Lilian Pungas

Measuring sustainability & environmentalism in European center and (semi)periphery

Climate change and its anticipated impacts are the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced (IPCC 2007, 2013, 2014). Considering that human-caused increases in greenhouse gases are recognized as the major driver of global warming, it is crucial to understand how human activities can both undermine and strengthen sustainability. By looking at this through a region-specific lens, it is possible to complement the palette of potential mitigation strategies coming mostly from Western Europe with sustainability practices
and niches from other regions, such as the European semi-periphery (Wallerstein 1976). Global ‘core’ countries usually promote market and technology-based strategies to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change, for instance through innovation and “Green growth”. This approach often stands in contrast with green practices from Eastern Europe. The distinction is well demonstrated by the example of food self-provisioning (FSP): in Eastern Europe growing your own food is often considered a backward “survival strategy of the poor” (Alber and Kohler 2008), while in Western Europe urban gardening is considered as a sign for ecological transition (Jehlička 2007). Although FSP was the reason why most households in former Socialist states survived after the dramatic economic crisis of the 1990s (Clarke et al. 2000), the “Dacha resilience” practice today is no longer only an effective, historically tested puffer strategy (Ehlers 1994, 2010; Radionova 2004), but instead represents a popular multifaceted activity that goes beyond ‘survival’ and manifests itself in a so-called “silent sustainability” (Jehlička 2012, 2013). Various scholars thus increasingly call for a more appropriate and diverse set of indicators to measure sustainability in the European semi-periphery since the dominant ones often fail to acknowledge that sustainability practices are region-specific, and that Eastern European resilience structures have great potential.

Therefore the proposed discussion & workshop aims to identify a more suitable framework to assess environmental performance that pays sufficient attention to the different type of societal modernization in the European semi-periphery. The workshop will compare European semi-periphery countries with a couple of ‘core’ countries through a broad range of indicators for environmental performance and ecological footprint, as well as for environmental attitude and behaviour of their populations, such as:

  1. Environmental Performance Index (2006-2016)
  2. Ecological Footprint (per capita) (Global Footprint Network) (1992-2012)
  3. World Values Survey [2th-6th Wave] and WVS 1981-2014 Longitudinal Aggregate (Environmental Knowledge, awareness, activism; trade-off between environment and economics)
  4. Food Self Provisioning Indicators – Forum exchange on food systems sustainability in Central and Eastern Europe at Food Climate Research Network FCRN; data from various research projects on FSP
  5. Expert interviews

By demonstrating the potential of the resilience structures and best practices of the European semi-periphery, it is possible to promote a more appropriate and inclusive narrative around sustainability and resilience (“buen vivir” / “Dacha Idylls” (Caldwell 2011) from Europe’s semi-periphery. The main goal is to foster an emancipatory, rich and fruitful discourse on equal footing about the strengths and weaknesses of exemplary sustainability practices of not only the global North and the global South, but also of the Eastern semi-periphery.