Liberal Democracy and Environmentalism: The End of Environmentalism?

By Marcel Wissenburg; Yoram Levy | Go to book overview
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Little green lies

On the redundancy of 'environment'

Marcel Wissenburg


Newton's model of the solar system required God's active interference to prevent the planets from drifting off. A popular story has it that when Laplace presented a new model to explain the persistence of the planets' orbits to the Corsican tyrant Bonaparte, the latter asked him where in this model God was to be found. Laplace's immortal reply was: 'Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis'. In this chapter, I hope to find out if we need the environment hypothesis.

First, let me clarify my terms. I shall use the word 'environment' to denote the shared object of analysis, concern and sometimes justification of all green movements and thinkers: environmentalists, ecologists, animal liberators, and so on. I distinguish between the concept of environment and conceptions of it: a 'concept' refers to an in some sense real-existing entity; in contrast, 'conceptions' refer to 'deeper' or (in Rawlsian terms) 'thicker' interpretations of that entity (cf. Rawls 1971). Society (for instance) is a concept; ideas like Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft refer to interpretations, conceptions. By calling environment a concept, I emphasize a claim that I shall try to refute here, the claim that it has an epistemologically legitimate existence in the world (more precisely, in the political universe) - that is to say, it would be an idea that cannot be reduced to other concepts.

I shall use 'environmentalists' and 'environmentalism' both as general terms for all (members of) environmental movements and organizations, and for all 'green' political theories; and where appropriate to refer to a specific conception of environment. As the common object for environmentalists in the strict sense, 'environment' refers to everything which surrounds humans, in particular (but not necessarily) the parts that have not (yet) been substantially transformed by humans. A human-made forest is still a forest; it is substantially transformed when it is turned into paper. This is a rough definition, not without problems, but it will do for now. Ecologists refer to their object as being 'the ecology', a system of entities, subsystems and relations that must be understood as a whole. Humankind is inseparably part of this ecology. Again, this is a rough but functional definition. Animal liberators refer to their object, among others, as being species within or individual members of the set of non-human 'animals', who are either part of 'nature' or live as domesticated creatures. This is an even more questionable definition, but again, it is sufficient for now.


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