(Chapter 26 in Arthur, J., Davies, I. & Hahn, C. (eds.) The Sage Handbook of
Education for Citizenship and Democracy, London, Sage Publications, 2008, pp. 342
The ultimate goal of education for sustainable development is to empower people with the perspectives, knowledge, and skills for helping them live in peaceful sustainable societies. UNESCO, 2001, p. 1
There is now a growing consensus that 21C civilisation is on a path that is not sustainable. Dominant forms of political economy are failing to conserve ecological resources and services; guarantee economic stability; reduce social inequality; maintain cultural diversity; and protect people’s physical and mental health. We face related crises of ecological, economic, social, cultural and personal sustainability yet the means are available to set civilisation on a more sustainable path. Adopting more sustainable forms of political economy involves the establishment of new forms of global governance guided by new forms of citizenship. Education that features such citizenships should lie at the heart of initiatives linked to the UN’s Decade of
Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) that runs from 2005 to 2014.
This chapter seeks to clarify the new kinds of governance and citizenship that may be necessary to set civilisation on a more sustainable path and how these might be developed through citizenship education as part of DESD. It begins with considerations of philosophy and ethics.
Philosophical and ethical foundations
Central to the perspectives that ESD should develop is what Hartmann (1998) terms a social-ecological theory of reality and the values that stem from it. Rather than regarding nature and society as separate realms (modern dualism) we should acknowledge that reality is always the product of both ecological (bio-physical) and social relations and processes. The phenomena of global warming illustrates how the relations between objects in the bio-physical and social worlds enable ecological and
social processes, how these processes affect one another constantly, and how our understanding of such phenomena can never be entirely neutral or objective because it is always partly a product of those social or power relations it needs to explain. The politics of sustainability is about the relations that humans are in with other human and non-human agents, how we understand these relations, and what we can do to ensure that they are more sustainable.
Hartmann argues that for a society to be sustainable (capable of evolving indefinitely alongside the rest of nature) three sets of relations have to be maintained:
1. Social relations amongst humans based on mutual respect and tolerance. These
require equitable access to basic needs; freedom of thought and expression;
and democratic forms of decision making and governance in all spheres of life
including that of economic production and distribution.
2. Environmental relations between humans and their bio-physical environment
that ensure the survival and well-being of other species (biodiversity) and their
continued evolution alongside people.
3. Ecological relations between organisms (including humans) and their
environment that ensure similar environmental conditions and opportunities
(climate, water availability, soil fertility, radioactivity levels, etc ) to those that
have prevailed throughout most of human history.
The question then arises, what form of ethics, politics and governance should regulate social and environmental relations and their impact on ecological relations?
As regards ethics, a socio-ecological theory or reality, based in dialectical materialism (Harvey, 1996) or the new physical and life sciences and systems theory (Capra, 2003), recognizes that people are part of ecological relations (members of a biological species, dependent on ecological resources and services to supply their needs), yet partly independent of such relations as part of social relations (they have powers of language and technology that enable them to transform their own nature and that which surrounds them). In finding sustainable ways to live they have to balance ecology and society centred values or an ecocentric perspective that finds intrinsic
values in the non-human world, with an anthropocentric or technocentric perspective that suggests the only value of this world lies in its usefulness to people.
In seeking sustainability we should be guided by a weak anthropocentrism. This maintains that while humans are the only source of value, they are not the only bearers of value. In addition to valuing or caring for present and future generations of people, we should value and care for the rest of nature by recognising its ecological, scientific, aesthetic and spiritual value alongside its economic value, and acknowledging its right to exist. In other words, we should balance our rights to self determination and development, with responsibilities towards the rest of the human and biotic community.
The ethics of weak anthropocentrism are reflected in the Earth Charter (ECI, 2007) that sets out fundamental principles for sustainable development. Part of the unfinished business of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the final version, approved in 2000, is essentially a people’s treaty shaped by a global dialogue that involved both
experts and representatives of civil society. Its preamble suggests that we must decide
to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as with our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The charter’s vision recognizes that environmental protection,
human rights, equitable human development and peace are interdependent and indivisible, and its sixteen principles are grouped into four sections (respect and care for the community of life; ecological integrity; social and economic justice; and democracy, non-violence and peace). Principle 13 suggests that the world community should strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and
accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making and access to justice. Principle 14 advocates ESD as part of formal education and life-long learning.
In 2003 UNESCO affirmed the intention of member states to use the Earth Charter as an educational tool for implementing the DESD.
Social theory, politics and governance
Values reflect and shape ongoing social development and debates surrounding sustainability should be guided by social theory. This now seeks to integrate nature and the environment into its concerns (Barry, 2000, Sutton, 2004) and suggests that the world is undergoing fundamental change that goes to the heart of the individual-society relationship on which the concept of citizenship is founded. Following a crisis of profitability at the end of the ‘post-war boom’ powerful economic and political
elites restructured political economies in ways that intensified globalisation, environmental degradation, and social inequalities. This change is variously interpreted as, for example, a shift from Fordist to Post-Fordist modes of regulation (Lipietz, 1992); from modernity to post-modernity (Crook et al, 1992); or from scarcity to risk society (Beck, 1992). Its significance lies firstly in the ways it has further compromised the competence, form, autonomy and legitimacy of the nation state as the prime container of political community and citizenship. The urgency of global issues, together with the growth of global networks of power and international political institutions and agencies, has prompted renewed attention to global models of democracy and citizenship, while the rise of movements and nationalisms from below, has prompted experiments with forms of direct or deliberative democracy encouraged by governments adopting new consultation procedures to improve their standing with citizens (Held et al, 2000).
Secondly, global change challenges the existential foundations of people’s lives and brings new status and class divisions along with new interests and insecurities. In the advanced industrial economies, the old politics of production and class has been largely replaced by the new politics of consumption and identity. Consumer capitalism offers a vast array of cultural products and encourages individuals to use these to create meaning and organize and monitor their own multiple identities and life narratives. Epistemological uncertainty may result in hedonism, or refuge in old and new fundamentalisms, but it can also prompt a new sensitivity to difference and subjectivity; scepticism towards grand narratives and universal truths; and a constructive post-modernism that seeks to acknowledge and correct the mistakes of modern development. This involves a reassessment of industrialism, liberalism and
Marxism; a wider definition of politics; and the design and implementation of new forms of democracy and citizenship that can foster sustainable development.
Constructive postmodernism recognizes that government, in the form of the constitution, law and state policies, can act as protector and trustee of collective reason, but that self-managing citizens must increasingly act themselves in responsible and enlightened ways that express solidarity with others. Sustainability requires the extension of both legal and practical notions of citizenship: a restructuring of the state and international political institutions to facilitate new legal rights and responsibilities (environmental citizenship), and the strengthening and democratisation of civil society to foster moral responsibility and more sustainable ways of living (ecological citizenship). The Real World coalition of UK environment and development NGOs is one advocate of such improved governance (Christie & Warburton, 2001).
Green political theory and the politics of sustainable development
The green movement and green politics reflect the theory and practice of these new kinds of citizenship (Barry, 1998). Greens work ‘in and against’ the state urging it to
meet new demands based in ethics, and ‘beyond and around’ the state by using international forums, treaties and conventions to establish new environmental rights and responsibilities across borders. International NGOs shadow international governmental agencies, organize social forums offering alternative agendas alongside international summits (Hubbard & Miller, 2005), and use the new communication technologies to sustain virtual communities of active global citizens. As regards practical citizenship, greens seek to rescue society from the instrumental reason that dominates markets and states by fostering civil society and a public sphere in which ecological and social issues can be debated and self-managing sustainable communities can take root. Appropriate technologies, economic localisation, and deliberative democracy, are key elements of green alternatives (Woodin & Lucas, 2004) with localisation or decentralisation encouraging both greater self-sufficiency and more deliberative decision-making (Baber & Bartlett, 2005). Encouraging dialogue and discussion, as part of community decision making, has moralising and pedagogical effects, and is a key element of social learning for sustainability.
Having suggested that greens are in the vanguard of new forms of governance, citizenship, and community development, it should be acknowledged that both liberals and Marxists now advocate variants of sustainable development. Liberals are reformist, strongly anthropocentric, and believe that such development does not require a radical restructuring of capitalist social relations. Economic growth can be balanced with environmental protection and social justice using existing and new forms of technology and global governance (Turner, 2001). Sometimes termed ecological modernisation or the greening of capitalism, this liberal view is dominant within the international community and is reflected in Agenda 21, the agenda for sustainable development produced by the 1992 Earth Summit.
Marxists reject capitalism with a green face suggesting that market-based environmental policies do little to counter the anti-ecological characteristics of capital. While sceptical of the utopianism in much early green political theory, they now acknowledge the environmental crisis (the second contradiction of capitalism (Merchant, 1994)) but remind greens of the continuing significance of class struggle (Burkett, 2003); imperialism (Harvey, 2003); and state regulation and planning (Dickenson, 2003). Dresner (2006) argues that the language of sustainability returns us to many of the unfashionable ideas about fairness, solidarity, and the conscious regulation of social development, that were associated with socialism in the past. Post-industrial socialists have updated these ideas with new concepts of welfare and citizenship.
UNESCO suggests that ESD should develop knowledge and understanding of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Addressing the social dimension clearly involves citizenship education as it seeks an
understanding of social institutions and their role in change and development, as well as the democratic and participatory systems which give opportunity for the expression of opinion, the selection of governments, the forging of consensus and the resolution of differences (Pigozzi, 2005, p. 2)
Liberal environmental citizenship
Environmental citizenship (refers to) the way in which the environment-citizenship
relationship can be regarded from a liberal point of view. . . . . this is a citizenship that deals in the currency of environmental rights, that is conducted exclusively in the public sphere, whose principal virtues are the liberal ones of reasonableness and a willingness to accept the force of better argument and procedural legitimacy, and whose remit is bounded political configurations modelled on the nation-state. For the most rough-and-ready purposes, it can be taken that environmental citizenship here refers to attempts to extend the discourse and practice of rights-claiming into the environmental context. Dobson, 2003, p. 89
While liberal democracy is not the dominant form of government in the world, it is dominant in those advanced industrial states that cause most of the environmental degradation. Sustainable development may be pursued using existing and additional human rights contained in state constitutions and international instruments (Alder & Wilkinson, 1999; Elliott, 2004). These should include substantive rights to life, to those basic needs that support it, and to a liveable and sustainable environment, together with procedural rights, such as the right of access to environmental information. Rights and associated laws that govern environmental management and land use planning are particularly significant, with activists in the environmental justice movement seeking to use and extend these in ways that protect the health, livelihoods and amenities of disadvantaged communities.
In outlining a conception of environmental citizenship that is developed from an immanent critique of contemporary liberalism, Bell (2005) suggests that liberalism should abandon its conception of the environment as property and adopt a conception of the environment as provider of basic human needs and a subject about which there is reasonable disagreement. Within mainstream liberalism, civic citizenship regards the environment as property to be owned; political citizenship ensures that the environment will become a political issue; and social citizenship is theorized with no reference to the bio-physical environment. Since liberals accept that citizens have a social right to the fulfilment of their basic needs and this requires exploitation of the environment, consistency requires that the basic needs concept should take priority over the property concept, and that liberals concerned about the welfare of current and future generations should be committed to forms of sustainable development
grounded in this concept. Such a revision of liberal theory reflects ethical principles of inter and intra-generational justice and imposes a constraint on capitalism rather than requiring its rejection.
Liberals believe that there is a multiplicity of reasonable moral doctrines held by reasonable people in democratic societies (the fact of reasonable pluralism) and that it is unreasonable to defend principles of political justice, that govern the basic institutions of society, by appealing to controversial moral claims (for example the strongly ecocentric views of deep ecologists). The fact of moral pluralism rules out the conception of the environment as property (only one of many reasonable conceptions) but allows that of the environment as a supplier of basic needs since no reasonable doctrine could deny its factual or normative foundations (survival as a precondition for all other goods). The fact of reasonable pluralism allows an additional conception of environment in that all citizens should accept (for the purposes of political justice) that the nature and value of the environment is a subject about which there is reasonable disagreement. This conception suggests that decisions, relating to environmental matters, should reflect democratic procedural principles and that the policies of the liberal state will reflect conceptions that win in politically just debates.
Liberal environmental citizenship requires citizens to have substantive rights to such basic needs as clean air and water. Such rights are likely to be subject to considerable dispute and possible judicial or legislative interpretation. It also requires citizens to have procedural rights to defend and extend substantive rights, by for example seeking redress if rights are denied or campaigning for new rights. A conception of the environment as a subject about which there is reasonable agreement, requires citizens to have procedural rights to participate in environmental decisions and debates (to promote their own conception of the ‘good environment’), and personal rights that allow them to make choices in their everyday life about how they affect the environment. In return environmental citizens have duties to obey and promote just environmental laws that secure these rights and to promote, through political institutions, environmental justice across the world. They do not have a duty to protect nature, wilderness or ‘green spaces’ (a particular conception of environment),
nor do they have a duty to make lifestyle choices that promote global environmental justice (a negation of personal rights).
An apparent rejection of private environmental duties (for example the duty to recycle or reduce car use) puts liberals at odds with other accounts of environmental citizenship. But Bell argues that liberals can endorse such duties for two reasons: that they are an effective way of promoting changes in policy and law; and may be considered as citizens’ duties rather than legal duties.
Post-cosmopolitan ecological citizenship
Ecological citizenship deals in the currency of non-contractual responsibility. It inhabits the private as well as the public sphere, it refers to the source rather than the nature of responsibility to determine what count as citizenship virtues, it works with the language of virtue, and it is explicitly non-territorial. Dobson, 2003, p. 89
Dobson starts his discussion of citizenship and the environment by noting that asymmetrical nature of globalisation. Local acts with global consequences produce communities of obligation that are primarily communities of injustice. Cheap food in European supermarkets, for example, is often the result of exploited labour and land in Africa, and British consumers therefore have non-reciprocal duties to African farmers that should be discharged through redistributive acts.
Advocates of cosmopolitan citizenship (see Chapter 00), such as Held (1995), focus on the human community and suggest that uncoerced dialogue and greater democracy will allow the realisation of universal values, such as those expressed in the Earth Charter. Dobson maintains that they focus on the wrong kind of community (the human community rather than communities of obligation); the wrong mode of operation (impartiality rather than partiality); and the wrong political objective (more dialogue and democracy rather than more justice and democracy). Rather than a thin and non-material account of the ties that bind members of the cosmopolitan community (common humanity and a commitment to dialogue), Dobson offers a thickly material account linked to the production and reproduction of daily life in an
unequal and globalising world. This prompts him to canvass the emergence of post-cosmopolitan citizenship, alongside liberal and civic-republican forms.
Figure 1 Three types of citizenship (Dobson, 2003, p.39)
1 Liberal 2 Civic republican 3 Post-cosmopolitan
Rights/entitlements Duties/responsibilities Duties/responsibilities
(contractual) (contractual) (non-contractual)
Public sphere Public sphere Public and private spheres
Virtue-free ‘Masculine’ virtue ‘Feminine’ virtue
Territorial Territorial Non-territorial
(discriminatory) (discriminatory) (non-discriminatory)
In comparing citizenship in its liberal, civic republican, and post-cosmopolitan forms, Dobson focuses on four dimensions (rights/responsibilities; public/private; virtue/non-virtue; and territorial/non-territorial), see Figure 1. It is the fact that citizens of globalising nations are ‘always already’ acting on others that requires post-
cosmopolitan citizenship to acknowledge non-reciprocal, non-contractual and unilateral duties. Since acts in the private sphere impact upon people and environments at a distance (have public implications), this sphere is properly a site for politics and the exercise of post-cosmopolitan citizenship. Such citizenship focuses on horizontal citizen-citizen relations rather than vertical citizen-state relations, and is committed to such ‘feminine’ virtues as care and compassion. It is non-territorial in
that it spans borders and is associated with a global civil society as exemplified by the anti-globalisation movement.
Ecological citizenship is a specifically ecological form of post-cosmopolitan citizenship. It recognizes that as members of global society we are ‘always already’
obligated to others at a distance, a concept best expressed in the notion of ecological footprints. Such a footprint is a measure of the total amount of ecologically productive land and water supporting one’s lifestyle, and for the more affluent members of global society, much of this land and water is located far from their place of residence (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996). As we consume more, our ecological footprints grow,