Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

Ecological Goals and Liberal Ideals: Harmony or Conflict?

2006 (28) Issue 2
Guest-Editor: Thomas Schramme


Liberty, equality, justice and solidarity are traditional political ideals of modern Western democracies. Different traditions and parties have supported different models in order to harmonise them. In contrast to the prevalence and long history of these values, ecological goals and needs have moved onto the political agenda fairly recently. Hence it should not come as a surprise that there is no consensus about the compatibility of ecological ambitions with common Western political ideals. Righ...

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Table of Contents

Title: Ecological Neutrality and Liberal Survivalism
Author: Marcel Wissenburg
Page: 125-145

How (not) to Discuss the Compatibility of Liberalism and Ecologism

Abstract: Perhaps the most animated debate in green political thought the sub-discipline of political theory devoted to the relations between humanity, politics and environment addresses the question of the compatibility of ecologism and liberal democracy, more particularly the liberal aspects of the latter. The present article affirms and further elaborates earlier suggestions that existing approaches to this matter are either flawed or, when defensible, prone to produce trivial conclusions. Incompatibility of the two theories is always to be expected, in one form or another. It is argued that a characterization of political theories as families growing and changing over time, a notion partly derived from Wittgenstein’s family concept, allows us to understand ecologism and liberalism as evolving theories, and to anticipate the development of both which may lead to far more surprising conclusions.

Title: Is Rawlsian Justice Bad for the Environment?
Author: Thomas Schramme
Page: 146-157

There is enough in the world for everybody’s
need, but not enough for anybody’s greed.
Mahatma Ghandi

Abstract: In this paper I show that Rawls’s contract apparatus in A Theory of Justice depends on a particular presumption that is in conflict with the goal of conserving environmental resources. He presumes that parties in the original position want as many resources as possible. I challenge Rawls’s approach by introducing a rational alternative to maximising. The strategy of satisficing merely goes for what is good enough. However, it seems that under conditions of scarcity Rawls’s maximising strategy is the only rational alternative. I therefore scrutinise the common account of scarcity. I distinguish between absolute and relative scarcity in order to show that scarcity is influenced by our decisions. If we would not accept the claim to as much as possible without further legitimisation, like Rawls does, then scarcity might not be as severe a problem. Finally, I reject Rawls’s proposed solution for dealing with problems of sustainability, namely his idea of the just savings principle. I conclude that Rawlsian Justice as Fairness is bad for the environment.

Title: Citizenship, Well-Being and Sustainability: Epicurus or Aristotle?
Author: John O'Neill
Page: 158-172

Abstract: The paper addresses two questions central to recent environmental political thought: Can a reduction in consumption be rendered compatible with a maintenance or improvement of well-being? What are the conditions for a sense of citizenship that crosses different generations? The two questions have elicited two conflicting responses. The first has been answered in broadly Epicurean terms: in recent environmental thought appeal has been made to recent hedonic research which appears to show that improvements in sub jective well-being can be decoupled from increased material consumption. The second has usually been answered in broadly Aristotelian terms: republicans have suggested that a public world and pro jects that are shared over generations are a condition of human well-being. These Epicurean and Aristotelian responses appear to look in opposite directions. They start from different accounts of well-being and appear to look in different places for human flourishing. This paper suggests that the broadly Aristotelian response is in fact owed to both problems. It shows that recent empirical researchinthehedonictraditioncanberenderedconsistentwith that Aristotelian response.

Title: Political Reasonableness and Nature’s Otherness
Author: Simon Hailwood
Page: 173-189

Abstract: This paper restates my argument that certain forms of liberalism can and should accept a non-instrumental perspective on the natural world. This perspective is unpacked in terms of ’respect for nature’s otherness’. Liberalism is represented by Rawlsian political liberalism. I claim there are important congruencies between respect for nature’s otherness and the ’reasonableness’ involved in political liberalism, such that the latter should incorporate the former. Following a suggestion of B. Baxter I reconsider these congruencies with particular emphasis on the roles of toleration and integrity. I also explain further why I think it arbitrary, rather than logically inconsistent, of the political liberal to exclude respect for nature’s otherness from her conception of the political. Finally I argue that insofar as liberalism embraces ecological justice on the basis of the considerability of non-human interests, it cannot consistently exclude respect for nature’s otherness.

Title: Political Liberalism, the Non-Human Biotic and the Abiotic: A Response to Simon Hailwood
Author: Brian Baxter
Page: 190-205

Abstract: S. Hailwood argues that if political liberals, in the Rawlsian sense, refuse to grant non-human nature anything other than instrumental value, then they may properly be characterised as human chauvinists, but not as inconsistent political liberals. He also argues that political liberals who do grant non-instrumental value to the non-human are thereby committed to a form of moral valuation of the abiotic. However, an analysis of what is involved in regarding non-human biota as possessing instrumental value reveals that humans must recognise the existence of interests, needs and desires of those non-human organisms which they wish to treat instrumentally. Given this, political liberalism in its most persuasive form, as articulated by Barry, implies that political liberals are not permitted to decide arbitrarily that non-human biota have only instrumental value. But the crucial role of interests in this argument precludes the attribution of any form of moral value to the abiotic.

Title: Political Liberalism and Ecological Justice
Author: Derek Bell
Page: 206-222

My own view is that the compatibility question depends entirely on one’s terms of reference: environmentalism and liberalism are compatible, but ecologism and liberalism are not. (Dobson 2000, 165)

Abstract: Liberalism and ecologism are widely regarded as incompatible. Liberalism and (anthropocentric) environmentalism might be compatible but liberalism and (non-anthropocentric) ecologism are not. A liberal state cannot promote policies for ecological or ecocentric reasons. An individual cannot be both a liberal and a committed advocate of ecologism. This paper challenges these claims. It is argued that Rawls’s ’political liberalism’ is compatible with ecologism and, in particular, the idea of ’ecological justice’. A Rawlsian state can promote ecological justice. A committed political liberal can also be a committed advocate of ecological justice. The argument is developed through a close textual examination of Rawls’s brief discussion of our duties to ’animals and the rest of nature’. Rawls leaves far more scope for liberal ecologism than his critics have suggested. The proposed version of liberal ecologism is defended against charges of substantive and procedural bias toward humans and against nonhuman nature. Liberal ecologism may not be enough for some ecologists especially ’ecological constitutionalists’ seeking constitutional protection for nonhuman nature but it is a serious and defensible political and moral theory.

Title: Distributive Justice and Climate Change. The Allocation of Emission Rights
Author: Lukas Meyer / Dominic Roser
Page: 223-249

Abstract: The emission of greenhouse gases causes climate change. Therefore, many support a global cap on emissions. How then should the emissions allowed under this cap be distributed? We first show that above average past emissions cannot be used to justify a right to above average current emissions. We then sketch three basic principles of distributive justice (egalitarianism, prioritarianism, and sufficientarianism) and argue, first, that prioritarian standards are the most plausible and, second, that they speak in favour of giving people of developing countries higher emission rights than people of industrialised countries. In order to support this point it has to be shown, inter alia, in what ways the higher past emissions of industrialised countries are relevant for today’s distribution of emission rights.

Title: Refining Green Political Economy: From Ecological Modernisation to Economic Security and Sufficiency
Author: John Barry / Peter Doran
Page: 250-275

Abstract: Perhaps the most problematic dimension of the ’triple bottom line’ understanding of sustainable development has been the ’economic’ dimension. Much of the thinking about the appropriate ’political economy’ to underpin or frame sustainable development has been either utopian (as in some ’green’ political views) or an attempt to make peace with ’business as usual’ approaches. This article suggests that ’ecological modernisation’ is the dominant conceptualisation of ’sustainable development’ within the UK, and illustrates this by looking at some key ’sustainable development’ policy documents from the UK Government. We take the view that the discourse of ’ecological modernisation’ has provided discursive terrain for both pragmatic policy makers and a range of views on sustainable development, from weak to strong. In particular, the article suggests that the discourse of ’economic security’ and ’sufficiency’ can be used as a way of articulating a radical, robust and principled understanding of sustainable development, which offers a normatively compelling and policy-relevant path to outlining a ’green political economy’ to underpin sustainable development.