Global Environmental Change and the Politics of Sustainable Consumption in New Zealand
Lewin, J. A. (2009). Global Environmental Change and the Politics of Sustainable Consumption in New Zealand (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/2787
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/2787
Consumption has emerged as a pivotal concept in environmental sustainability debates. Since the 1992 Earth Summit, there has been an increasing focus on the role that consumption and consumer lifestyles play in global environmental change. Agenda 21 called on countries to promote more 'sustainable consumption' patterns and lifestyles. Despite these recommendations, there are significant political and ideological challenges to implementing effective sustainable consumption policies at a global and national level. This thesis explores the politics of sustainable consumption in New Zealand. Using critical discourse analysis and in-depth semi-structured interviews with nine consumers, I employ post-structural and cultural geography theories to unpack the problematic nature of sustainable consumption. In particular, I examine dominant environmental and consumption discourses to explore why barriers to sustainable consumption exist. It is important to examine these issues from a socio-cultural perspective, as the dominant hegemonic discourses relating to the environment and sustainability shape both policy responses and public understandings of environmental change and sustainability issues. Prevailing policy responses to environmental change in New Zealand construct the 'environmental problem' in narrowly scientific and economic terms. Concern has centred on 'managing' carbon emissions, rather than addressing the underlying drivers of environmental degradation which lie in current political-economic structures and consumption levels. As such, environmental policy has been embedded within an ecological modernisation discourse which links sustainability with notions of 'progress' and efficiency. Under this discourse, the consumer has been repositioned as an important 'political' agent responsible for fostering sustainable consumption and environmental care. Through largely non-political and non-regulatory measures, consumers have been encouraged to reduce their 'carbon footprints' by considering the environmental impacts of their daily personal consumption habits. This approach has individualised and depoliticised environmental issues, obscured the complexities of personal consumption and sustainability, and left limited options for participation in processes of change.
The University of Waikato
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