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Cooperative governance: one pathway to a stable-state economy

Phelan, Liam, Jeffrey McGee, and Rhyall Gordon. 2012. Cooperative governance: one pathway to a stable-state economy. Environmental Politics, 21 (03): 412–431.


Exponential increases in material and energy use globally threaten Earth System stability inmany ways including through climate change. Yet societies remain committed to economic growth, reflected in the way publicly traded corporations are legally obliged to maximise shareholders’ profits. In contrast, businesses governed cooperatively by members, i.e. democratically and transparently, may be better suited to operating in an ecologically sustainable way, enacting their members’ ethical commitments. Combining a complex adaptive systems approach with community economies theory, we argue that cooperatives offer a significant transformative opportunity to resocialise and repoliticise economies away from the growth imperative. Cooperative governance is consistent enough with currently dominant neoliberal governance (itself closely aligned with economic growth) to gain initial policy traction. Ultimately, we seek an overall shift to a stable-state economy – a global economy whose operation sustains rather than threatens the familiar (to humans and our civilisations) stable state of the Earth System.

Keywords: global environmental governance; complex adaptive systems;community economies framing; cooperatives; climate change; growth

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