Importance of Natural Resources

Ecological modernization | Wikipedia audio article


Ecological modernization is a school of thought
in the social sciences that argues that the economy benefits from moves towards environmentalism. It has gained increasing attention among scholars
and policymakers in the last several decades internationally. It is an analytical approach as well as a
policy strategy and environmental discourse (Hajer, 1995).==Origins and key elements==
Ecological modernization emerged in the early 1980s within a group of scholars at Free University
and the Social Science Research Centre in Berlin, among them Joseph Huber, Martin Jänicke
and Udo E. Simonis. Various authors pursued similar ideas at the
time, e.g. Arthur H. Rosenfeld, Amory Lovins, Donald Huisingh, René Kemp, or Ernst Ulrich
von Weizsäcker. Further substantial contributions were made
by Arthur P.J. Mol, Gert Spaargaren and David A Sonnenfeld (Mol and Sonnenfeld, 2000; Mol,
2001). One basic assumption of ecological modernization
relates to environmental readaptation of economic growth and industrial development. On the basis of enlightened self-interest,
economy and ecology can be favourably combined: Environmental productivity, i.e. productive
use of natural resources and environmental media (air, water, soil, ecosystems), can
be a source of future growth and development in the same way as labour productivity and
capital productivity. This includes increases in energy and resource
efficiency as well as product and process innovations such as environmental management
and sustainable supply chain management, clean technologies, benign substitution of hazardous
substances, and product design for environment. Radical innovations in these fields can not
only reduce quantities of resource turnover and emissions, but also change the quality
or structure of the industrial metabolism. In the co-evolution of humans and nature,
and in order to upgrade the environment’s carrying capacity, ecological modernization
gives humans an active role to play, which may entail conflicts with nature conservation. There are different understandings of the
scope of ecological modernization – whether it is just about techno-industrial progress
and related aspects of policy and economy, and to what extent it also includes cultural
aspects (ecological modernization of mind, value orientiations, attitudes, behaviour
and lifestyles). Similarly, there is some pluralism as to whether
ecological modernization would need to rely mainly on government, or markets and entrepreneurship,
or civil society, or some sort of multi-level governance combining the three. Some scholars explicitly refer to general
modernization theory as well as non-Marxist world-system theory, others don’t. Ultimately, however, there is a common understanding
that ecological modernization will have to result in innovative structural change. So research is now still more focused on environmental
innovations, or eco-innovations, and the interplay of various societal factors (scientific, economic,
institutional, legal, political, cultural) which foster or hamper such innovations (Klemmer
et al., 1999; Huber, 2004; Weber and Hemmelskamp, 2005; Olsthoorn and Wieczorek, 2006). Ecological modernization shares a number of
features with neighbouring, overlapping approaches. Among the most important are the concept of sustainable development
the approach of industrial metabolism (Ayres and Simonis, 1994)
the concept of industrial ecology (Socolow, 1994)==Additional elements==
A special topic of ecological modernization research during recent years was sustainable
household, i.e. environment-oriented reshaping of lifestyles, consumption patterns, and demand-pull
control of supply chains (Vergragt, 2000; OECD 2002). Some scholars of ecological modernization
share an interest in industrial symbiosis, i.e. inter-site recycling that helps to reduce
the consumption of resources via increasing efficiency (i.e. pollution prevention, waste
reduction), typically by taking externalities from one economic production process and using
them as raw material inputs for another (Christoff, 1996). Ecological modernization also relies on product
life-cycle assessment and the analysis of materials and energy flows. In this context, ecological modernization
promotes ‘cradle to cradle’ manufacturing (Braungart and McDonough, 2002), contrasted
against the usual ‘cradle to grave’ forms of manufacturing – where waste is not re-integrated
back into the production process. Another special interest in the ecological
modernization literature has been the role of social movements and the emergence of civil
society as a key agent of change (Fisher and Freudenburg, 2001). As a strategy of change, some forms of ecological
modernization may be favored by business interests because they seemingly meet the triple bottom
line of economics, society, and environment, which, it is held, underpin sustainability,
yet do not challenge free market principles. This contrasts with many environmental movement
perspectives, which regard free trade and its notion of business self-regulation as
part of the problem, or even an origin of environmental degradation. Under ecological modernization, the state
is seen in a variety of roles and capacities: as the enabler for markets that help produce
the technological advances via competition; as the regulatory (see regulation) medium
through which corporations are forced to ‘take back’ their various wastes and re-integrate
them in some manner into the production of new goods and services (e.g. the way that
car corporations in Germany are required to accept back cars they manufactured once those
vehicles have reached the end of their product lifespan); and in some cases as an institution
that is incapable of addressing critical local, national, and global environmental problems. In the latter case, ecological modernization
shares with Ulrich Beck (1999, 37-40) and others notions of the necessity of emergence
of new forms of environmental governance, sometimes referred to as subpolitics or political
modernization, where the environmental movement, community groups, businesses, and other stakeholders
increasingly take on direct and leadership roles in stimulating environmental transformation. Political modernization of this sort requires
certain supporting norms and institutions such as a free, independent, or at least critical
press, basic human rights of expression, organization, and assembly, etc. New media such as the Internet greatly facilitate
this.==Criticisms==
Critics argue that ecological modernization will fail to protect the environment and does
nothing to alter the impulses within the capitalist economic mode of production (see capitalism)
that inevitably lead to environmental degradation (Foster, 2002). As such, it is just a form of ‘green-washing’. Critics question whether technological advances
alone can achieve resource conservation and better environmental protection, particularly
if left to business self-regulation practices (York and Rosa, 2003). For instance, many technological improvements
are currently feasible but not widely utilized. The most environmentally friendly product
or manufacturing process (which is often also the most economically efficient) is not always
the one automatically chosen by self-regulating corporations (e.g. hydrogen or biofuel vs.
peak oil). In addition, some critics have argued that
ecological modernization does not redress gross injustices that are produced within
the capitalist system, such as environmental racism – where people of color and low income
earners bear a disproportionate burden of environmental harm such as pollution, and
lack access to environmental benefits such as parks, and social justice issues such as
eliminating unemployment (Bullard, 1993; Gleeson and Low, 1999; Harvey, 1996) – environmental
racism is also referred to as issues of the asymmetric distribution of environmental resources
and services (Everett & Neu, 2000). Moreover, the theory seems to have limited
global efficacy, applying primarily to its countries of origin – Germany and the Netherlands,
and having little to say about the developing world (Fisher and Freudenburg, 2001). Perhaps the harshest criticism though, is
that ecological modernization is predicated upon the notion of ‘sustainable growth’, and
in reality this is not possible because growth entails the consumption of natural and human
capital at great costs to ecosystems and societies. Ecological modernization, its effectiveness
and applicability, strengths and limitations, remains a dynamic and contentious area of
environmental social science research and policy discourse in the early 21st century.==See also


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