Narratives of sustainability: a lesson from Indonesia

Journal: 
Issue: 
Autumn 2018
Author(s): 
10.3898/SOUN.70.03.2018

Dominant global narratives on sustainability have a tendency to reinforce precisely the conditions that have produced the crisis. This is because an appropriate response would undermine the whole system. Unsustainable behaviour is framed in terms of ‘them’ (the unsustainable and badly behaved global South) and ‘us’ (the wealthy countries who are ‘helping’ them becoming sustainable - defined in terms of the adoption of western norms). Such narratives take attention away from over-consumption, especially of fossil fuels, in the wealthy north. The way the issue of deforestation in Indonesia has been framed illustrates this. The process of deforestation began in the colonial period, and continued in the post-colonial era with newer capitalist forms of resource extraction. Yet contemporary international intervention has been based on the notion that the fault lies within Indonesia itself. Deforestation is understood in terms of market functions and market failures, a framing which assumes delinquent local behaviour, and focuses on internal institutions, corruption and ineffective law enforcement - while ignoring the powerful global factors that are in reality driving environmental destruction.

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