Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development
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Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development

Moving Beyond the Impasse

Edited by James Meadowcroft, Oluf Langhelle and Audun Ruud

The contributors explore the difficulties developed countries are experiencing in coming to terms with environmental limits and the resultant challenges to the democratic polity. They engage with different dimensions of the governance challenge including norms, public attitudes, citizen engagement, political conflict, policy design, and implementation, and with a range of environmental problems such as climate change, biodiversity/nature protection, and water management. The book concludes with an essay by William Lafferty that explores the flawed character of the contemporary democratic polity and offers his reflections on possible pathways to reform.
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Chapter 7: Moving beyond the impasse: climate change activism in the US and the EU

Elizabeth Bomberg


This volume is dedicated to William Lafferty’s work on democracy and sustainable development governance. It pays particular attention to Lafferty’s desire to move beyond the impasse and to discover ways to enact effective environmental policy. This chapter seeks to engage with this theme by examining environmental activism (defined here as concerted, active engagement with an environmental issue or campaign intended to bring about political or social change) in two liberal pluralist democracies: the United States (US) and the European Union (EU). The chapter compares how societal actors–mainly environmental NGOs but also other actors engaged with environmental themes–have responded to the challenges presented by climate change and the governance issues it raises. In particular it seeks to identify the institutional constraints blocking effective mobilization and activists’ efforts to overcome them. The impetus for a focus on activism arises in great part from questions raised by Lafferty and his colleagues’ work on democracy and sustainable development governance (Lafferty 1996; 2004a; 2004b; 2004c; Lundquist 2004; Meadowcroft 2004). Following Lafferty, the term governance is defined here as established patterns of rules and norms steering a polity in a stipulated direction. Lafferty suggests that some of the greatest challenges of modern governance are related to the nature of contemporary democracy itself. He is concerned above all with how democratic values and democratic decision-making can be maintained while pursuing a goal (such as sustainable development) characterized by compelling urgency, devilish complexity and long-term commitment (Lafferty 2004b, p. 20ff). I suggest here the same imperatives apply to the challenge of climate change and efforts to address it. More generally I argue that insights from Lafferty’s study of sustainable development governance–especially its transformative character–can help us probe challenges and prospects of climate change governance.

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