Moving Beyond the Impasse
Edited by James Meadowcroft, Oluf Langhelle and Audun Ruud
Chapter 13: Pushing the boundaries: governance for sustainable development and a politics of limits
This chapter is concerned with ideas about limits and their centrality to sustainable development. It explores the possibility of constructing a ‘politics of limits’–a political orientation that sets environmental limits at the core of societal deliberation and action. The suggestion is that while sustainable development cannot be reduced to a politics of limits, the successful emergence of such a political orientation is necessary to break the impasse that currently bedevils efforts to achieve a more consequent engagement with sustainability. Yet even as a ‘politics of limits’ appears essential, it is also problematic. And this also requires consideration. The discussion is organized into five sections that examine: the place of limits in arguments over the environment and sustainable development; contemporary interest in environmental limits; limits and politics more generally; the construction of a new ‘politics of limits’; and, finally, some difficulties associated with this approach. Limits have always played a role in environmental argument. In the most obvious sense environmental pressures become apparent as specific thresholds are passed: with excess hunting, game becomes scarce; as more sewage is dumped into a river, the water becomes unsafe to drink; and as pollutants from fossil fuel combustion increase, so urban air quality declines. Moreover, solutions to environmental problems typically involve the collective enforcement of limits: restricting hunting; regulating the discharge of waste to water; curtailing smokestack emissions; and so on.
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