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

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4.3.3 Pipe dreams?

The idea underlying complementary currencies – that there is a great well of social capital waiting to be drawn upon to make society more sustainable – is an idea that is becoming quietly influential. ‘Social capital’ is a term frequently used by those mainstream politicians and civil servants tasked with addressing the widening gap between rich and poor people within societies throughout the world. Indeed, investing in and enhancing social capital is now the starting point in many sustainability projects in less-developed countries. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that such ideas are anything other than marginal in policy making.

Ecological tax reform proposals are a different matter. They have also shown their capacity to cross over from rambling conversations in Green Party meetings and rock festival fringe events to become the subject of mainstream political debate. Scandinavian and German governments have taken steps in this direction, and major institutions within the EU promote aspects of this approach. Whether it is road pricing or tax on waste going to landfill, the principle of polluter pays is now a well-established means of raising revenues and signalling the need for a change in behaviour. However, note that incomplete or poorly integrated policies may undermine the principle in the public's mind. For example, measures to firm up waste policies in the UK (Landfill Tax) were compromised in the short term by a massive growth in fly tipping and the appearance of ‘fridge mountains’.

It may be a mistake to think of the arguments of those promoting a radical break with globalising capitalism as being a diametrically opposed alternative. Rather, the ideas the radicals have been generating may be a laboratory of raw but inspiring ideas that have worked in a few specific places. Some of these may be adapted and applied by mainstream policy communities in ‘the world as it is’. Nevertheless, many have felt the need to work harder to connect radical ideas to real world settings; to engage in some uncomfortable bargains that might deliver at least some progress in the near term.