Ecological modernization is an optimistic, reform-oriented environmental
discourseand school of environmental social science that has gained increasing attention among scholars and policymakers in the last several decades in Europe, North America, Japan, and elsewhere (Hajer, 1995; Redclift and Woodgate, 1997; Mol, 2001; Dickens, 2004).
Proponents of ecological modernization assert that it is desirable and sometimes possible for societies to develop both economically and socially and at the same time conserve the environment. It is suggested that some improvements can be achieved through technological advances that help to reduce the consumption of resources via increasing efficiency (i.e. pollution prevention,
wastereduction), typically by taking externalities from one economic production process and using them as raw material inputs for another (Christoff, 1996). Industrial ecologyis frequently cited as a good example. The theory has also been linked with sustainability (see the more familiar expression 'ecologically sustainable development'). A frequently used phrasein the ecological modernization literature is 'cradle to cradle' manufacturing, contrasted against the usual 'crade to grave' forms of manufacturing - where waste is not re-integrated back into the production process. A more recent development in the ecological modernization literature has been the emergence of civil societyas a key agent of change (Fisher and Freudenburg, 2001). So called 'bridging' technologies in the sustainability transition such as hybrid carsare also regarded as emblematic of ecological modernization.
strategyof change, some forms of ecological modernization may be favored by businessinterests because they seemingly meet the triple bottom line of economics, society and environment that is held underpin sustainability, yet do not challenge free marketprinciples. This contrasts with many environmental movementperspectives, which regard free tradeand its notion of business self-regulation as part of the problem, or even origin of environmental degradation. Under ecological modernization, the stateis seen in a variety of roles and capacities: as the enabler for markets that help produce the technological advances via competition; as the regulatory (see regulation) medium through which corporations are forced to 'take back' their various wastes and re-integrate them in some manner into the production of new goods and services (e.g. the way that car corporations in Germany are required to accept back cars they manufactured once those vehicles have reached the end of their product lifespan); and in some cases as an institution that is incapable of addressing critical local, national, and global environmental problems. In the latter case, ecological modernization shares with Ulrich Beck(1999, 37-40) and others notions of the necessity of emergence of new forms of environmental governance, sometimes referred to as subpoliticsor political modernization, where the environmental movement, community groups, businesses, and other stakeholders increasingly take on direct and leadership roles in stimulating environmental transformation. Political modernization of this sort requires certain supporting norms and institutions such as a free, independent, or at least critical press, basic human rightsof expression, organization, and assembly, etc. New mediasuch as the Internetgreatly facilitate this.
Critics argue that ecological modernization will fail to protect the environment and does nothing to alter the impulses within the capitalist economic mode of production (see
capitalism) that inevitably lead to environmental degradation (Foster, 2002). As such, it is just a form of ' green-washing'. Critics question whether technological advances alone can achieve resource conservation and better environmental protection, particularly if left to business self-regulationpractices (York and Rosa, 2003). For instance, many technological improvements are currently feasible but not widely utilized. The most environmentally friendlyproduct or manufacturing process (which is often also the most economically efficient) is not always the one automatically chosen by self-regulating corporations (e.g. hydrogenor biofuelvs. peak oil). In addition, some critics have argued that ecological modernization does not redress gross injusticesthat are produced within the capitalist system, such as environmental racism- where people of colorand low income earners bear a disproportionate burden of environmental harm such as pollution, and lack access to environmental benefits (see nature's services) such as parks, and social justiceissues such as eliminating unemployment(Bullard, 1993; Gleeson and Low, 1999; Harvey, 1996). Moreover, the theory seems to have limited global efficacy, applying primarily to its countries of origin - Germanyand the Netherlands, and having little to say about the developing world(Fisher and Freudenburg, 2001). Perhaps the harshest criticism though, is that ecological modernization is predicated upon the notion of 'sustainable growth', and in reality this is not possible because growth entails the consumptionof natural and human capital at great costs to ecosystems and societies.
Ecological modernization, its effectiveness and applicability, strengths and limitations, remains a dynamic and contentious area of environmental social science research and policy discourse in the early 21st century.
*Bullard, R., (ed.) 1993, "Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots", Boston, South End Press.
*Beck, U., 1999, "World Risk Society", Cambridge, UK, Polity Press, ISBN 0-7456-2221-6.
*Christoff, P., 1996, "Ecological modernisation, ecological modernities", "Environmental Politics", 5(3), pp. 476-500.
*Dickens, P. 2004, "Society & Nature: Changing Our Environment, Changing Ourselves", Cambridge, UK, Polity, ISBN 0-7456-2796-X.
*Fisher, D.R., and Freudenburg, W.R., 2001, " [http://www.es.ucsb.edu/faculty/freudenburg_pdf%27s/FisherFreudSNR01.pdf Ecological modernization and its critics: Assessing the past and looking toward the future] ", "Society and Natural Resources", 14, pp. 701-709.
*Foster, J.B., 2002, "Ecology Against Capitalism", New York, Monthly Review Press.
*Gleeson, B. and Low, N. (eds.) 1999, "Global Ethics and Environment", London, Routledge.
*Hajer, M.A., 1995, "The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process", Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198279698.
*Harvey, D., 1996, "Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference", Malden, Ma., Blackwell, p. 377-402.
*Mol, A.P.J., 2001, "Globalization and Environmental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy", Cambridge, Ma., MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-13395-4.
*Redclift, M., and Woodgate, G. (eds.) 1997, "The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology", Chletenham, UK, Edward Elgar, ISBN 1-85898-405-X.
*York, R., and Rose, E.A., 2003, "Key challenges to ecological modernization theory", "Organization and Environment", 16(3), pp. 273-288.
*Young, S.C., 2000, "The Emergence of Ecological Modernisation: Integrating the Environment and the Economy?", London, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-14173-7.
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