The Institutions Of A Green Democracy

Survival MD

Survival MD Guidebook  By Dr. Scurtu

Get Instant Access

If ecology poses some new questions regarding the nature of representation and the boundaries of democracy, it also reinforces the relevance of some more traditional ones. One of these concerns the problem of legitimacy. The justification of the view that the ecological crisis may pose a threat to democracy has mostly depended on the likelihood that ecological problems will undermine political stability and that this will lead to an erosion of the legitimacy of liberal democracy. Perhaps the most plausible reason is the fact that the scale of ecological problems might be beyond the scope of national governments to deal with. As governments prove ineffective, for instance in preventing rising sea levels or feeding their populations adequately, they could lose legitimacy in the eyes of their people. Yet, real though these problems are, they are problems of the effectiveness of nation-states rather than necessarily problems of democracy. Indeed, those states in the Third World that would suffer most from the effects of such instability are least likely to be liberal democracies. Yet, the arguments of 'survivalists' are a reminder that it is possible to use the ecological crisis to support anti-democratic arguments. Survivalists argue that the coming change is so severe that only a concentration of power will be effective enough to achieve a solution.

Apocalyptic thinking of this kind has played an important part in the green movement, especially in its formation. Leading figures within green movements, such as Herbert Gruhl in the early days of the German greens and Edward Goldsmith in the British greens, have combined doom-laden predictions with a call for urgent and effective action by a strong government. Impatience with moderates because 'Time is Short' was also a motive for the actions of those like Dave Foreman, who founded the direct action organisation Earth First! in the USA. The misanthropic comments of some within Earth First!, such as the view that Aids and famines were useful means of controlling over-population, soon became infamous. They did not represent either Earth First! in general, or a view that is widespread among greens. However, they do show how apocalyptic thinking can lead to a focus only on what is to be done, rather than how it is to be done.

If warnings about an ecological apocalypse pose the danger that green arguments will lead to an and-democratic outcome, then it is especially important to consider how greens can be effective as democrats. The chapters in Part III provide various answers to this question, but all share a concern with the institutional basis for an effective democratic ecological politics.

Peter Christoff (Chapter 8) looks at the prospects for building new forms of citizenship that are capable of responding to the challenges of globalisation, including the transnational character of ecological issues. He points out that the relationship between citizen and nation-state is already one of considerable tension; for, whilst the nation-state remains the main site of its expression (since formal citizenship must be attached to an identifiable and legally bounded political community), citizenship no longer seems to be exclusively tied to any one nationstate. He says that the democratic content of the concept of citizenship is increasingly being dissociated from its formal expression in a post-national political environment. Christoff then investigates how we might institutionalise stronger democracy so that it is equipped to deal with complex ecological decisions and argues that it is of vital importance to include and enfranchise all those with an identifiable vital interest in the outcome. This also means that existing humans must assume responsibility for future generations and other species and 'represent' their interests and potential choices according to the duties of environmental stewardship. Ecological citizenship can be defined by its attempt to extend social welfare discourse to recognise 'universal' principles relating to environmental rights and to incorporate these in law, culture and politics.

Whereas Christoff's focus is beyond the nation-state, Marius de Geus (Chapter 10) investigates the question of why many discussions of the environmental question conclude that increased state interference in society is necessary. He rejects statist solutions of this kind, but is equally critical of radical green arguments such as those of Murray Bookchin, chief theorist of 'social ecology', that renounce the state and market economy altogether. He argues that there is a feasible alternative.

In examining the existing models of ecological change de Geus comes to the conclusion that the model of piecemeal engineering based upon modest reforms and change is ineffective. But, on the other hand, the radical utopian model that seeks far-reaching changes and a fundamental transformation of society will also produce a range of unexpected new problems and unintended consequences. He argues instead for middle range reforms, what he calls 'ecological restructuring'. This is a model of change that can skirt the shortcomings of both 'piecemeal' and 'utopian' engineering. De Geus then discusses the basic principles for the ecological restructuring of society and argues for a green market economy in combination with a freedom-oriented and ultra-flexible state that is capable of countering environmental problems on exactly the scale that they occur. This 'ecostate' will have to concentrate primarily on creating situations and conditions that will make it attractive for citizens to make environmentally friendly choices. The central question this poses for green politics is not whether the liberal democratic state must be done away with, but how it can be adapted to become more democratic and in such a way that environmental policies can be implemented effectively.

Wouter Achterberg (Chapter 9) also deals with the difficulty of creating a climate in which ecological reforms can be undertaken. He argues that the political challenges posed by sustainability are underestimated, especially now that sustainability has become a term in widespread use and with varied meanings. He charts the history of such usages since the 1970s, but argues that the central presupposition of sustainability has remained unchanged: the need for substantial social changes to deal with the problems posed by the ecological crisis. One of the central problems is developing the kinds of community solidarity that could achieve measures such as the global distribution of wealth. This is where the institutional changes suggested by proponents of associative democracy could help. Existing forms of liberal democracy give priority to the protection of individual interests and property rights, but they lack strong forms of associational life. Expanding the role of civic associations within democratic decision making could help to overcome this problem. For greens, a disadvantage of associative democracy is that it could develop only gradually. But it also has the advantage of being a change that can convincingly be seen as positive, when the answers to larger problems are not yet clear. Achterberg does not argue that associative democracy is a necessary part of a green conception of democracy, but he does believe that it will make achieving sustainability easier by providing the institutional form most likely to build global and intergenerational solidarities.

Robyn Eckersley (Chapter 11) is also concerned with reforms to liberal democracy, but her focus is on expanding the discourse of rights to include the natural world. She argues that liberal democracy under-represents ecological concerns, first because it represents only existing citizens of territorially bounded communities, excluding as non-citizens those in the present and future who might be affected by decisions by a particular state. Second, because its own citizens depend for their own protection on poorly resourced environmental groups arguing for long-term interests against well-resourced groups able to appeal to specific short-term interests. One result of this is that environmental interests are treated in a utilitarian manner as sectional and open to bargaining and trade-offs, when really they are universal interests.

Eckersley argues that rights-based theories have advantages over utilitarian ones (including discursive democracy) because by specifying the limits of action by the state and individuals they provide a better defence for people and the natural world against the tyranny of a (human) majority. One problem with rights is that they are usually based on individuals' interests whereas greens are concerned with social and ecological wholes, but if the individual is part of a whole, autonomy can be seen as a mediating point between individual and collective interests. Contra Saward, Eckersley argues that we cannot develop a theory of democracy without enlisting some kind of theory of autonomy and justice. The main disagreement between greens and liberals is not over the meaning or form of democracy, but instead over the meaning and scope of autonomy and justice.

For greens concerned with rights the central problem with environmental rights is whether they create duties that can be enforced practically. In cases of conflicts with other rights a choice would have to be made, but defining environmental concerns in terms of rights has the advantage of providing a stronger benchmark of principle which would make it more difficult to trade off such rights lightly. Eckersley does not present environmental rights as a panacea for the green movement on the problem of democracy, but accepting that in the new mood of 'political realism' the environment is likely to have to work within the constraints of liberal democratic institutions, they are presented as a vehicle for critique and practical reform.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Disaster Survival Guides Collection

Disaster Survival Guides Collection

This is a set of 3 guides all about surviving disasters. Within this set you will learn the following subjects: Earthquakes, Evacuations, Survivor Family and Tsunami.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment