What Next for Sustainable Development?
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What Next for Sustainable Development?

Our Common Future at Thirty

Edited by James Meadowcroft, David Banister, Erling Holden, Oluf Langhelle, Kristin Linnerud and Geoffrey Gilpin

This book examines the international experience with sustainable development since the concept was brought to world-wide attention in Our Common Future, the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds engage with three critical themes: negotiating environmental limits; equity, environment and development; and transitions and transformations. In light of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, they ask what lies ahead for sustainable development.
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Chapter 12: Sustainability and the politics of transformations: from control to care in moving beyond modernity

Andy Stirling


Contemporary environmental debates reverberate with talk of a new ‘Anthropocene epoch’, strictly defined by human domination. The catastrophic threats we face are said to require a ‘great transition’ towards ‘planetary management’. Under growing environmental authoritarianism, democracy is increasingly cast as a failure, a luxury, or even an enemy of nature. Scientific and policy knowledges are becoming increasingly imprinted by preoccupations of incumbent power with rhetorics of control. Under this growing political mood, there seems ‘no alternative’ but compliance, or irrational denial and existential doom. Yet there are alternative ways to address the gravity of current ecological and social imperatives. Democratic struggle is the principal means by which knowledges and practices of sustainability were shaped in the first place. The author argues that concentrated power and fallacies of control are more problems than solutions. History shows the greatest ongoing forms of transformative progress owe more to plural knowledges and values and unruly, hope-inspired agonistic contention, than to single orderly technical ‘transitions’ based on science or structured control. The most effective modes for radical change often lie in spontaneous collective bottom-up ‘culturings’ of both knowing and doing together. Real hope of radically progressive social transformation may lie more in the mutualities of caring, than in the hierarchies of control. Among the greatest obstacles to this, are ideologies of technocratic transition.

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