for an eco-friendly view on ‘the good life’ and the ‘art of living’. The basic dimensions of a sustainable lifestyle and an utopian inspired ecological ‘art of living’ are that society's focus should be shifted from ‘having’ to ‘being’, and to find a balanced configuration of the vita activa: action, work and labour. It is also vital to find forms of hedonism which are independent of mass consumerism, to relate our material consumption to our ecological footprints in systematic ways, and to cultivate ecological virtues and moral character.

The term ‘exploitation’ is much used both in common parlance and as a research term when examining environmental phenomena. However, when examining the plethora of writings on the environment it quickly becomes obvious that neither is there a commonly accepted definition of the term, nor has there been a critical examination of the concept. Consequently, the term ‘environmental exploitation’ is currently poorly understood, left unexplained or undertheorized. The failure to properly comprehend the concept is a serious gap in the environmental literature which needs to be addressed since it leads, inevitably, to normative confusion and policy errors.

This chapter examines the ecotopian activist tradition through an exploration of existing literature, within a context of the processes of activism, identity and place which arise from the communitarian impulse. The initial part of the chapter sets out utopian communitarianism into separate phases. Each phase is examined for the exogenous and internalised motivations that compel people in different eras to participate in intentional living projects be they religious, autonomous, or environmental. The chapter develops these themes further by applying Sargisson's study of intentional communities to the discussion. The chapter attempts to ground this discussion within the context of the wider understandings of green utopian practice, such as Barry's ‘Concrete Utopian’ realism or de Geus's ‘utopia of sufficiency’.

Following particular feminisms that theorise the body as a place where the regulatory practices of racism, classism, sexism and speciesism are ‘inscripted’ or ‘sedimented’, but also understand the body as a site of resistance, a place where oppressive practices can be transgressed and transformed, this chapter explores the relation between ecofeminist theories of oppression, the notion of gender and species performativity and environmental activisms. Ecofeminist philosopher Deborah Slicer has argued that it is not only the human body that is capable of resistance through altering the performances around which identity is congealed but nature too has agency, is a player in processes of disruption and resignification. Ecopolitical theorist Catriona Sandilands has written about the ‘chain of equivalencies’ that discursively and materially link women, nature, people of colour, the differently-abled, queer folk and so on and has pondered how ‘a politics of performative affinity’ can help to emancipate both humans and the more-than-human world. Taking this brand of ecofeminist ecopolitical theorising as my starting point, I explore the role of environmental and feminist activisms, focusing on two instances of direct action, one from the US radical forest defence movement and one from the 1999 anti-World Trade Organisation (WTO) protests in Seattle, in disrupting hegemonic notions of who or what counts as a political subject and actor. Such actions, I argue, open spaces for subaltern voices, including non-human ones, to be heard. By considering the liberatory political possibilities of viewing species identity performatively, that is, as something that creatures, especially the human critter (to use the vernacular of the US forest defence movement) does rather than is, I suggest that activisms in all their variety are political sites where meaning is made and ecosocial relations configured, in ways that have material consequences for people and other beings of the earth.

Section one of this chapter is a description of what ‘The Green New Deal’ is and how it could be financed. The term was first coined by the author and the report of the same name was first published in July 2008 by the New Economics Foundation (nef) to deal with the ‘triple crunch’ of climate change, energy insecurity/price instability and the financial and economic meltdown (nef, 2008).

Green intentional communities are easily dismissed as irrelevant to wider academic and political debates. In the first instance, they comprise small vanguards, fringes or minority groups. Surely then they interest only the readers of rarefied anthropological journals or viewers of voyeuristic television shows?1 Secondly, they are part of the green movement, itself often cast (derogatorily,2 positively,3 or otherwise4 as ‘utopian’). Are they not excessively idealist and romantic: wishful day-dreamers? Drawing on the literal meaning of the word utopia, which combines eu (good), ou (non) and topos (place), this chapter explores the idea that green intentional communities are indeed utopias, whereas challenging two common interpretations of that term. The first views it negatively (as unrealistic, unrealisable, excessively wishful thinking) and can be found on the pages of English Dictionaries and in colloquial parlance. The second views utopias as perfectionist: seeking to provide perfect blueprints that map the road to the good life. I shall explore some of the key ways in which these groups perform key utopian functions, suggesting that they are indeed utopian but that their utopianism is deeply imperfect and pragmatic, rooted in the real concerns and material limitations of the now.

Let me begin soon after the beginning of economics: with money. Money is a concept whose centrality to Economics, especially to conventional Economics, is hard to overestimate: Money is the main means by which economists tend to appeal more easily to an alleged scientificity for their discipline, because it so easily lets them ‘Go forth and quantify’.

Cover of The Transition to Sustainable Living and Practice
DOI
10.1108/S2041-806X(2009)4
Publication date
2009-12-17
Book series
Advances in Ecopolitics
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-84950-641-0
eISBN
978-1-84950-642-7
Book series ISSN
2041-806X