The Transition to Sustainable Living and Practice (Advances in Ecopolitics)

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Each edition collates fresh contributions from international contributors who examine a common theme from the world of ecopolitics.

Focusing attention on climate change, sustainable development and green lifestyles, each paper explores these salient ecological concepts with an underlying vigour. Subscribers to Emerald Online Subject Collections will automatically gain access to various new and existing titles including Advances in Ecopolitics.

Elsevier launches new journal on environmental sustainability - 11 Sep More than forty internationally-recognised experts will serve on the Editorial Board. Available on ScienceDirect from September , Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability aims to address all the scientific, economic, social, technological and institutional aspects related to the challenge of environmental sustainability by focusing on integration across academic disciplines and insights with implications for societal practices and processes.

Leonard is an experienced writer, publisher and higher education lecturer in both the Irish Institute of Technology and University sectors. He has published ten books and numerous peer reviewed journal articles on environmental issues, and has been guest editor publications such as of the Irish Journal of Sociology and the Environmental Politics Journal , in addition to holding the post of Senior Editor of the Advances in Ecopolitics Series with Emerald Group Publishing UK.

Leonard is a regular speaker at national and international conferences on environmental issues, and has organised conferences and workshops on sustainability and justice issues in a number of universities and colleges in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Leonard, L. Advances in Ecopolitics 8. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Home Act: Inspiration. As mentioned in the previous section, the Transition movement presents itself as very positive, fun, and non-confrontational. At the same time, it is essential that the movement is self-reflective about its strategies for change, because it hardly has energy and resources to waste. This raises the question: To what extent can the Transition movement avoid the pain, hardship, and conflict historically associated with significant social movements e.

After all, vested interests in the status quo are almost certainly going to try to maintain the status quo, suggesting that the ambitious goals of the Transition movement including decarbonisation, relocalisation and building a new economy are probably going to confront, or are confronting, hard political opposition from enormously powerful political and economic forces. To paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche: they who have a why to live, can bear almost any how.

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It is almost certain that peak oil and climate change are going have varying impacts depending on space, time, and class, and this suggests that the ideal of relocalisation may not be directly or equally applicable to everyone Bailey et al, ; North, Indeed, it is becoming increasingly evident that some places and people will be more affected than others and more or less capable of adapting Paavola and Adger, ; Barnett and Campbell, Sarkar, More specifically, if the movement grows enough food itself and sets up farmers markets and community gardens, can it eventually undermine industrial agriculture?

If the movement develops alternative currencies, can it undermine global finance? If it creates more cooperative business ventures, can it undermine corporate capitalism? If it creates more decentralised, small, local-scale renewable energy projects, can it make coal companies irrelevant and change energy planning and policy? Is localisation of production and consumption the best way to achieve a more sustainable and equitable future?

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Or, on the other hand, does the movement need to take state power, or more directly challenge state power, through civil disobedience, parliamentarian lobbying, progressive voting, or even violent revolution? These are very complex issues, and opinions differ vastly on the question. Much can be said in support of this approach.

In a neoliberal era, waiting for governments to do something may not be useful perhaps even wasteful or harmful , so a case can be made that communities should do things themselves and lead by practical example using the resources they have at the local scale. From a bottom-up localisation perspective, these series of small steps at the individual and community levels could have a cumulative effect and lead to bigger structural change Alexander, However coherent this strategy may be, there are also potentially significant limitations with this as a theory of change.

Similarly, there is no guarantee that building resilience to shocks like climate change, peak oil and economic crisis at a small scale will create similar resilience at a bigger scale James, a: In fact, looking at the literature on resilience, this assumption does not seem warranted, since complex adaptive systems like most socio-ecological landscapes tend to function in a non-linear and unpredictable fashion see Holling et al , ; Folke, ; Walker and Salt, ; Miller et al, The local can often be reified and romanticised; it can be a way to construct places in an isolationist way, as if they could be cut off from the rest of the world.

In this case, the local can become synonymous of autarky and protectionism leading to practices of exclusion Mason and Whitehead, This conceptualisation of the local often goes hand in hand with the assumption that local communities are homogenous and free of conflict or inequalities which is problematic Featherstone et al , However, we would argue that these features do not flow necessarily from localisation as a strategy for change.

The Transition movement, however, still has some way to go to reach more progressive forms of localism. While the Transition Companion spells out that localisation is not self-sufficiency, insularity or dominance by local powerful actors Hopkins, , a concern beyond lip service for inequalities within and between communities and places remain largely absent from the strategies proposed by the movement. It generally ignores conflict that inevitably arises between different interests within communities e.

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Another key issue with localisation as a political strategy is that the local does not necessarily constitute the most effective scale to tackle climate change, peak oil or economic instability given how multi-scalar these phenomena are North, and how globalised and interconnected the current system is. Admittedly, the movement is again showing some reflexivity around this issue. It would be fair to say, however, that this aspect of the movement is under-theorised.

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  7. As the previous section suggests, localisation has many positive features but it is not without its challenges and limitations, and alone it is unlikely to bring about the changes required. It would be naive to think that existing structures, organisations and powerful public and private players will just crumble away and be made irrelevant by climate change and the end of cheap oil Connors and MacDonald , ; Seyfang and Haxeltine, This would involve re-centring the political and questioning what sorts of community and socio-ecological relations we want to see in the future.

    In other words, some argue that more direct, anti-systemic challenge is needed; in particular, some political theorists hold that nothing less than taking control of the state for structural transformation and fundamentally changing the rules of the game will get us there in the time frame available.

    Eco-socialist approaches, such as those defended by Sarkar , advocate this.

    Clearly there are clear risks in adopting a reformist approach that is mostly apolitical and brushes aside or gives insufficient attention to sensitive questions of power, state, and structure. Indeed, as with most reformist, non-confrontational approaches, by the time the movement creates enough change to become noticeable, the existing system may already have had time to adapt and simply adjust to that change, or at least give the appearance that it has by adopting particular rhetoric or discourses.

    This has little impact on actual policy and leaves underlying structure, unequal social relations, and hierarchies intact Handmer and Dovers, ; Smith, In other words, reformist movements are easily co-opted into the political mainstream and the Transition movement is no exception, especially because it seems to neglect or underestimate the adaptive capacities of the current system Trapese Collective, ; Trainer, Politically charged projects or those disturbing economic activity can be hindered or blocked by technical and administrative strategies and inertia from governments.

    These lifestyle and political decisions are not made in a vacuum; rather, they are influenced by laws and policies and not addressing those top-down state structures may ensure that the Transition movement remains incidental, marginal, and dependent on the very systems it ostensibly opposes. This leads us to think that the Transition movement needs a stronger political dimension in addition to generating knowledge and practices about how to deal with climate change and peak oil at the community level. Ted Trainer a , on the other hand, envisions a political solution to our current dilemma through anarchism or, using a less loaded term, through grassroots self-organisation and radical, participative democracy.

    Trainer places no hope in the existing political system because he argues that the state will never voluntarily dissolve the structures of growth that drive ecological degradation, therefore individual citizens and communities need to build cultural, social and economic alternatives themselves underneath the current model. For Trainer, capitalism cannot be reformed, it has to be replaced, but not with a centralised eco-socialism, but with self-governing communities who essentially set out to ignore capitalism to death by building the new economy within the shell of the old see also, Holmgren, Overall, there are no silver bullets or miracle recipes to tackle climate change and peak oil but there are synergies between the different approaches, which should be recognised and fostered further.

    Obstacles structural or otherwise that still prevent parts of the community from participating in and benefiting from Transition initiatives also need to be spelt out and tackled. There is no doubt that individual Transition members are already doing some of this see North, ; North and Scott Cato, , for experiences in Liverpool and Stroud and they should be encouraged to do so.

    In the last section, we turn to the question of whether Transition is radical enough. We articulate our critique around two key aspects: the resilience discourse used by the movement and the often timid engagement with consumerism and the macro-economics of growth.

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    Indeed, if sustainability and sustainable development were the buzzwords of the 20 th century, resilience has imposed itself as the dominant discourse when it comes to risk management and change management in the 21 st century Walker and Cooper, ; Zolli and Healy, There is a very large number of definitions and conceptualisations of resilience in the academic literature Walker et al, ; Brand and Jax, ; Miller et al, ; Davoudi, There is no a-political consensus on these questions and the distributional and asymmetrical consequences of these decisions particularly across places like developed and developing countries need to be considered Hornborg, ; Beymer-Farris et al, Smith ; Barr and Wright, Resilience theory does not provide a clear answer to this.

    By presenting crisis as opportunity, resilience thinking is also self-referential and makes itself immune to critique Walker and Cooper, By using resilience thinking and principles, the Transition movement may become an inadvertent ally of this sort of politics and again only engage those who can afford it.

    Overall, resilience does not tend to address normative questions of power, inequalities, distribution of resources and culture, or big picture issues associated with risk and socio-ecological change. Because of its affinity with neoliberal economics and governance, the risk of co-option is high and to an extent already on the way.

    Consumer capitalism is one of the root causes of our current predicament and often, it is also the big elephant in the room. Trainer , and others Alexander, a; Latouche have championed this type of critique and it is worth reiterating and developing. The current rate of resource consumption and GHG emissions is driven by the obsession for economic growth and it cannot be ignored Latouche, To put it directly, the low-carbon society envisioned by many in the Transition movement arguably cannot be a capitalist society or a growth-based society, because that may just produce more of the same, i.

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    It cannot be a society that measures social wellbeing and human happiness with GDP see Jackson, In the Transition Companion , economic growth starts to be addressed through the central theme of energy that is cheap energy is one of the foundations of economic growth, Hopkins, 33 and economic instability Hopkins, The current economic context, particularly in Europe, also makes it hard to talk about degrowth and capitalism since economic growth is heralded as the solution to our problems, i.

    The lack of clear communication on this topic may partially explain why Transition initiatives have been portrayed as bourgeois and middle-class since they implicitly convey the idea that you can transition to something better โ€” environmentally and ethically โ€” without having to downsize your material standard of living and consumption levels. In addition, consumption touches on lifestyle choices and individual liberty as well as deeply engrained norms and values. Yet, transitioning to low-consumption lifestyle is indispensable for both pragmatic and symbolic reasons within the Transition movement.

    Second, if the Transition movement is ever to grow to a significant size, people will need to be able to dedicate more time to building the movement and a new society, instead of being locked into long working hours just to provide for high-consumption lifestyles. The Transition movement is a nascent movement that aims to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our times.

    Liam Leonard

    It makes the case that the transition to a localised economy and a low-carbon lifestyle can be fun, and that the transition will benefit the community and the environment. The movement aims to create a different vision for where we want to go and provides ideas and techniques to get us there collectively.

    But tipping points arrive, often unexpectedly, when suddenly things change.

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    It could be that we are at the pre-tipping point stage with Transition and the potential is definitely there. But it needs a spark of some sort for that potential to be unleashed.

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    Aiken, G. Geography Compass 6 2 : Alexander, S. Ted Trainer and the Simpler Way. Simplicity Institute Report 12d: Simplicity Institute Report 12h : Voluntary simplicity and the social reconstruction of the law: Degrowth from the grassroots up. Environmental Values A critique of techno-optimism: Efficiency without sufficiency is lost. Amin, A. Surviving the turbulent future. Environment and Planning D: Society and space Bailey, I. Some things old, some things new: The spatial representations and politics of change of the peak oil relocalisation movement. Geoforum Barnett, J. Climate change and small island states: Power, knowledge and the South Pacific.

    London: Earthscan. Barr, S. Resilient communities: Sustainabilities in transition.