By J.B. Ruhl
October 11, 2006
One reason for my interest in complex systems is my field of interest for teaching and research: environmental law with a focus on ecosystem management governance, ecosystem services, and the specific resource issues of endangered species and wetlands. The challenge here is to use one complex system (law) to manage how another complex system (the economy) treats another complex system (the environment). Good luck to us!
One of the key inquiries, therefore, is how to design instruments and institutions that work. Toward that end, this post carries over a theme I recently raised on a listserve for environmental law professors and which has produced some illuminating observations. My plan is to summarize the listserve comments and any comments received on this blog (as well as on BioLaw) and post that in the near future.
So, with no further delay, here is the question I posed:
Environmentalism has never had a reputation for being particularly attached to democratic values. Perhaps in the early 1970s the two agendas matched up, but let’s face it, since then environmentalism has lost on the election front more than it has won. And it has a well-deserved reputation for being a fair-weather friend: when it looks like the courts won’t help out, by gosh the legislatures are the answer, and vice versa.
An example comes from Tallahassee, where we are trying to figure out our energy and environment future. On the table is an option to participate as a partner in a proposed new coal-fired power plant. When this proposal seemed like a live threat in terms of support on the city council, local environmental groups demanded a straw vote referendum. They got one, and they lost--the majority of voters favored participation as a partner in the new plant. To be sure, there are all sorts of post-mortems on the vote, all with more spin than Nadal can put on his kick serve, but the bottom line is that the majority of voters (who voted) said they want the plant. Nevertheless, local environmental groups--the ones that demanded the vote--now vow a fight to the death in court, prompting this comment in today's paper (we have an anonymous comment forum called “zing!”): “The people have already spoken in a referendum, and they said ‘yes’ to a coal power plant. Let democracy work, and get off your anti-coal high horses already.”
I realize few readers will have all the facts on this particular case, but what is the general take on the question of how environmentalism and democratic values are playing out in the U.S in the opening decade of the 21st century?