Barriers to Sustainability: A Qualitative Cross-National Comparison
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In this dissertation, I make an argument for strong sustainability, which emphasizes environmental and social justice concerns, by distinguishing it from weak sustainability. I critique the global neoliberal sustainable development project, a weak form of sustainability that prioritizes economic growth, using Marx's theory of metabolic rift. However, I find this theory lacking in its ability to engage forms of oppression outside of class, such as gender. Because of this, I employ theories on gender and environment and environmental justice to explore systemic and cultural aspects of oppression. I use qualitative cross-national comparative methods to examine two alternatives to neoliberal sustainable development. The two cases working toward strong sustainability are an urban ecovillage in the United States and an urban farm in Havana, Cuba. I assess the viability of these projects and their strengths and weaknesses toward a rigorous theory of strong sustainability. I find that the structure of society matters in determining the opportunities for equity and sustainability projects. As postulated by metabolic rift theory, my cases suggest that capitalism is a structural barrier to sustainability, but eliminating capitalism is an insufficient condition for nations attempting to attain equity or environmental protection. While structural change is necessary, any discussion of structural power dynamics that fails to consider real people embedded in on-the-ground social power dynamics would be incomplete. Specifically, I find that in Cuba--a nation where capitalism was disbanded over fifty years ago in favor of more equal economic relations--gender equity is limited by cultural expectations of gender roles and government suppression of democratic processes. My findings suggest that if the goal is to create socially just environmental change, it must be done deliberately. The instituting of laws is important but insufficient because cultural factors may restrict minorities' participation in democratic processes. Inequality and disregard for the environment are culturally entrenched social processes that must be addressed simultaneously and with specialized attention in order for lasting change to occur. Goals toward economic restructuring, equality, and environmental reform should be methodically phased in with constant democratic discussion and progress assessment. This dissertation contains previously published and unpublished co-authored material.