The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice

The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice

Michael Maniates
John M. Meyer
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice
    Book Description:

    The idea of sacrifice is the unspoken issue of environmental politics. Politicians, the media, and many environmentalists assume that well-off populations won't make sacrifices now for future environmental benefits and won't change their patterns and perceptions of consumption to make ecological room for the world's three billion or so poor eager to improve their standard of living. The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice challenges these assumptions, arguing that they limit our policy options, weaken our ability to imagine bold action for change, and blind us to the ways sacrifice already figures in everyday life. The concept of sacrifice has been curiously unexamined in both activist and academic conversations about environmental politics, and this book is the first to confront it directly. The chapters bring a variety of disciplinary perspectives to the topic. Contributors offer alternatives to the conventional wisdom on sacrifice; identify connections between sacrifice and human fulfillment in everyday life, finding such concrete examples as parents' sacrifices in raising children, religious practice, artists' pursuit of their art, and soldiers and policemen who risk their lives to do their jobs; and examine particular policies and practices that shape our understanding of environmental problems, including the carbon tax, incentives for cyclists, and the perils of green consumption. The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice puts "sacrifice" firmly into the conversation about effective environmental politics and policies, insisting that activists and scholars do more than change the subject when the idea is introduced.Contributors: Peter Cannavò, Shane Gunster, Cheryl Hall, Karen Litfin, Michael Maniates, John M. Meyer, Simon Nicholson, Anna Peterson, Thomas Princen, Sudhir Chella Rajan, Paul Wapner, Justin WilliamsThe hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28960-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Must We Sacrifice?: Confronting the Politics of Sacrifice in an Ecologically Full World
    (pp. 1-8)
    John M. Meyer and Michael Maniates

    Addressing climate change will require citizens of wealthy consumer societies to sacrifice. But that’s never going to happen.

    While this statement is imagined, the sentiment it conveys is not. Discussion about how to avoid the worst risks of climate change—through radical reductions of the carbon emissions of the world’s wealthy—often leads to easy pronouncements and conclusions about the unavoidable centrality yet political impossibility of “sacrifice.” And it’s not just climate change. Similar sentiments bubble up, in academic literature and kitchen-table talk, around any number of environmental challenges: peak oil, species extinction, and pressures on planetary resources from growing...

  5. I Asking the Right Questions
    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 9-12)

      Critical environmental systems are faltering under the strain of expanding human consumption. Cheap oil, and other previously abundant resources, are thought to be “peaking.” China, India, and other large, poor countries are climbing aboard the consumer bandwagon. Appropriately alarmed, many argue that now is the time to persuade (or even force) people to sacrifice—that is, to give up what they want (and perhaps deserve) in the name of “environmental sustainability.” Others scoff at such notions. They emphasize the political impossibility of asking the rich or the poor to do with less, and instead vest faith in new technologies that...

    • 2 A Democratic Politics of Sacrifice?
      (pp. 13-32)
      John M. Meyer

      Must citizens of wealthy consumer societies sacrifice to avert the worst consequences of climate change and achieve environmental sustainability? Many environmentalists suppose that considerable sacrifice is necessary but that it is unlikely to be achieved because these citizens are too self-satisfied, apathetic, or ignorant to change willingly. By contrast, other environmentalists reject the notion that sacrifices are necessary, asserting that new technologies can enable us to achieve a sustainable society painlessly. It might appear that these opposing positions represent the full range of possible answers to the question. In fact, these positions share commonplace—yet misguided—assumptions about self-interest and...

    • 3 Sacrifice in an Age of Comfort
      (pp. 33-60)
      Paul Wapner

      Environmentalism has long preached sacrifice. Since its inception, it has counseled a type of restraint that requires foregoing certain immediate pleasures for the higher goal of ecological well-being. Environmentalism tells us, for instance, to reduce our ecological footprint, restrict the depth of our interventions into the natural world, and generally hold ourselves back from living out all our materialist desires in the interest of environmental protection. Environmentalism advocates such sacrifice for both individuals and collectivities. Individually, we can do our part by minimizing the amount of resources we use and waste we produce; collectively, we can implement policies that privilege...

    • 4 Freedom, Values, and Sacrifice: Overcoming Obstacles to Environmentally Sustainable Behavior
      (pp. 61-86)
      Cheryl Hall

      Absent some tremendous technological fix, it seems clear that achieving global environmental sustainability will require significant reductions in current levels of material throughput, particularly by citizens in advanced industrialized states. Yet calling on people to sacrifice consumption seems doomed to fail: people don’t like to sacrifice, and they won’t do it willingly. And if this is the case, then it seems there will eventually be only two alternatives: either environmental devastation or authoritarian control.¹ But not all is as it seems. In this chapter, I contend that while sacrifice is, by definition, never easy, in fact people only ever do...

  6. II Seeing Sacrifice in Everyday Life
    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 87-90)

      At some point, moving forward on a complicated task means seeing the bigger picture. Commanders of armies methodically assess multiple arenas of conflict before redeploying their forces. Perceptive entrepreneurs gauge market conditions and the capabilities of their competitors before making new investments. Successful professors and students recall the broad goals of the course they’re sharing before setting to work devising or completing a pivotal classroom assignment. Addressing problems in effective, imaginative ways demands a panoramic view capable of seeing into the shadows. It’s true, as part I argues, that asking the right questions is important. But it isn’t enough. Seeing...

    • 5 Ordinary and Extraordinary Sacrifices: Religion, Everyday Life, and Environmental Practice
      (pp. 91-116)
      Anna Peterson

      Especially in relation to environmental problems, many people view sacrifice as an extreme demand that bears little connection to everyday experience. In some significant aspects of our lives, however, sacrifice is frequent, mundane, and even taken for granted. The disjuncture stems from the fact that sacrifices take many forms, which vary by context, content, and intention. However, a similar logic undergirds both ordinary and extraordinary sacrifices, insofar as in both cases, people relinquish something valuable for other things considered to be more valuable still. In extraordinary sacrifices, the value of what is being given and what is being gained is...

    • 6 The Sacred and the Profane in the Ecological Politics of Sacrifice
      (pp. 117-144)
      Karen Litfin

      If progress is synonymous with increased consumption of goods, does ecological sustainability entail the end of progress? “We’ll all have to make personal sacrifices,” we often hear, which, given the equation of progress with material accumulation, can only be heard as a gloomy prognosis. But what if our culture’s concept of sacrifice is upside down? What if, rather than being a painful exercise in self-abnegation, sacrifice is actually “a celebration of consumption and being consumed?”¹ What if, rather than being either a superstitious act of futility or a heroic act of altruism, sacrifice is understood as a fundamental law of...

    • 7 Consumer Sovereignty, Heroic Sacrifice: Two Insidious Concepts in an Endlessly Expansionist Economy
      (pp. 145-164)
      Thomas Princen

      The three big drivers of environmental change have long been framed as population, technology, and consumption, each with its own set of drivers. Since consumption has finally begun to get its share of the attention, it might be time to ask what drives consumption and, in particular,over-consumption; that is, what underlies the current patterns of excess throughput of material and energy, irreversible biophysical change, and permanent diminution of ecosystem services? As with population and technology, the list can get long very quickly—materialism, commercialism, commodification, and marketing, for instance. Here, though, I focus on the rhetoric of a consumer...

    • 8 Parental Sacrifice as Atonement for Future Climate Change
      (pp. 165-184)
      Sudhir Chella Rajan

      During the past year or two, largely because of my involvement with a popular book on climate change,¹ I have had some modest public exposure in the form of reading events and talks at bookstores, radio shows, and community libraries. The book itself stands out from the rest of the crop of recent titles on the subject mainly in that it emphasizes the impossibility of being able to rely on technology alone to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to avoid what many are termingrunaway warming. My coauthors, Mayer Hillman and Tina Fawcett, and I argue that only with a combination...

  7. III Obstacles and Opportunities
    • [III Introduction]
      (pp. 185-186)

      Where might opportunities lie for applying a more creative perspective on sacrifice to environmental affairs? How might these opportunities best be developed? What obstacles or lessons do efforts to highlight or hide sacrifice reveal? And what does all this say about how scholars, activists, students, and citizens might best proceed?

      Questions like these are best addressed by teasing apart a distinct set of environmental practices or policies, all the while watchful for dynamics of sacrifice. This is the task that the authors of part III have set for themselves. Not merely case studies, these chapters show how sacrifice becomes structured...

    • 9 Self-Interest, Sacrifice, and Climate Change: (Re-)Framing the British Columbia Carbon Tax
      (pp. 187-216)
      Shane Gunster

      On May 12, 2009, Liberal Party leader Gordon Campbell was reelected for an impressive third consecutive term as premier of British Columbia (BC). Environmentalists from Canada and elsewhere were quick to celebrate his victory as evidence of popular support for Campbell’s controversial introduction of a broad-based, “revenue-neutral” carbon tax, the first of its kind in North America. Less than six months earlier, the federal Liberal Party under Stephane Dion (which is distinct in philosophy, organization, and party membership from the provincial Liberals) had a disastrous experience in the national election after running a campaign based on an ambitious proposal to...

    • 10 Civic Virtue and Sacrifice in a Suburban Nation
      (pp. 217-246)
      Peter F. Cannavò

      The United States is now a suburban nation. In 1910, 7.1 percent of the nation’s population lived in the suburbs. By 2000, that share had grown to 50 percent. About 62 percent of metropolitan area residents live in the suburbs, up from 25 percent in 1910.¹ Suburban historian Kenneth Jackson defines “suburbanization as a process involving the systematic growth of fringe areas at a pace more rapid than that of core cities, as a lifestyle involving a daily commute to jobs in the center.”² He dates the beginnings of this process back to roughly 1815.

      Suburbanization is not unique to...

    • 11 Bikes, Sticks, Carrots
      (pp. 247-270)
      Justin Williams

      Frequently, the idea of mass bicycling is met with a skepticism that approaches ridicule: “People aren’t going to give up their cars. They are just too lazy and too attached to them.” Although many people undoubtedly herald the bicycle as a solution to environmental problems, enthusiasm for a transportation revolution is tempered by a cynicism rooted in the belief that people prefer to drive: “That’s nice; everyone should ride bikes. But nobody will ride their bikes as long as they can drive.” If one subscribes to this belief, voluntary sacrifice appears impossible; Draconian policies or “the end of oil” remain...

    • 12 Intelligent Design?: Unpacking Geoengineering’s Hidden Sacrifices
      (pp. 271-292)
      Simon Nicholson

      In early 2006, Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winner for his work on the chemistry of stratospheric ozone depletion, made a provocative foray into another arena of atmospheric science with a widely read lead article in the journalClimatic Change.² Crutzen began his article not in the detached voice one might expect of a venerated scientist; rather, he opened with a strong, impassioned dig at mainstream environmental action. The political processes and calls for social change that are at the heart of the global response to climate change have, he suggested, been “grossly unsuccessful.”³ While policy makers and the public...

    • 13 Struggling with Sacrifice: Take Back Your Time and
      (pp. 293-312)
      Michael Maniates

      Over the past year, I’ve received at least a dozen emails from friends, colleagues, and students about “The New American Dream Wallet Buddy.” “Just the thing to keep us focused on making a difference,” says one email correspondent. “If everyone were to download and use this,” shares another, “we’d be on our way to real environmental sustainability.” “A great way to get regular people energized about environmental issues,” offered a third. With endorsements like those, I couldn’t resist. Off to the Web I went.

      What I found was a colorful, printable guide¹ on “how to make a difference,” courtesy of...

    • 14 Conclusion: Sacrifice and a New Environmental Politics
      (pp. 313-320)
      Michael Maniates and John M. Meyer

      Given the choice, we wouldn’t have produced a book aboutsacrificein environmental politics. The term is a minefield. It’s understood in several competing ways and lived in many others: positive for some, negative for others, sometimes affirming and democratic, but often hidden and forced. In part, it is this conceptual slipperiness that makes sacrifice such a charged notion for those who would pursue political change in service of environmental sustainability. As authors, it’s easiest to build our arguments and analyses on stable terms and agreed-on concepts.Sacrificeis anything but that.

      Yet here we are, at the end of...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 321-322)
  9. Index
    (pp. 323-344)