This post is the third in a seven part series on the state of introductory environmental politics literature. 

The Politicization of the Environment

From a relationship between humankind and nature, I move to the politicization of the natural environment. The two subfields link well through the common themes of subjugation and management. Despite the authors’ desires to implement a benevolent management, a consensus among the global community is required to implement effective change. Noncompliance from even a few members—indeed, even one extremely noncompliant member—results in failure to achieve goals of sustainability and lowered pollution. Subjugation appears in two realms: the continued notion that humans must regulate the environment, and the implications that developing states are subject to the international policy preferences of developed states (O’Riordan and Jordan 1995; San 2001).

The challenge with consensus is that it is difficult. Whole volumes of literature have been dedicated to the challenges states face in facilitating cooperation and coordinating actions. Cooperation issues can occur among a group of states or at a sub-national level. Issues that struggle with cooperation and consensus at the international level include public policy, the precautionary principle, and carbon credits (Guha 2000, Chaturvedi 2000; Steinberg 1997; Lovins and Cohen 2011). National level consensus is challenged through determining EPA policy and capabilities, implementing product and business regulations, and runoff politics (Guha 2000; Rosenbaum 2000). Sub-national issues facing consensus challenges include how to construct the inclusion of science in policy and finding consensus on the legitimacy of conservation and climate change (Chaturvedi 2000; Gua 2000).

Another theme consistent through this subfield is the recognition that both our current political conceptions of nature and systems we use to manage our relationship with the environment must be altered to create a more sustainable form of environmental politics. Most scholars of this subfield do not believe we need a significant upheaval in our politicization of the environment (Porter, Brown, and Chasek 2000; Rosenbaum 2000; Lovins and Cohen 2011; O’Riordan and Jordan 1995). As we move into the subfield of Eco-Capitalism we will deeper calls for change, yet this is directed toward a change of habits, rather than political framing or organization. Other scholars from the Future of Environmentalism field have a deeper focus on changing societies assumptions and mindsets about the state-environment relationship, yet these authors tend toward ‘realistic’ (i.e. manageable) strategies.

This subfield offers a question of cultural influence. How do the authors, especially those in environmental anthologies) focus on different environmental aspects given the environmental and social assumptions of their background? Immediately we see non-Western authors in Chaturvedi and Guha’s anthologies tend to focus on the non-Western roots of nature/spiritual connections and nature/gender connections (2000; 2000). Moreover, the view of economic management of the environment has Western European roots. This especially is the case when we examine two realms of environmental management: carbon regulation systems and Arctic management (O’Riordan and Jordan 1995; Young 1998; Nuttall 2000; Heininen and Southcott 2010). Both realms have seen developed, Western states direct the course of resource and environmental management, and seldom veer from the assumption that these states are the most capable of directing policy.

O’Riordan and Jordan do not emphasize a political North-South subjugation, following the model of Sand (2001). Yet this assumption is implied in who they consider as primary participants in crafting carbon credit agreements. Moreover, they point to the connection between policy contribution and verbal criticism. States that participated the most in credit policy formation had fewer criticisms on burden distribution at the implementation stage—and developing states most frequently brought forward criticisms (1995).

‘The duty of all,’ is a mindset often adopted on global-level environmental politics, but there is a strong focus on the terms of environmental politicization being set by developing countries. While there is still discussion on developing state critiques, it is considered their duty to still contribute despite objections (Jasanoff 1996; O’Riordan and Jordan 1995; Porter, Brown, and Chasek 2000; Rosenbaum 2000; Guha 2000). A significant gap in this literature is the failure to address the inherent unsustainability of politics based the concept of a ‘duty of all, designed by some.’

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