How long have people been talking about the effects of global warming and climate change on the environment? Well there was the Limits to Growth argument in the 60s/70s, which pessimistically (but could be proven to be quite correct) theorised that the world would eventually run out of resources. This argument was however, taken over by the 1987 WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development) definition of sustainable development, which saw environment and economic development as compatible. The Limits to Growth argument has returned in deep ecologist movements, but the WCED definition of sustainable development remains central to political discussions around the environment.
So why have we not really achieved anything since 1987? Well maybe because the politicians thought simply constructing the concept would help keep the environmentalist happy as they looked as though they were doing something and the capitalist happy because it is not at the expense of the economy. However, in many of the environmental debates, such as Heathrow, we have seen the mainstream politicians fall to what are known as the pollution control perspective to sustainable development, who prioritise the economy over the environment. There simply has not been enough focus on achieving a true sustainable environment, and many have forgot about the sustainable development’s concepts concentration on the poor.
This may relate to how ecological modernisation has become the ‘in thing’ to use when talking about the environment. This focuses on consumption as being the way to get out of the environmental crisis. This can be shown by the government’s promotion of eclectic cars, for example. However, the green products are very expenses and limited to buy, and there are many who say the conception of spending our way out of green problems is as bad as spending our way out of a recession.
John Prescott has been a useful reminder of the WCED (1987) conception of sustainable development, as he rightly reminded the rich countries of their obligation to the poorer countries in achieving a sustainable society:
“…burden has got to be more on the rich countries than on the developing countries”
However, how long have we been talking about having an equal north and south divide? Well in mainstream debates, since 1987. However, we still feel it is necessary to have commissions after commissions, with the Copenhagen agreement being seen as, like the WCED 1987 was, the final chance to save the environment. Gro Harlem Brundtland is again charring the commission as she did the WCED, it seems as though history is repeating itself, with little learnt.
There is little wonder the environmental demonstrators are campaigning for a week at Greenwich, as the political world talk the talk, but fail to actually act on it. The disregard the mainstream politicians have shown towards the environment is telling, as there has been little concentration for example, when discussing Trident, as something that is environmentally damaging, as well as economically damaging, not to mention the moral dimension.
This shows that the political debate has to stop just talking about the environment, and actually act. Why just have countless number of commissions and agreements, if they are not actually ever going to be implemented? What this calls for is a radical green programme, so that green issues are not always on the fringe of important political discussions.