5 August 2005

It’s the Politics, Stupid

I’m still new to the literature of sustainable design, but I find again and again that much of the writing consistently ignores the political, addressing the social only peripherally, usually in the analysis but not in the response. Instead the authors pursue solutions based on individual design and purchasing choices or through technological fixes — creating cool new materials or processes — hoping the market will sort things out once the ‘good’ is cheaper than the ‘bad.’

Is this a matter of expedience? Cynicism? Organizing to set standards or pass legislation is messy and slow and often involves other people.

And yet so many materials and processes already exist around us. Why they are not used more pervasively is, I think, a political problem.

The same technologies are generally available in the U.S. as the E.U. And there’s no doubt the E.U. is light-years ahead of us down the path towards sustainability.

And yet, even among those pursuing “market” oriented solutions, folks seem focused on making new, better, cheaper things rather than intervening in the market to, say, make the polluting more expensive. The former approach ignores the huge subsidies and political weight of industries invested in the old ways of doing things.

Still, if one wanted to pursue a market-based solution, why not require the Federal Government to purchase such products — say, requiring all government printing use a percentage of recycled paper. This would create an enormous demand for ecological goods and ultimately lower the prices of such.

But folks seem to focus on individual choice rather than industrial requirement, ignoring the power of the State altogether. Yeah, cleaner technology is cool and good, but I’m not convinced we we can just invent ourselves out of, say, deforestation without shaping the force of law.

And how to pressure the State? Building a movement is hard. Grassroots organizing is slow. And battling clients every day certainly makes me want to focus on making things instead of dealing with other people. But something’s got to give.

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