Ecological Modernisation vs. Ecocentrism? On Controversial Views regarding Strategies for Attaining Ecological Sustainability

Ecological Modernisation vs. Ecocentrism? On Controversial Views regarding Strategies for Attaining Ecological Sustainability Thomas Öst PhD-student I...
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Ecological Modernisation vs. Ecocentrism? On Controversial Views regarding Strategies for Attaining Ecological Sustainability Thomas Öst PhD-student Institute for Housing and Urban Research. Box 785. SE-80129 Gävle. Sweden. Phone: +46 (0)26 420 65 33. Fax: +46 (0)26 420 65 01. E-mail: [email protected] INTRODUCTION During the last few decades, there’ve been a lot said and written on the topic of ecological sustainability and what to do in order to attain an ecologically more sound society. The Swedish philosopher Stig Wandén (1997) has formulated two seemingly contradictory statements which serve to represent very different views on, not least, the role of modern science and technology in the creation of an ecologically sustainable civilisation: •



We can keep and build on the modern industrial society, but we ought to change its rules so that it will function better and more efficiently. Especially, it’s about creating new and environmentally proper technology and more rational economic rules so that the continuos economic growth doesn’t damage the environment. We have to thoroughly reconsider the industrial society and should therefore directly sway the actors of the social system, that is ourselves. Our life style, our attitudes and behaviour must adapt to Nature’s demands. Economic growth is precisely what damages the environment. (Wandén 1997, p 71. My translation)

The first statement represents what has become known as ‘ecological modernisation’, while the second one might be referred to as ‘environmentalism’. Advocates of ecological modernisation hold that an ongoing strong development of technology and science can make the utilisation of Nature’s limited resources more efficient, and this is thought not to entail curtailing industrial growth or changing the relationship with Nature (Dovlén 2001). Environmentalists, on the other hand, are giving much more importance to behavioural changes amongst the citizens of our society for the bringing about of ecological sustainability. the deep green ecologists, and arguably environmentalists more generally, severely underestimate the social and political obstacles to overcoming ecological crises and more satisfactory relations between people and nature. The deep greens in particular place enormous faith in changing personal consciousness. (Dickens 1992:3. Cited in Klintman 2000, p 72) Thus it’s obvious that one major difference between ecological modernisation and environmentalism lies in the fact that the former emphasise technological and infrastructural changes, while the latter puts forward changes within people as the primary recipe for our civilisation becoming ecologically sustainable. This paper focus these two approaches regarding the attainment of ecological sustainability and, more exactly, the tension between

them. The aim of the paper is to shed light on this very contradiction and, particularly, what consequences might appear if you try to practically realise both approaches in the same planning- or building project. In what way can these two approaches complement each other and, conversely, in what way are they mutually exclusive? The newly built area of Western Harbour in the Swedish town Malmö will serve as an empirical illustration of this mainly theoretically oriented paper. ENERGY SAVINGS AND BEHAVIOUR DEPENDENCE The Western Harbour in Malmö has been built because of the last year’s European Housing Expo Bo01, City of Tomorrow. During the construction of these new houses and dwellings, a rather ambitiously formulated quality programme has served as a guideline for the whole project. Different kinds of standards and limits for the buildings are stated in this quality programme. Without going into detail about these standards and limits, I’d here like to mention one case in point: a limit of 105 kWh/m gross room area annually has been set for the average energy use in the dwellings. In addition, this should be achieved with no loss of comfort for the residents. (Quality Programme Bo01 1999) To me, this could be interpreted as follows: the achievement of the limit regarding energy use should not be dependent on the actions of the residents. If it was, I think it would be difficult avoiding this dependence to entail some negative impact on the comfort of the residents. There are a number of measures for energy savings in buildings. These different types of measures are to a varying degree dependent on the behaviour of the residents; some are to a great extent behaviour dependent, while other measures are not behaviour dependent at all. Consider the diagram below (from Nilsson 2001, p 95), illustrating different measures’ level of behaviour dependence and their energy efficiency. Behaviour dependent Demand controlled ventilation Individual measurement IT

Minor energy savings

Large energy savings

White goods Sun framework

Heavy framework Low energy lamps

Low energy windows Minimise thermal bridges

Pumps & fans Additional insulation Not behaviour dependent

It is obvious that most of the measures in the precedent diagram are not very behaviour dependent. After all, many of these measures are applied to the building during the construction process and do not themselves affect the residents in any significant way. The most behaviour dependent measure is demand controlled ventilation and this measure is thought to stand for relatively large energy savings, too. (Many of the new dwellings of the Western Harbour have been equipped with such new technology, of which demand controlled ventilation may serve as a good example.) However, we’ve seen that the achievement of the limit regarding average energy use is supposed, according to the quality programme of Bo01, to entail no loss of comfort for the residents. How is this to be done, when one of the most important measures for energy savings is to such a great extent behaviour dependent? Now, it’s necessary to make an important distinction between behaviour and action. This is a quotation from the English geographer Andrew Sayer: By “behavior” we mean nothing more than a purely physical movement or change, such as falling asleep, breathing, that is, doing things which lack “intrinsic meaning structure.” In contrast, doings which we call “actions” are not wholly reducible to physical behavior even though they may be coupled with it. Actions are constituted by intersubjective meanings: putting a cross on a ballot paper, conducting a seminar, getting married, arguing, doing arithmetic, going on a demonstration are all examples of doings whose nature depends on the existence of certain intersubjective meanings (Sayer, 1979:201. Cited in Klintman 2000, p 68). As many readers probably know, demand controlled ventilation is an energy saving measure which vital part consists of sensors reacting on the presence and absence of the residents. Thus, the eventual energy saving effect is a result of the technology in action – not of the residents’ actions. In the case of demand control ventilation, behaviour dependence refers to the time being spent by the residents in the dwelling. It should be clear from the quotation above, that this behaviour dependence has nothing whatsoever to do with meaningful actions on the part of the residents. This, in turn, enables us to infer that applications of such technology do not imply any changes within people, due to the fact that the residents may well be totally unaware of the operation of this energy saving measure. Obviously, then, these behaviour dependent measures make an excellent example of ecological modernisation in the Western Harbour. During the winter of 2000/2001 I made a couple of interviews with representatives of most of the 17 building companies involved in the creation of the Western Harbour. These interviews have been made as an initial part of an evaluation of the Western Harbour and, particularly, of the quality programme of Bo01. I’d like to cite one of my interviewees, whom I think personify ecological modernisation quite well. I think that much of what is called ‘ecology’ within this Bo01-project – like the surface water channels, for instance – might well be pedagogical and…making the circulation of the system obvious for people, so to speak. But, personally, I have a different point of view: The ecology must be something much deeper; you don’t have to see it. Today, ecology is more about technology. It’s not about roofs with grass growing upon them; there’s nothing ecological with grass-roofs, actually. I mean, we have an energy supply problem and a waste disposal problem; it’s here the ecology comes in and here you have to make use of technical solutions for those problems. Ecology is really about…moving

from ‘low tech’ to ‘high tech’, you know. Grass-roofs is ‘low tech’, you know, but that has nothing to do with ecology. It may look ecological but it’s not that which constitutes the ecology in the area, but of course these infrastructural systems which you don’t see very much of. (Interview, 23/11 2000) THE ECOLOGICAL RELEVANCE OF THE GREEN STRUCTURE In the quotation above, the interviewee is a few times referring to the statements in the quality programme about the green structure in the Western Harbour, notably the prescription which states that 50% of the building sites’ area shall be covered with herbs or other plants. This prescription has led many building companies to lay out green roofs on their buildings, in order to put up with this 50%-limit. The open surface water channels in the area are also a manifestation of these high ambitions of Bo01 regarding the green structure of the Western Harbour. As been indicated above, the ecological relevance of these prescriptions about the green structure might, from an ecological modernisation point of view, seem questionable. Furthermore, it is a point of view which has been shared by many of the building company representatives that I’ve been interviewing. There have been a few exceptions, though. One interviewee said this about the open surface water channels in the area: Actually, I think it’s really pleasant with this pouring water. I believe that it, in one way or another, gives some kind of positive signals. And, you know, in a distant past we’ve all been originating from the sea. I really think that, when there’s water murmuring and the like…you feel in a way very positive and relaxed, don’t you? When you’re walking in the forest and there’s the murmuring from a brook or so…I think it’s really nice. (Interview, 20/12 2000) Similar benevolent opinions about both the ambitiously planned green structure and the open surface water channels are displayed in a few of the interviews I’ve made. Now, what has this to do with ecological sustainability? There’s a hint of an answer in a section of the quality programme, entitled “Putting people first”: Man is a cultural being. At the same time he is biologically constructed for life in the natural environment. Human well-being depends on an environment which interacts with both these aspects. To achieve this, a district needs values which cannot be measured in the traditional manner: visual and acoustic impressions, the experience of greenery and water, street spaces with “human” proportions, and the subconscious understanding, interpretation and experience of one’s surroundings in a way which interacts with our biological origins, even in the distinctively man-made environment of the city. If these opportunities are provided and if these properties within ourselves are stimulated, a number of positive effects ensue. We feel happier, stress effects are reduced, our biological clock “keeps good time” and we are better able to get our bearings. By the same token, participation and the assumption of responsibility are made easier and we experience a sense of security and belonging. This is fundamental to the creation of urban environments which are sustainable – not just technically but in human terms as well. (Quality Programme Bo01 1999, p 15) In addition to the palpable similarities between this section of the quality programme and the precedent quotation from one of the interviewees, we here get something of an explanation of how ‘the experience of greenery and water’ can be relevant for attaining ecological

sustainability. Participation and the assumption of responsibility are thought to be made easier by way of a somewhat subconscious sense of belonging. This participation and responsibility might be crucial for residents’ adoption of a more environmentally proper life style, and the mentioned sense of belonging would thus refer to the relations between people and nature. A sense of belonging to the whole ecosystem (that is Nature) might in this way ensue. Now, this reasoning may seem pretty much divorced from reality. Anyway, this assumed healthy potential of the green structure and the water is thought to, albeit subconsciously, entail changes within people. As mentioned in the introduction, such a change, as well as the emergence of more ‘belonging’ relations between people and nature, are primary strains in environmentalism. Many environmentalists, and notably the so called deep green ecologists, put forward the importance of an ecocentric view of the world (Des Jardins 2001:10). This ecocentric view is to be contrasted with the more traditional anthropocentric outlook represented by ecological modernisation. It is interesting that, in the quality programme of Bo01, there’s this element of ecocentrism within a document which otherwise could be described as something of a textbook example of ecological modernisation. CONCLUDING DISCUSSION: COMPLETION OR CONTRADICTION? Some readers may think that my analysis above is somewhat far-fetched, especially my comparison between the statements in the quality programme and the so called ecocentric outlook typically present among deep ecologists. Indeed, I’ve even over-simplified some things; there are, for instance, energy saving measures like individual measurement and IT – measures which entirely depend on meaningful and rational actions, on the part of the residents, for their functioning as energy savers. However, my aim with these examples from Bo01 and the Western Harbour has been merely to supply the readers with some empirical illustrations making my main argument in this paper more tangible. Let us now return to the stated question at the end of the introduction of this paper. In what way can these two approaches complement each other and, conversely, in what way are they mutually exclusive? To begin with, one contradiction is apparent between the two approaches mentioned at the beginning of this paper: In the first mentioned approach technological development is believed to make the necessarily continuos economic growth better adapted to the environment, while in the second approach economic growth itself constitutes the main cause to the environmental problems. Here a contradiction is evident; there’s no way making these mutually exclusive beliefs merge or adapt to each other. A logical contradiction is here to hand. But this truth is on a very general and, if you like, ideological level. Let’s instead take a look at the contradiction(?) between the focus on technological and infrastructural change and the focus on changes within people, that is between the ecological modernisation approach and the environmentalist approach. When I’ve been presenting my research in front of my sociologist colleagues, I’ve been confronted with this objection: If a new district is planned and built in such a way that the infrastructure and technology sort of ‘takes care’ of the ecology, why then bother trying to make the residents change their life style? This objection has seemed to me as a quite reasonable question. We have seen that demand controlled ventilation, for instance, works without any conscious intervention on the part of the residents. The energy savings that might result from the activity of demand controlled ventilation can be made without any change in life style whatsoever. In fact, demand controlled ventilation makes it easier for the resident to maintain living an excessive way of life and yet making energy savings, thanks to the demand controlled ventilation! Conversely, in the case of individual measurement, no energy savings can appear without any active involvement from the resident(s). The information which

constitute the measure of individual measurement is likely to have some impact on the resident’s awareness regarding his/her own energy use. Thus, individual measurement may entail minor changes within people. Accordingly, individual measurement can be regarded as a behavioural changing measure, and thus as an instance of a slightly environmentalist approach to the attainment of ecological sustainability. Even though these two measures might be contradictory in a strictly logical sense, that is concerning their respective way of functioning or (if you like) their ‘idea’, there’s no actual contradiction between them. The ‘informative’ and behavioural changing measure and the wholly technological measure really complement each other! The workings of one of these energy saving measures doesn’t affect the workings of the other measure. The same holds for the assumed impact of the greenery and water on the consciousness of the residents: This ‘deep green ecologist’ approach is not at all negatively affected by the fact that newly developed technological solutions have been applied in the district. So a final solution might be stated like this: The contradiction, to which the title of this paper hints, simply is not to hand! You could very well share an ecocentric outlook and yet make use of the modern, technological installations frequently applied in the Western Harbour of Malmö. This may seem self-evident to many readers, but personally I have to admit that I’ve been sort of enlightened during the writing of this paper. Perhaps one should let philosophy be just philosophy, and not try to analyse the concrete reality in the light of such abstract lines of thought… REFERENCES J.R. Des Jardins. 2001. Environmental Ethics. An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont (CA). P. Dickens. 1992. Society and Nature: Toward a Green Social Theory. Temple University Press, Philadelphia. M. Klintman. 2000. Nature and the Social Sciences. Examples from the Electricity and Waste Sectors. (Lund Dissertations in Sociology 32) Lund University, Lund. A. Nilsson. 2001. Analysis of Energy Efficient and Sustainable Buildings at Bo01 – First Study. In: Construction Economics and Organization. Proceedings of the 2:nd Nordic Conference on Construction Economics and Organization 24-25 April 2001, Gothenburg, Sweden, (J. Bröchner, P.-E. Josephson and B. Larsson, editors). pp. 91-97. Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg. Quality Programme Bo01. 1999. Bo01, the City of Malmö and the developers’ representatives, Malmö. A. Sayer. 1979. Epistemology and Conceptions of People and Nature in Geography. Geoforum, 10, pp. 19-43. S. Wandén. 1997. Miljö, livsstil och samhälle. En systemanalys av miljöproblemen. Nerenius & Santérus Förlag, Stockholm