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Climate change: transitions to sustainability
Climate change: transitions to sustainability

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2.2 Vibrant civil societies and a networked globe

One thing is common to all three attempts to find a route to a sustainable economy and society: in different ways they all assume that people will get actively involved in making human societies more sustainable. But this transformation will not take place through the corporate world's promises, by local protectionism, a return to ‘strong states’ or the publication of numerous indicators. Any of the three positions outlined above requires interactions and feedbacks created by a vibrant civil society. ‘Civil society’ is the term long given to the web of institutions created by citizens. They all lie beyond the state, yet have the power to influence it and other institutions such as global corporations. Stakeholder involvement in improving business decisions, environmental protest, citizens' petitions and ‘green’ consumer demands are all reflections of this.

It is only possible to conceive of civil society being able to react to and cope with the problems of global environmental change because we live in an increasingly networked world. The networked planet is a place where business is under constant surveillance, where NGOs can afford to organise and share information instantly, and where learning and debate can take place beyond the constraints of place and time. Keep these points about a vibrant civil society and global networks in mind as you progress through the rest of this section and the associated activities.

  • Define ‘voluntarism’ in the context of business learns.

  • Voluntarism is the process whereby business chooses of its own accord to pursue the integration of environmental and social goals within their practices, without intervention by the state.

  • What are two of the main alternatives to globalisation proposed by radical breaks?

  • The revival of state power to regulate the activity of powerful corporations, and the nurturing of vibrant local economies, in part through protectionism.

  • What is the intellectual heritage of sustainability steps?

  • Their approach to accepting, but attempting to reform, economic globalisation is inherited from the social democratic tradition. From the late 19th century onwards a reformist route in politics was sought, whether in relation to extending the right to vote, or improving welfare and living or working conditions.

Do you recognise yourself in any of these roughly sketched positions? You will think more about this in the final activity in this section but, whatever your view, you have to be able to outline ways in which socio-political change can come about to have any confidence in the future. The rest of this section is all about these processes. The next section outlines changes in the nature of decision making that global environmental change and sustainability demand. The penultimate section gives examples of ways in which the three positions sketched here can be translated into meaningful progress towards sustainability. The conclusion notes that no transition to sustainability can take place without communication and debate, and focuses on the role of web media.