What Level of Government for Ecologists?

By Mercier, Jean | Public Administration Review, July-August 1994 | Go to article overview

What Level of Government for Ecologists?


Mercier, Jean, Public Administration Review


First and foremost, environmentalists have focused their attention on the physical environment, on questions regarding the quality of the air, the water, and the soil. As radical as they may appear to be, most environmentalist groups focus on the concrete solutions to solve our environmental problems.

Greens and ecologists, on the other hand, in addition to the physical state of the planet, are interested in larger, more institutional questions. Better known in Europe and particularly in Germany (Hulsberg, 1988), the Greens constitute a political force that has made its political thought (Dobson, 1990)(1) and its parliamentary action felt in several countries.

There are also ecologists who are less easily identifiable in terms of traditional public policy positions. "Ecology" was a term first reserved for the study of natural settings and the interactions found among its components. With time, ecology came to include the study of interactions at the human and institutional level. This article is an attempt to get acquainted with some of the ecologists' views on institutional, organizational, and public policy questions, views which are extremely varied and, sometimes, contradictory.

The institutional and human questions that have interested ecologists range from family, patriarchy, and feminism to decentralization, autoroutes, supermarkets, and world government. Of course, when ecologists venture beyond the questions of air, water, and soil to focus on larger, more immaterial topics, contradictions and controversies are more likely to occur. Recently, for example, a fundamental controversy has raged in the United States between, on the one hand, Murray Bookchin, the main proponent of social ecology, and deep ecologists on the other hand. Bookchin accuses deep ecologists of turning back the clock of social evolution, when they call for a greater respect for nature's fundamental laws (Hinchman and Hinchman, 1989, p. 212; Dobuzinskis, 1989, p. 5). The institutional debates among ecologists, or even among Greens, are by no means limited to die United States. The debates between the fundamentalists and the realists in West Germany are legendary. In France, ecologist Antoine Waechter's application of the concept of bio-region to immigration policy has stirred debate in a country where immigration has been a very sensitive question for at least a decade (Nick, 1991, p. 13).

Of course, not all ecological notions are concrete enough to stimulate debate on public policy. For example, the notion that "governments are needed to provide external controls on behavior only in highly |entropic' societies out of harmony with their environment" (Hinchman and Hinchman, 1989, p. 220) is in interesting thought but policy advisers would be at a loss to start putting it into operation. The same could be said for the idea that "the mature ecosystem is an ensemble of unlike, yet closely integrated parts, (which makes) yeoman agriculture ... unnatural and feudalism natural, since the latter combines unlike classes and occupations" (Hinchman and Hinchman, 1989, p. 219).

In order to illustrate some of the ecology movement's institutional propositions, I will pay special attention to those that pertain to the appropriate level of government intervention. Obviously, whether a given problem requires federal or local government intervention depends largely on the nature of the problem itself. Yet institutional ecologists, if only implicitly, have formulated principles and proposed arrangements in this regard. My goal is to examine some of these principles and propositions.

Before moving into the heart of the topic, it may be helpful to point to some of the general principles of the ecologist movement, especially those that may have some bearing on institutional arrangements. Among those principles on which there is agreement, diversity is first and foremost: diversity exists in nature, and humans should not seek to artificially standardize their creations. …

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