At first sight the international system does not seem like a good place to look for either environmental justice or democracy. Formal institutions in this system have always been quite weak, and seemingly no match for the power of sovereign states and multinational corporations. Inasmuch as international organizations and regimes are now being strengthened, it is generally with economic concerns in mind—think, most notably, of the recent establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to preside over the expansion of global free trade. As Vandana Shiva argues in her contribution to this volume (Chapter 4), the WTO in many ways represents the latest phase of an exploitative and hierarchical global order in which the world’s poor and their environments are further subordinated to the interests of the world’s wealthy, now organized into global capitalism. Certainly there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the prospects for ecological rationality, justice and democracy in the contemporary international order.
I will suggest that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the international system should be one of the first places to look for felicitous combinations of democratic structure and ecological concern, ‘ecological democracy’ for short. But the search will involve some rethinking of what constitutes the substance of democracy, and looking for it in some unusual and novel places. It is important to press this search to the limit, rather than give up in the face of some very large and seemingly overwhelming problems. For it hardly needs saying that some of the larger issues of ecological destruction and environmental injustice arise at the international level. If one believes that ecological irrationality and injustice can only be remedied through democratic means- and shortly I will try to establish that such is indeed the case—then the search for global environmental justice just has to involve a search for enhanced democracy in the global system.
By way of preliminaries I want to establish that the effective resolution of environmental problems, be it in the international system or elsewhere, is indeed best pursued through democratic means, and that this is especially true