Sustainability Research, Reviews and Signposting
Reflection on Buttel et al, From Limits to Growth to Global change (1990)
This is a paper that compares and contrasts two dominant debates in environmental science and ideology, those highlighted in the title. The author group’s main aim was both lofty and necessary, nothing less than assessing the current and future course of modern environmentalism through a critical review of GEC as a framing mechanism or global framework.
Limits to Growth (LTG) and Global Change (or global environmental change, GEC) are strikingly similar in many important ways, but quite different especially when it comes to their socioeconomic contexts.
LTG, whilst ground breaking and broad-scope, greatly challenged conventional wisdom with its recommendations for solutions to global environmental problems. And it was a spectacular failure in the public eye.
This is not surprising, although unfortunate, because their arguments seem to have been presented in a way that was far too controversial. The upside was that these issues were even raised at all and given as much attention as they were. LTG can almost be seen as a testing bed for critical issues and recommendations for solutions. Their main similarities included:
Fortunately, despite the similarities in their methodologies and findings, GEC succeeded in just the ways that LTG failed. Their main differences included:
It strikes me that the arguments for GEC were developed and presented far more subtly and sensitively. They appreciate and attend to the needs of a modern world and seem more responsive to the realities of political, social and economic contexts. Turner et al offer the following list of reasons why GEC may have gained prominence:
All in all, the arguments posed by Global Environmental Change are a brilliant agglomeration of science, policy, economics, sociology and psychology on a mass scale, capitalising on timing, cause and effect.
With the exception of one or two, nearly all of the potential issues raised as disadvantages to the GEC notion as a” framework for environmental action” are for me almost non-issues today. The only things I think that are real issues are political double-dealing and distributional consequence. The former is practically a non-issue with those of us concerned with real change and less concerned with espousing a perfect ideological perspective/world-view. Unfortunately the real world is a messy place full of compromise. The latter remains a problem and continues to be addressed to this day by the international community.