Andrew Dobson posted a thoughtful and useful piece in yesterday’s issue of OpenDemocracy.org:

… the rhetoric of “consumer sovereignty” and “hands-off” governance is inaccurate and unhelpful.

[C]onsumption decisions take place within a cultural and institutional context which constitute the rules of the game, and which part determine the consumer decisions that people make.

[P]olicies based on information and price signals have had only limited success in changing unsustainable behaviors. Yet these are exactly the policies the government seems determined to pursue — policies that, moreover, contribute to reproducing the pro-individual context that is part cause of our environmental problems.

“The dominant cultural model in 21st-century society is individualist,” writes Tim Jackson. “But this is only one form of social organization and there is evidence to suggest that it may not be sufficient to address the social complexity of pro-environmental behavioral change.”

There is a growing body of social-science evidence to suggest that the self-interest model is actually a poor predictor of environmental attitudes and behavior.

[P]olicies designed to appeal to the individual as consumer rather than as citizen “crowd out”, or reduce, “the sense of moral obligation” in favor of pro-environmental activity. Once again, the preferred form of government policy both reinforces the frames of mind and conduct that contribute to environmental unsustainability and simultaneously undermines the habits and practices that inform much pro-environmental behavior. This double-whammy is a serious obstacle to dealing with climate change – and indeed with any other problem which requires pro-social responses.