Friday, October 09, 2009

Ecological modernization vs Ecocities


Anna Rosengren
Society, nature and change, 2009
Department of Urban and Rural Development, SLU

Society moves towards a "greener industry" which the concept of ecological modernization or sustainable consumption as some people call it, advocates. But the contradiction is found when consumption is based on capitalism and focuses at the developed countries. This report discusses the idea of ecological modernization, the environmental impact in production of goods, and the need of a trade in "non-resources" such as tourism, theater and nature. The theory about ecocities, a society where people live closer to each other and nature, and with less distance to the "daily needs" takes a lot of environmental issues in its light. Is it so, that ecocities is a solution to achieve sustainable development, where human population can experience and enjoy, rather than looking for "false needs"?

Keywords; ecological modernization, ecocities, consumption, non-resources

Introduction; Globalization vs capitalism
Globalization has given the world new thoughts and connects people like never before. In the same time, capitalism is spreading. Globalization is therefore something that you can either see connected with money or as a term when time and space becomes narrower (Giddens, 1998). Things that happens even in other parts of the world are soon your concern. With the globalization comes influences and lifestyles. Magazines and media tells us what's important. New industries that makes cheap goods increases. People buy new (cheap) stuff as often they can, because they can afford, and things break fast, because of worthless quality. People are also told that they should change theirs things to get the newest vogue. And all this is in the term of capitalism. We can now see the same trend spreading in the ”environmental friendly” arena, where even as this is so called environmental friendly goods, you are told that you should change, because of better, more environmental friendly goods. Things comes after a while and people have to change and buy new stuff. The resources from which we made stuff from have limits but the consumption is higher than ever. Carolan (2004) sum this like: "shopping is not sustainable in the long term even if things are more environmentally friendly than before".

The transition to a "greener industry"
Ecological modernization is a discourse which let the market help us to a greener world; “If consumers demand environmentally sound production methods and production, the market mechanisms will be forced to try to deliver them” (Sutton, 2007). Prof. Dr. Joseph Huber, one of the first used the term ecological modernization mean that the industrialization has to come to this phase; it is a natural transitional period in the industrialization (in Böhler, 2002). The first phase is the industrial revolution, the second is the building of the industrial society and the last and third phase is the necessary "ecologization" of the industry to get the environmental problems under control.

The term ecological modernization has been a theory for years, meaning tha the market will fix the environmental problems. People have been very concerned about environmental issues in late years, the field of climate change and the market for environmentally friendly goods has increased lately. The criticism about ”environmental friendly consumption” which were discussed some years ago, is now upfront again. Question is if we can buy this society to a better ecological place to live in? One advantage is surely that people free to start to think about environmental issues and people are free to make their own choices. But seen from another point of view, we can ask us questions as "do we need cars"? And we can continue with same sorts of question and say that the aim for a sustainable environment should be to create an "environment" for the people more than create an ”environment” where people are dependent on technology.

The transition to a sustainable society
The planet has its limits in contrast to the economic systems that are not closed, consequently, while the economy can grow in physical scale, the ecosystem cannot. And as the economy grows, it becomes larger in relation to the ecosystem (Carolan, 2004). The ecological modernization has the aim to give the society what they want and also have a good economy, but does ecological modernization allow for ecologically or socially sustainability? Herman Daly, a famous economists, argue that the sustainable society have three different properties; 1.It doesn't use renewable resources faster than they can renew. 2. It doesn't use non-renewable resources faster than they can be replaced with renewable. 3. It doesn't pollute faster than the natural system can break down the pollution (Hornborg, 2001). According to Satterthawaite (1997) this thought is much like the thought Daly mention; we have to recover control over consumption rather than set up new institutions to manage its consequences.

Theoretical perspective on pro's
Some things have to change and has to be more environmentally friendly. The catalyst on cars is one good example of ecological modernization, more use of wind energy is another. But these two are different; the first does not change our way how to look at the use of cars. The other examples give us a new way to look at energy- we can actually see when being produced (Böhler, 2002). Böhler also mentions that another way to explain ecological modernization is knowledge, if people learn how to recycle it's a good way to "ecologizate" the society.

and con's with ecological modernization
Mol & Spaargaren (2004) mean that the question is not how good ecological modernization is, but a focus should instead be on which consumption that is environmentally sustainable. But Carolan (2004) asks how consumption can be sustainable? Carolan argue that you have to consider both production and consumption when a product is produced, and continues that it is not only that the car use less gas, focus should be on the materials and time invested; you have to buy step by step better cars. After some time we have a lot of ”better” cars on the street. The production of all those cars has influence for the environment; resources are needed, transportation and the emissions to construct the car should count.

Ecological modernization is therefore about capitalism Carolan means, "if we have to change several times to get the most environmental friendly goods, the resources are gone despite of cleaner air". Herman Daly ask the question ”After you grow your way to an environmentally sustainable world, then what”? Daly said that US maybe already reach such a point that the environmental and social costs is increasing faster than the increasing production benefits. He also wants us to see three points after the first question; Growth in what? What is environmental sustainability? and Who is ”we” (Daly, 2007). Moreover, the ecological modernization are primarily a national concern, but environmental problems does not stop at national borders and some are global (Giddens, 1998).

Also interesting to see and one more thing that belongs to the globalization era, is that we let ourself to be deceived in that we save a lot of time, but the time we save is not saved in a broader perspective. The time is instead collected from a larger amount of working people (Hornborg, 2002). In the same time- more resources are used. Hornborg gives an example of the car, which should have the same speed as a bike if we consider all the time a person who owns the car invests in the car. The person must earn the money, get gas, search for insurance, waiting in traffic jam and so on. And even small things like a "coffee-to-go" is in a wider perspective, time consuming, when a larger group of people need to work, because you want the coffee-faster. This is one of the main point discussed in the idea of ecocities.

Rutherford (2004) gives us the number that eighty percent of the american population now live in metropolitan regions. The fact is that half of the worlds population now live in the cities. Ecovillage, garden city and green building's and roofs are all concepts that tries to make cities more green or make the cities more ecological sustainable. The theory about ecocities presented from Register (2006) is in my opinion one of the most interesting, and takes all other theories under its wings. Register start his book with this sentence; ”They [the cities] needs to be reorganized and rebuild upon ecological principles”, where the main point of ecocities is the narrow living, meaning that you build higher houses, and in the same time using a smaller area to actually build the city, the 3-dimensional- thinking, meaning that you are not limited to walls and roads- there are space in behind and the closeness to all what you need; the stores, the health center, the nature. Main idea is that you don't have to take your family away from the city to do anything. ”Transportation is what you do when you're not where you want to be” says Register. Building an ecocity will also give other perspective about ourselves and the surrounding;
”While it probably won't rid the world of greed, ethnocentrism, and violence, building a nonviolent city that respect other life forms and celebrates human creativity and diversity is consistent with solving those problems”(Register, 2006).
This is also something far away from the concept of "sustainable cities" which usually is an attempt to focus on renewable energy. According to Myllylä and Kuvaja (2005) urban areas in South often fail when it comes to the basic idea of social structures, which are often taken for granted in the discuss about sustainable cities. They mean that to build an ecocity you have to consider locally defined development agendas, local resources and challenges, also take equity and social justice in resource allocation as much as use the word sustainability as a motivation and transparent administration, efficiency and flexibility in service provision and co-operation between authorities.

The mixture of thoughts
Register mean that we can build ecocities with existing technology, but we need to expand our knowledge. The ecocity is not only about the buildings, it is also a lot of knowledge which should be collected about native plants, the water condition, and weather for example. To increase the economic, buildings can have multiple uses propose, schools and office can be used in the evening for other activities (Register, 2006). The concept of ecocity is about information and service instead of selling cheap products. In the city, people will meet and communicate and enjoy life. To do that, it has to be a lot of green places and a lot of meeting places. Register mean that if we want a sustainable world, we have to change our view of this world. We have to see ourselves, slow down and make more things for our own goodness. But in practice, how can we motivate the process against the ”false needs”, meaning buy stuff we don't need to our direct surviving (as food, water, shelter and human contact)? Stefan Edman (2005) says that to come to environmental sustainability, we have to change our minds about how we look at the world; we have to do things more than just buy things. He wants to see a society which also invest in non-resources consuming; like culture, health care sector, education, better health and domestic services. He also argue that a higher proportion of service consumption are, in principle that the use of resources in absolute terms can be reduced, that mean a net profit for the environment and health. Discussions and workshops, meetings and movies, theater and sports are more interesting in that view. In the ecocity there is room for activity between people, and there is also room for relaxing and meetings in cafes and squares. In the ecocity, people care about each other and the nature around them (Register, 2006).

Rebuild the feeling in the city
From a personal point of view, I often wonder why people don’t have plants on their balcony? Or on the roofs? People would love that- I know- but they don’t do it because of the “environment”. We have to change the view of how a city has to look like. People are moving from nature, to a stage there we want all kind of different things. The ”false needs” is deeply concerned about our view of the surroundings. If we instead build a community where people see nature all the time (and other people), where we see the surroundings live and die, as the seasonal nature here in North Europe- we would understands it better and can in the same time also understand that we need the nature outside our gardens, balcony and parks. People should have an environment so they can act in a better way. If we want an attitude change that also works in practice, the society have to rebuild people’s surroundings. It has to be easy to recycle, go by train, walk in the cities and to be a part of nature. We have to rebuild cities that are narrow and easy to live in. Because if there aren’t any recycles bin- people wouldn’t recycle, if it's not a store in the corner- we have to go to the big market outside the city, if there are no space to bike, lock your bike or it ”feels” insecure with a lot of cars around- you don't use the bike in town (Satterthawaite, 1997). This is for the environment in the city. But in the same time you got the feeling of connection to your part of the city. The ecocity view is that you should enjoy where you live. And if you do that, you only consume things you need and enjoy.

Interconnect ecological modernization and non-resources
To sum this up; ecological modernization can be said to be useful in some parts of a sustainable community, but then, in that we need more green technology and not a capitalism which is based on environmental friendly things. A combination of knowledge is essential where disciplines from a wide range of institutions have to make things together; university students have to practice more in the society, so they learn how to do it later and to get their network; rejected people, meaning people that now are in the social care, have a part in this society; old people can have something meaningful to do. Everyone should count, young as old, sick as healthy. This can only be done if we consider what people actually need in their lives, and base consumption on experiences instead of things. If we do that, with some help from the ecocity theory, we can reach a society that is equally in the economic, ecologic and social aspect. Meaning, shaping a society which is sustainable.


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Satterthawaite, D., 1997. Sustainable cities or cities that contribute to sustainable development? Urban studies, 34(10), 1667-1691

Sutton, P.W., 2007. The Environment. A sociological introduction. Polity Press, Cambridge.

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