Think Local, Act Local

By Teles, Steven | New Statesman (1996), August 22, 1997 | Go to article overview

Think Local, Act Local


Teles, Steven, New Statesman (1996)


US environmentalists are shifting their focus. Give people more power, they argue, and they will use it to create a greener community

Somewhere near the top of new Labour's conceptual heap are the themes of decentralisation and environmentalism. At first blush this might seem problematic. After all, despite the appeal of environmentalists to "think globally, act locally", the former injunction typically overwhelms the latter. Environmentalists tend to organise on a national or supra-national level, and to think primarily about problems that mirror their level of organisation. So what, if anything, does decentralisation have to do with environmentalism?

Quite a bit. Despite the overwhelming attention that global issues such as climate change receive in the media and in intergovernmental forums, the number of environmental issues that are local both in their effects and in their causes is significant. Moreover, there is a serious case to be made that the environmental issues which really matter to people are not the ones discussed between nations, but those of a more local character.

While metropolitan elites tend to be driven into environmentalism by "state-of-the-planet" concerns, most people are more concerned with whether the building they work in is making them sick or the lake they fish in is polluted.

As environmentalism matures, its politics needs to change. In the early days the level of government at which issues were addressed seemed like a side issue. But there are costs to the convenient nationalisation or globalisation of environmental issues that activists typically advocate. Some are environmental, since broad-brush national rules and regulations may incur costs and prevent bargains that can be struck when the jurisdictional canvas is smaller. But the most important costs are political, bearing on how citizens interact with the environment and the political system that is meant to protect it.

In America, after two decades of possibly justifiable centralisation in environmental policy, the voices for decentralisation are beginning to get a more serious hearing. This is in part because many of those calling for more localism in environmental politics have good records of concern for nature. But it is also a result of experience. It is becoming clear that, under the right circumstances, greater local control of environmental policy can yield significant environmental gains while injecting more rationality into how decisions are made, and engaging a greater range of actors in civic life.

This school of thought, whose leaders include Professor Marc Landy of Boston College, Debra Knopman of the Progressive Foundation and DeWitt John of the National Academy of Public Administration, has been called democratic or civic environmentalism. Dewitt John is author of a key text Civic Environmentalism. These ideas may hold lessons for new Labour as it tries to reconcile the various strands of its political philosophy.

The fundamental assumption of civic environmentalism is that the legitimacy question in environmental politics is over. Just as the level of employment, the quality of education or the standard of medical care are permanent issues of modern politics, so, too, is the environment. We are all green now, at least in principle. Companies have found that a good environmental image has ramifications for their bottom line, and politicians across the spectrum find they need to demonstrate their eco-credentials.

But this acceptance of the legitimacy of environmentalism is Janus-faced in its consequences. While environmentalists don't have to argue that the "environment" should be protected, they do need to argue that particular "threats" to it are in fact as bad as they say they are, and that resources are better spent alleviating them than on other matters of public concern. As Gregg Easterbrook argues in A Moment on the Earth, we are entering a post-ideological environmental age.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Think Local, Act Local
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.