Ecological citizenship


Andrew Dobson's seminal book Citizenship and the Environment (2003) provides a detailed exposition of different aspects of the debate on ecological citizenship. Dobson's contributions to environmental political theory and the ideology of 'ecologism' are designed to promote environmental awareness through citizens understanding the reasons for being responsible as well as through the citizenship curriculum in the education system. In this reading, Dobson offers a response to recent academic discussions of ecological citizenship and shows how the post-cosmopolitan approach can facilitate a more adequate account of obligations by drawing upon ecological footprint analysis. In the process, he distinguishes morality and politics in accounting for what he describes as the first virtue of ecological citizenship, the virtue of justice.

§ Hartley Dean makes some useful orientating remarks as far as the connections between environmental politics and citizenship are concerned:

Green thinking has impacted on our understandings of citizenship in at least three different ways. First, environmental concerns have entered our understanding of the rights we enjoy as citizens. Second, the enhanced level of global awareness associated with ecological thinking has helped to broaden our understanding of the potential scope of citizenship. Third, emergent ecological concerns have added fuel to a complex debate about the responsibilities that attach to citizenship. (Dean 2001: 491)

[These] remarks might lead us to think that the citizenship-environment connection would be a well-explored one, so it is a major surprise to find how little systematic work has been done on the issue. John Barry (1999, 2002), Mark J. Smith (1998), and Peter Christoff (1996) have made important inroads, though, and Angel Valencia (2002) has given us a critically comprehensive survey of the territory. Mark J. Smith refers to a 'new politics of obligation', according to which 'human beings have obligations table l Three types of citizenship


Civic republican


Rights/entitlements (contractual) Public sphere Virtue-free

Territorial (discriminatory)

Duties/responsibilities (contractual) Public sphere 'Masculine' virtue

Territorial (discriminatory)

Duties/responsibilities (non-contractual) Public and private spheres 'Feminine' virtue

Non-territorial (non-discriminatory)

[Dobson, 2003, Chapter 2]

to animals, trees, mountains, oceans, and other members of the biotic community' (1998: 99). I am not sure that all of the obligations (or rather to whom or to what he says they are owed) are obligations of citizenship properly speaking, and I shall have more to say on this later. But the idea of obligation to which he refers is certainly central to what I would regard as a defensible articulation of ecological citizenship, and the word should immediately alert us to Table 1 (see above) where our three types of citizenship are set out. 'Obligation' and 'responsibility' are not, it will be remembered, the language of liberal citizenship, so it is unlikely that the type of citizenship to which Smith refers will lend itself to full expression in the liberal idiom. As he says, 'At the centre of this intellectual project is the firm conviction that conventional conceptions of justice and citizenship do not provide the human species with an adequate set of tools for resolving the difficulties created by ecological damage today' (1998: 91).

I hope to build on Smith's valuable insights in what follows.

Another key contribution [...] made by Peter Christoff [...] is whether there can be a citizenship 'beyond the state'. We have seen that both cosmopolitans and post-cosmopolitans think that there can, and that the former believe that one of the reasons this is so is because citizenship is about participation in the public sphere, and that there is no reason to confine this sphere to the state. Christoff makes a useful contrast in this context: 'it is helpful to look at notions of citizenship from a completely different angle, and turn to conceptions of citizenship based on moral responsibility and participation in the public sphere rather than those >

defined formally by legal relationships to the state' (1996: 157). He picks r up the transnational nature of many environmental problems and locates |

these in globalizing developments of which they are both a symptom o and a cause. Such developments, he argues, 'emphasise the growing S

disjuncture or dislocation observed earlier between moral citizenship (as practised in individual and "community" action and moral responsibility)

■¡H and legal citizenship as defined by the nation-state' (1996: 161). This

-g dislocation survives in - and indeed nurtures - the idea of ecological

The value of Barry's, Smith's, and Christoff's work lies in seeing that

"5 there is more to be said about the relationship between citizenship

'in and the environment than can be said from the dominant liberal and _o

0 territorial point of view. Bart van Steenbergen, in contrast, has devoted m a widely quoted essay to this relationship (van Steenbergen 1994). He builds on T. H. Marshall's influential three-fold typology of citizenship (civil, political, and social citizenship) in the following way: 'It is my intention to explore the possibility that at the edge of the twenty-first century, citizenship will gain a new and fourth dimension. I am referring here to the notion of ecological citizenship as an addition, but also as a correction, to the three existing forms of citizenship' (van Steenbergen 1994: 142). The idea of environmental rights in the citizenship context is indeed very important, but over-reliance on Marshall could prevent us from seeing what is genuinely interesting in the environment-citizenship relationship. As we know, Marshall's is notoriously a rights-based typology, yet as Smith, for example, rightly points out, one of environmental politics' most crucial contributions to contemporary theorizing is its focus on duties and obligations. [...] Rights-talk can be a little too intoxicating in the context of the environment and citizenship. Van Steenbergen himself, for example, makes the giant leap from arguing sensibly for a different type of citizenship right to the following rather less convincing idea: 'in short, ecological citizenship ... has to do with the extension of citizenship rights to non-human beings' (1994: 146). [...] It is a mistake to try to extend the citizen community in this way [...] because I believe citizenship rights to be a matter of justice, and justice can only very arguably be predicated of non-human beings (Dobson 1998: 166-83). I do, though, think that such beings can be moral patients, and therefore must be regarded as members of the moral community. But then our relationships with them are humanitarian rather than citizenly, and so to regard ecological citizenship as extending citizen rights to non-human animals is a mistake. [...]

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