Reply To: Reflections by Maria on lecture of 9 June

Author Replies
Markus # Posted on January 7, 2015 at 12:13

Complementary task, Climate change and policy, 9 june, Markus Nyström

When I worked at Cemus I coordinated a course on technology and sustainable development. One year, I showed my students a part of a documentary film as part of a discussion. Even though I no longer remember the name of the film, I clearly remember its topic. It was about war. The film makers interviewed people working in bomb and airplane factories and asked if they saw that they had any responsibility for the lives the factories products took. They said no. They needed the job and it was not their decision to drop the bombs. Then the film maker asked the soldiers and pilots. Same answer, no. They were just following orders. Then the film maker asked politicians making the decisions to go to war. They too said no, it was not their responsibility, it was the voters’ responsibility – in other words, the factory workers and the soldiers and the pilots.

I think of this film quite often in relation to sustainable development. Who is responsible to achieve sustainable development and who is responsible for the sustainability crises to begin with? It is common to hear people complain that politicians do not do enough for sustainability. On the other hand, those same people that complain do not vote for politicians who are willing to make the tough decisions – often because those decisions will make life less affluent for the citizens. The economic sector, the corporations, on the other hand, pretend to do good deeds, greenwash their activities, and argue that since people are buying their stuff they can’t be that much in error.

The point is, it’s a blame game, where no one takes responsibility. But, most likely, nor should anyONE of the institutions or levels – politicians (public sector), citizens (grassroots), corporations (private sector) – take the full responsibility. The problems of sustainability is systematic and as such, the problems are everyones. But not only that, the systematic arrproach teaches us that we cannot regard these institutions or levels as “on their own”, we also must consider the interconnections between them: how the different levels/institutions interact.

In the comments to Kristina Persson’s seminar, there is a debate about who whoudl change to achieve sustainable development, and how. One could formulate that question as “where in the system” the change should occur, and what that change should be. Should the change be on a grassroot level of global institutions? It seems to me, from the comments above, that Kristina Persson was arguing during the seminar for change on multiple systemic levels, and thus that she recognize that responsibility does not lie singularly within one level.

On the other hand, the Global Utmaning website tells a different story, in my opinion. Here the focus seems to be on global institutions, trade and regulations, and “green” economic growth. Simply put, the focus on the website seems to be on large institutional solutions.

Perhaps the most important example of this is the very name of the think tank: Global Utmaning (Global Challenge). Let’s disect it a little. First, the focus on the global. Climate change, as an example, is of course a global problem, but it is not caused globally and the people with the means and the power to limit emmissions and invest in mitigation and adaptation to climate change are incredibly unequally devided, and correlate geographically with who are the main sources of the problem. Secondly, “challenge” is a problematic word in my opinion. A challenge is something one accepts (not are forced to face) with the hopes of solving it – if one doesn’t, no big deal. Climate change, poverty and starvation, modern slavery and neocolonialism are not “challenges” – more powerful words, derogatorily refered to as “alarmist”, need to be employed to paint a truer picture. And, finally, the singular form – that we face ONE challenge. I do not quite get that, since it is obvious that there are a multitude of “challenges” that face humanity as a whole today. I believe that the singular form refers, not to the problems, but on THE solution. The solution is “change” (perhaps even a more watered-out word than “challenge” in sustainability nomenclature). A change of people’s hearts, a change of “narrative”, a change of production and consumption patterns, etcetera. THE global challenge is, in other words, to achieve “change”.

But this change I think, just like many – especially Michael Deflorian – has noted, is reformative, in Kristina Persson’s and Global Utmaning’s perspective, not transformative. “Change”, writes Michael, “is understood as altering the components of the system and not it’s logic”. At the website one can read about the ABBBA project for instance, which seems to be a badly cloaked way for European powers to appropriate African bio resources, with one of the main aims of the project being to “strengthening the sustainability profile” of the enterprise. Not to “make it sustainable” but to strengthen its sustainability “profile” – those are two very different things. I ask myself, in what way does shipping resources from poor sub-saharan African countries to Europe while strengthening the sustainability “profile” of the endeavor actually change the world? In one way: Europeans will continue to be able to drive their cars just like before. In other words, the project amounts to changing the components (fuels) but not at all behavior or the system logic of appropriation of natural resources from poor people to rich people.

Another example can be read under “global economy”. The goal is to “bring about research-based policy analysis aimed at supporting a move towards increasing employment and growth, focusing on Sweden and Europe”. What is global about Sweden and Europe, to begin with, and why is increased employment and growth necessarily a good thing if what you want is to achieve a sustainable development globally? Increased employment is good because then more people can buy more stuff, and more stuff is produced for them to consume as well. All this is detrimental to sustainable development, in my opinion, since increased consumption (in places like Sweden and Europe in particular) is the foundation for increased unsustainability worldwide. And increased economic growth is just yet another word for the above-mentioned unsustainability but with the added bonus of even further locking the system in on a course toward ecological and thus economic collapse.

It is of course easy to criticize – a whole lot easier than constructively do something oneself. It is good that people think about the issues of sustainable development, and try to make the world better. But I cannot help but to feel that Global Utmaning is an ecomodern compromise that will not fulfill its purpose. Ecomodernism in general, which I think Global Utmaning represents, is a compromise to begin with – even a compromise from a compromise since “sustainable development” to begin with is a compromise between ecological and economic interests.