Chapter 5: Society as Governance? Social Attitudes and Consumer Demand
When corporations, households, communities, and farmers take [environmental] measures it is not because governments are breathing down their necks. They are pursuing environmentally sound practices because they are aware of the severity of environmental problems and want to contribute to alleviating such dangers. They are being ‘stung’, as it were, by an ecological sensibility. This sting is a type of governance. It represents a mechanism of authority that is able to shape human behavior. (Wapner, 1996: 64–65) INTRODUCTION A central finding of Chapter 4 was the relative ineffectiveness, or at least uncertainty, of market mechanisms as a determinant of consumer behavior. While the argument is often made that prices must be altered to reflect the true costs imposed on the environment arising from economic activity, the data presented demonstrated that market mechanisms do not have the effects postulated: they are neither associated with reduced fuel consumption, nor distance travelled, and therefore cannot be said to (indirectly) affect firms’ strategies. But what if state intervention is less important than a society-led shift in market forces? If, as Held (2006) has stressed, environmental problems such as climate change are one of the most pressing collective action issues of our time, requiring diffused authority to address them successfully, including a role for non-state actors, what can we expect of society? And how does social environmental concern get transmitted to those who can do something about it, particularly the most important non-state actors that can have an impact on finding solutions: firms, especially...
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