A Defence of (Deliberative) Democracy in the Anthropocene

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Environmentally focussed scepticism of democracy is often founded on distrust in the public to choose outcomes consistent with green imperatives. The spectre of the Anthropocene, with large scale and complex environmental impacts, increases the stakes. It not only renders the task of governance more difficult in a technical sense, relating to the ability to deliver outcomes; it also renders more problematic the task of mobilising citizen support for appropriate action that serves their best long-term interests. The call to suspend certain democratic processes to deal with the environmental crisis is intuitively appealing, but doomed to failure. While eco-authoritarianism is a blunt instrument that assumes too much on the part of eco-elites, liberal paternalism is sophisticated and empirically robust, yet assumes too little on the part of citizens as well as being parasitic on the same kind of manipulatory political processes that have contributed to poor environmental outcomes in the first place. If the response to the Anthropocene is to reflect the nature of the challenge, then I argue that governance should involve the active support of citizens who are attuned to both the urgency and complexity of the task. Such an environmental citizen is possible when we take into account the democratic context in which judgements are made and deliberative capacities formed. But this can only be achieved if democracies develop as a whole in a more deliberative direction. In the short term, where environmental concern is easily crowded-out in political debate, deliberation helps to make salient less tangible and complex dimensions associated with the issue. Over the longer term, the effect is to transform the polity as a whole, improving deliberative capacity. The possibilities for achieving these benefits of deliberation in practice, such as enhancing existing deliberative systems, are considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-45
Number of pages31
JournalEthical Perspectives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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