Reconciling Ecological and Democratic Values: Recent Perspectives on Ecological Democracy

Citation metadata

Authors: David Schlosberg, Karin Backstrand and Jonathan Pickering
Date: Feb. 2019
From: Environmental Values(Vol. 28, Issue 1)
Publisher: The White Horse Press
Document Type: Report
Length: 2,906 words

Main content

Article Preview :

The idea of ecological democracy is a promising one, a combination of two sets of appealing core normative values--environmental concern and engagement on the one hand, and democratic legitimacy and procedure on the other. Yet, these two sets of values are quite different, and not so easily reconciled. Theorists of ecological democracy have long struggled with this dual (and duelling) set of promises, and have always had to address the obvious potential for conflict between them. As Goodin (1992: 160) clearly laid out, long ago, 'to advocate democracy is to advocate procedure, to advocate environmentalism is to advocate substantive outcomes: what guarantee can we have that the former procedures will yield the latter outcome?' There is no guarantee that democracies will necessarily bring about ecological and sustainable ends, and more authoritative processes of attaining those ends could undermine democratic ideals and legitimacy.

Ecological democratic thought in the past quarter-century since Goodin's warning (including in the pages of this journal; see for example Bulkeley and Mol 2003) has been consistently mindful of this very real tension; most theorists have focused on finding, developing or promoting synergies between these two core and ideal sets of values. On the one hand, some theorists--more in line with what Eckersley (2017) defines as environmental democracy--have focused on reforming existing democratic institutions to better represent environmental values or attain environmental goals. On the other hand, advocates of a more thorough ecological democracy argue for a radical break with the neoliberal state and transformation toward decentralised, organic and grassroots democratic practices that embody ecological values and give greater weight to the interests of nonhumans and future generations.

Even within the realm of those more radical forms of ecological democracy, dedicated to enriching and representing deep ecological values and deep democratic ones, approaches have always been broad and diverse, especially as theorists moved beyond responding to the early attraction of environmental authoritarian thinking in environmental political theory (Ophuls 1977). As environmental political theory developed as a field in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of different frameworks for ecological democracy were proposed, from Dryzek's (1987) early work on 'ecological rationality' and openness to the communicative contributions of the nonhuman world, to Eckersley's (1992) democratisation of ecocentrism. As the field matured, proposals for a more deliberative ecological democracy became an increasingly important focus for exploring the interface of ecological and democratic values (for example, Smith 2003, Baber and Bartlett 2005).

More recent work in the field has brought a more thorough focus on the redesign of participatory institutions (Backstrand et al 2010), more radical and grassroots politics of practice (Schlosberg and Coles 2017, Schlosberg and Craven 2019), and democratic forms of global environmental (or Earth system) governance (Stevenson and Dryzek 2014, Eckersley 2017). These efforts have expanded the theory and practice of ecological democracy and governance across scales, ranging from the very local with a focus on material life to broader transnational engagements of stakeholders beyond the borders of sovereign states. In addition, the field has enlarged...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Schlosberg, David, et al. "Reconciling Ecological and Democratic Values: Recent Perspectives on Ecological Democracy." Environmental Values, vol. 28, no. 1, Feb. 2019, pp. 1+. Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A582098503