Energy & Environment

Ecological Modernisation And The Challenge To Democracy

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To environmentalists, the contemporary liberal democratic state still looks like an ecological failure. Green issues are rarely prioritised within national or global politics, as self interest still dominates – meaning environmental aims often take a backseat to the goals of economic wealth and industrial modernisation. Consequently, many environmentalists have argued that liberal democratic states cannot achieve environmental sustainability. In contrast, this article highlights the importance of working within the current system of liberal democracy in order to improve ecological practice. The article suggests that ecological modernisation (EM) offers the means of ‘taming’ capitalism and is best suited to working from within a liberal democratic state. In order to encapsulate the potential of EM, methods of deliberative democracy must also be utilized, as this article finds that they can counter the disadvantages of liberal democracy, identified by environmentalists.

Liberal democracy has been accused, by environmental scholars and others, of being incompatible with green issues. This is due to economic growth; the pursuit of private interest, and the social injustice that liberal societies promote. Due to the presence of capitalism, liberal democracies have a major part of their economy conducted by individuals or privately owned firms operating to gain profit. The increasing consumption and production sector, familiar to developed liberal states is placing unsustainable pressure on the world’s finite resources. Consequently calls have been made by environmentalists to place limitations on the continuous industrial and modernisation processes occurring in liberal democratic capitalist states, but many argue that democratic components of liberal democratic states are too weak and ineffectual to achieve this.

With limited levels of access to democracy open to the public, citizens are pulled between the contrary forces of individual freedom and the common good. Freedom of choice, although core to the liberal ideal, is often detrimental to the environment. What is attractive for the individual does not necessarily work toward the common good. This is to some extent because environmentally good practice is often expensive and inconvenient. Social choice is instead, calculated by pre-determined self interest rather than through discussion and understanding. More often than not, people are uneducated regarding the impact of their actions, or they feel they themselves are powerless to make a difference due to social exclusions surrounding the democratic process. 

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Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 3 No. 4

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