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Individual Paper: The Environmental Trilemma

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The purpose of my paper is threefold: first, to propose a new theoretical framework to describe and understand current global environmental politics; second, to heuristically use this framework to analyse and criticise current approaches to environmental politics; and third, to explore alternatives approaches. Concerning the first part of the paper, I will introduce what I call the Environmental Trilemma (ET). This is the idea that the three policy goals of (i) economic growth, (ii) enduring enjoyment of political freedoms - along the lines of liberal democracies -, and (iii) environmental protection cannot be simultaneously attained. Only two of these three policy goals can be attained at any one time. The second part of the paper will analyse the three possible combinations of ET:
(a) business as usual: economic growth + political freedoms (without environmental protection);
(b) limitarism and degrowth/post-growth movements: political freedoms + environmental protection (without economic growth);
(c) environmental authoritarianism: economic growth + environmental protection (without political freedoms).
Finally, I aim to question whether and under what conditions ET truly stands. ET assumes that at least two policy goals can always be obtained. This is, in itself, a debatable, and debated, claim. In this sense, ET, as a description of current approaches to environmental politics, might be considered an over-optimistic framework. These considerations open up a space to argue that, given the set of policy possibilities offered by ET, more radical conclusions - such as radical degrowth, radical decentralisation or, even, uncivilisation - might follow.
I aim to show that the wider architecture of the choices policy-makers will have to make in the future is more complex and wicked than commonly understood. Citizens have been shocked by the fluidity of politics in the last couple of years and they are now willing to question the standard assumptions upon which policy choices are made, e.g. the tenability of endless economic growth. This creates a context in which the reassessment of environmental politics I propose here is particularly germane and could be highly impactful.

Info

Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 14:30
Duration: 00:15
Room: ABF (206)
Track: Degrowth: Culture, Power and Change

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