Possibilities and problems with applying a consumption perspective in local climate strategies – the case of Gothenburg
Journal article, 2016
Sweden has been praised for its sustainability efforts and decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When nations and urban districts publicize their low GHG emissions, these emissions are often based on a production perspective including only emissions occurring within their geographical boundary. If instead a consumption perspective is applied then all emissions attributable to the inhabitants consumption patterns, no matter where they occur, are included, e.g. from imported goods and air travel. This provides new outlooks on sustainability, from this perspective Swedish emissions have increased rather than decreased in the last decades. Swedish researchers and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency propose that the production perspective should be complemented with a consumption perspective to describe more fairly who is responsible for what emissions. The purpose of this paper is to examine how a consumption perspective on GHG emissions has gained ground in Sweden, specifically in the new Strategic Climate Program of the City of Gothenburg, discussing what municipal strategies and environmental discourses this perspective enhances. Applying actor–network theory, we found three common features of importance for Sweden, and the City of Gothenburg, supporting the consumption perspective to gain ground. One is the existence of long-term environmental goals that facilitate this perspective. The other features are the existence of civil servants as drivers and the use of calculations from legitimate “fact builders.” We conclude that a consumption perspective strengthens the environmental justice discourse (as it claims to be a more just way of calculating global and local environmental effects) while possibly also increasing an individualized environmental discourse (as many municipal strategies aim to inform and influence the public to make lifestyle changes on their own). We argue that a consumption perspective is necessary in order to fully address environmental problems and to highlight issues of justice and responsibility. At the same time, this kind of eco-governmentality might lead to individualized self-governed climate subjects with outlooks that are too limited to foster change of dominant everyday practices.