Environmental Politics and Distributive Justice
ONE of the principal curiosities of modern environmentalism is how little it has had to say on the issue of distributive justice. The curiosity derives from the fact that environmentalism and justice share a common organizing concern--the existence of scarcity--but do completely different things with it. Modern environmentalism was founded on the notion of actual or increasing (but always disputed) scarcity. One whole chapter of the seminal report The Limits to Growth ( Meadows et al. 1972) is entitled 'The Limits to Exponential Growth', in which the report's authors argue that a finite earth necessarily contains a finite amount of non-renewable resources as well as a finite capacity to absorb the waste generated by productive activity. With population increasing and resource avalability declining, the unit of resource available to each individual evidently declines too. This is a picture of increasing scarcity in all but name, so it makes at least prima facie sense to say that modern environmentalism--to the extent that it takes its cue from analyses like those outlined in The Limits to Growth--has scarcity as one of its central organizing concepts.
Scarcity is also central to the question of distributive justice. John Rawls, basing his own account of what he calls 'the circumstances of justice' on David Hume, writes of 'the condition of moderate scarcity understood to cover a wide range of situations'--and of these situations he refers in particular to those in which '[n]atural and other resources are not so abundant that schemes of cooperation become surperfluous' ( Rawls 1973: 127). Similarly, but more counterfactually, one of the reasons (but only one) Marx had for