Justice and the Environment: Conceptions of Environmental Sustainability and Theories of Distributive Justice

Justice and the Environment: Conceptions of Environmental Sustainability and Theories of Distributive Justice

Justice and the Environment: Conceptions of Environmental Sustainability and Theories of Distributive Justice

Justice and the Environment: Conceptions of Environmental Sustainability and Theories of Distributive Justice

Synopsis

Environmental sustainability and social justice are both widely regarded as desirable social objectives. Professor Dobson's powerful new study explores the relationship between these two objectives and concludes that radical environmental demands are only incompletely served by couching them in terms of justice.

Excerpt

There are limits to sustainability. About five billion years from now a series of unusually large explosions inside the sun will turn it into a Red Giant, expanding and swallowing everything in its path, including the Earth. It is a fair bet that some time before then, life on this planet will have become untenable, and any possibility of--let alone interest in--environmental sustainability and social justice will have long since disappeared. It is an equally fair bet, though, that until then, the conditions for life and how most fairly to divide up its benefits and burdens will be somewhere near the top of the list of political, social, and economic preoccupations. My intention here is to assess the theoretical relationship between environmental sustainability and social justice. The principal reason for doing so is that we cannot assume that these objectives are compatible, and their potential incompatibility raises issues of political legitimacy for them both. If they were always and everywhere compatible, then 'crises of legitimization' would never occur, but I hope to show in what follows that the empirical evidence for compatibility is patchy at best, and that there are good theoretical reasons for regarding extravagant compatibility claims with some scepticism. (I should say that here I assume, rather than argue for, the desirability of these two objectives, however it is that we turn out to understand them.)

Put differently, it is just possible that a society would be prepared to sanction the buying of environmental sustainability at the cost of declining social justice, as it is also possible that it would be prepared to sanction increasing social justice at the cost of a deteriorating environment. My guess, though, is that neither environmental sustainability nor social justice has such overriding legitimacy that . . .

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