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  • Goal 13: Climate Action x
  • Social Policy x
  • Environmental Policy x
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Having explored the broad social dimensions of environmental issues we narrow our focus onto social policy – both as an academic subject and a set of government activities – beginning with the principal critiques of its assumptions and practices which have been offered by greens.

Obviously, much depends on which environmentalists we are talking about (see the Introduction, this volume; also Jordan, 2010: Chapter 5). In general terms, however, most would assent to some version of the following.

Environmentalists oppose social policies and welfare systems that are unsustainable. The basic idea is that a finite planet cannot support endless appropriations of its resources and unlimited contamination of its ecosystems. Some types of growth are less damaging than others but, for greens, only that growth which is consistent with, and preferably enhances, the coping capacity of the Earth is justifiable. Both ends of the political spectrum therefore stand accused. The Right treat rising material prosperity as the central justification for capitalism and free markets, the job of social policies being to assist markets by maintaining social order and enforcing the disciplines that unregulated markets require. Many on the Left have thought it best to champion social justice by emphasising a painless form of redistribution where basic needs are met by directing ever-higher levels of growth in appropriate directions, through horizontal redistribution and modest forms of vertical redistribution. In short, ‘productivism’ can be said to underpin all welfare regimes, whatever their political complexion. Another charge, therefore, is that social policies contribute to unsustainability. By perpetuating the ideologies of productivism, welfare systems help to fuel more unsustainable growth.

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Before launching into our analysis it is worth pausing to offer a brief definition of how the (non-ecological) state has traditionally been defined. Richards and Smith (2002: 39) identified six features which any modern state possesses.

There have been sustained challenges to the very definition of what constitutes the state – its boundaries and functions – over the past 30 years or so. The traditional definition listed in the box above is firmly ensconced within Westphalian thought, with an emphasis on the concept of the nation-state: state and national boundaries coincide with defined territories in real terms of space, place and national identity. In more recent times, what are sometimes called more post-modern and/or neoliberal and/or globalised interpretations of the state have challenged this orthodoxy, leading to more amorphous and disparate understandings of state forms, including cross-boundary and cross-sectoral interactions and interpretations. While research into states has changed considerably over the past generation, democratic reforms and innovations have not necessarily matched the degree of state restructuring. Later in this chapter, we show how these structural and democratic tensions have been greater in the Global South than in the Global North as, in the case of the former, these newer, globalised notions of governance have been even more hollowed out.

In environmental political thought, the state has long been treated with considerable suspicion (see also Chapter Eleven, this volume). Green theorists have been quick to identify the state as a source of environmental degradation, as well as social domination. Yet green political thought is currently in the process of revising this position in order to recognise the importance of the state for securing effective action on a range of environmental challenges.

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This chapter is concerned with social membership and participation. Citizenship and care are contested terms that have different meanings for different political theorists as well as for the individuals who put them into practice. Here citizenship is defined as:

  • membership in a political community;

  • a legal status carrying rights and entitlements;

  • a practice involving responsibilities to the wider community (see Kymlicka and Norman, 1994).

There are many theoretical perspectives on citizenship – liberal, communitarian, civic republican, feminist and green – each bringing different assumptions and goals to the discussion. Care can be viewed as an ethical orientation and as a practice of providing support (protection and sustenance) for something or someone. Most scholarly work on care is done by feminist theorists who look at the gender aspects of care and women’s socially ascribed role as caregivers in families. There is also a vast literature on social care, which looks at the delivery of caring services like childcare, education and health in welfare states.

It is significant that care and citizenship are being considered together in this chapter because in traditional western approaches to politics they belong to two separate spheres: citizenship to the public sphere of politics and care to the private or domestic sphere. In the dominant political traditions citizenship is celebrated as the means by which humans can fulfil their true nature, while care is constructed as a ‘necessary evil’ that must be provided so that citizens may get on with the real business of politics. Some argue that the relegation of care to the household has fostered a belief that citizens are autonomous individuals who do not depend on others.

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Before leaving the house you check that the interactive energy grid is on. This means that the few appliances you need to leave active during the day – like the fridge – will store what they need and only draw energy from the local network when required. Besides, you checked your eco-account yesterday and you’ve been selling more energy to the network recently than you’ve been taking from it. Your new microgeneration plant started paying for itself last year.

You wait at the end of the road for your regular personalised transit cart (PTC). You climb aboard and insert your 3C (carbon credit card) into the reader. It deducts 20 credits from your monthly allowance and automatically deducts a 3% contribution from your eco-account. That percentage was dropping year on year as levels of global poverty reduced. You are joined by seven other neighbours who also work in the Shelton borough and off you go. The PTC is driverless and follows a series of dioptric lights set into the road.

Other carts follow the same lights before and behind you, but because they have been programmed to aim for different sectors they will ultimately divert onto alternative routes. You are surprised to see one or two private vehicles on the road this morning. Normally, even top-of-the-range hydros are curfewed until the hours of 9.30am–3.30pm. But then you remember that the country is ahead of meeting its annual emissions targets and things have been relaxed slightly. This won’t make you late for work, however. There are few traffic jams these days and public vehicles always have right of way.

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What counts as an environmental problem changes over time. Yet few would deny that current environmental challenges are many. In this chapter we aim to provide an overview of major environmental challenges of direct relevance to students and researchers in the social sciences. The primary focus is on global climate change, as many other challenges relate, directly or indirectly, to this issue. For example, concerns about biological diversity can arise directly from the destruction of habitats; habitat destruction, however, could be the result of land management policies aimed at increasing the production of plant stuffs to make biofuel (an alternative to fossil fuels). At the same time, the shift towards biofuels has led to food production problems: for example, land is being used to farm plants for fuel rather than plants for food, thereby affecting food supplies and costs. Also, climate change effects result in some crops becoming no longer suitable for certain environments. Thus, a wide range of environmental issues is actually intertwined and forms a complex web of concerns. Additionally, matters of the environment and socio-political concerns are rarely easy to separate and what may look like a potential technical or social solution to an environmental problem may reinforce existing, or create new, environmental and social problems.

The Earth’s temperature has not been constant in the past. Indeed our planet has gone through several periods of global cooling and global warming as it has moved in and out of what we call ‘ice ages’. Why, then, is so much attention being paid now to the phenomenon of global warming if it is something that has happened before? This is because some of the warming that is taking place now is believed to have different causes from previous warmings; it is what the textbooks call ‘anthropogenic’, which means it has been caused primarily by human activity, unlike previous global temperature shifts which were due entirely to natural causes.

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In this chapter we begin to review the philosophical dimensions that are relevant if we are to develop the substantive, enduring forms of ecological citizenship on which a sustainable society ultimately depends. This chapter deals with ethical theories and Chapter Six with political ones.

Environmental ethics concerns the question of whether or not our interactions with the natural environment, or our interactions between each other with respect to the natural environment, are subject to moral constraints or to moral requirements. But why might we hold that there are such constraints or requirements in the first place? Well, we certainly think that there are some proscriptions and prescriptions regarding our interactions with each other. It is uncontroversial, for example, that if you are an innocent, then I am morally required not to inflict gratuitous harm on you. It would be morally wrong for me to do so. And we can easily harm each other by how we interact with the natural environment. We can make it poisonous by polluting it, for example. And if we poison our environment through our daily activities, then we will harm each other. But what is the basis for moral constraints and moral requirements? The two most prominent approaches in ethical theory are consequentialism and deontology. Consequentialism, such as utilitarianism, holds that the rightness or wrongness of our actions depends on the overall consequences. Utilitarianism, for example, holds that we should, directly or indirectly, bring about that outcome containing the greatest good. In contrast, deontological approaches hold that (at least certain) actions can be right or wrong regardless of their consequences.

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Debates concerning environmental justice (EJ) are vast, complex and far from producing a consensus. Given the controversies that range around the term’s intellectual parentage – what is justice? what is social justice? – this is to be expected. Analyses can range across a number of levels:

  1. philosophical debates about the concept and meaning of EJ;

  2. the political discourse of EJ, that is, not only what we do but what we say and understand about what we do;

  3. EJ as an economic, social, legal and political practice which structures the distribution of resources;

  4. social movements, groups and networks promoting EJ.

We cover aspects of points 3 and 4 in Chapters Three and Seven when discussing poverty. Here, I propose to concentrate more on point 1, with some attention to 2 and 3. I intend to follow Alan Carter in arguing for a pluralistic approach that offers tools of understanding which connect to older traditions of thought, clarify certain issues for the purpose of policy making and analysis, but without imagining that EJ can or should be reduced to a programmatic, easily digestible list of classifications and indicators. Most of this chapter is dedicated to reflecting the diverse complexity of philosophical debates related to justice.

If justice implies fair shares (being) and right or virtuous activity (doing), then EJ requires such beings and doings to recognise (a) the value of nature, and (b) our status as interdependent, natural beings. Unpacking even this simple definition is an immense task. Is justice primarily about needs or deserts, about rights or responsibilities? Is it a property of individuals, groups or collectivities? Is it backward-looking (a return for what has been done) or forward-looking (the realisation of desirable ends)? Furthermore, Barry (1995) distinguishes between ‘justice as impartiality’ (just rules are those which equal consent to be governed by equally), ‘justice as reciprocity’ (fair dealing, or agents rendering what is owed to others) and ‘justice as mutual advantage’ (acting justly for the sake of mutual reward).

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We now commence the more practical business of examining existing policies in order to understand the extent to which social and environmental agendas have begun to converge. Chapters Eight to Thirteen then take the story into analyses of specific social policy domains.

This chapter therefore asks some key questions:

  1. What are the main instruments available to policy makers and what are their pros and cons?

  2. What levels, contexts and forms of governance relate to those instruments?

  3. What social effects have environmental policies had to date?

This final question returns us to a theme of Chapter Three when we covered the relationship between poverty, exclusion and environmental problems.

Please note that due to lack of space we will not be covering the policy process and policy making in much detail here – for good introductions see Rosenbaum (2008: Chapter 2) and Kraft (2011: 62-74).

The following sub-sections capture the main types of environmental policy that have been promoted to date. For further explorations see Jordan et al (2003), Harrington et al (2004), Rosenbaum (2008: 158-70) and Kraft (2011: 230-3).

Economic instruments are concerned with financial incentives and therefore with making changes to agents’ behaviour (Olmstead, 2010).

First, there is carbon trading (Stern, 2007: Chapter 15). Chapter Three discussed the principles of trading carbon permits in order to inject monetary rewards and penalties into the market system. By manipulating the price mechanism governments can make it slightly harder for the heaviest polluters to realise a profit while rewarding those who undershoot their emissions allowance. The expectation is that such green markets will drive companies towards sustainable practices, including technological innovation, by appealing to the profit motive.

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All over the world, endowments of natural resources shape the size and structure of national economies. Saudi Arabia’s economy is, for instance, petroleum-based, whereas the Maldives’ is tourism-based. Economic activities, on the other hand, affect the environment through the use of natural resources, emission of pollution and generation of waste. The existence of a strong and reciprocal link between the economy and the environment means that millions of people, directly or indirectly, depend on the environment for their livelihoods.

There is no universal definition of what constitutes a green, or an environmental, job. The literature offers several definitions (OECD/Eurostat, 1999; Bezdek et al, 2008; UNEP, 2008). Many of these are relative rather than absolute (OECD,1997). Bezdek et al (2008), for example, define green jobs as all jobs that are performed more pro-environmentally today than before. Their definition consequently encompasses a continuum of industries and jobs which all, due to environmental policies, aim at minimising the environmental impact of products, processes and services. A more pragmatic definition could originate in a definition of the ‘environmental’ sectors of the economy. Yet because many different industrial activities are engaged in producing green goods and services, identification of the environmental sectors is not straightforward. Finding an all-purpose definition of green jobs with clear boundaries is difficult. Instead, the definition employed needs to be appropriate for the specific context in which it is used. Green jobs simply come in different shades, meaning that some jobs generate greater environmental benefits than others.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat have agreed on a definition of the environment industry and give recommendations for data collection so that comprehensive and comparable data can be produced (OECD/Eurostat, 1999).

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The prerequisite for human health is a healthy ecosystem. This ecosystem includes natural, built and social environments. Degradation of these environments, particularly the natural one, now threatens human health on a global scale.

This chapter discusses those measures that try to modify the effects of, and adapt to, environmental changes in order to ensure the health of humans and the environment over time. In particular, we look at international efforts that guide national governments in policy development. Some successes and failures in this endeavour are outlined.

International policies have failed to arrest the widening gap of human health inequalities between the most and least deprived and failed to arrest escalating rates of environmental degradation (Brown, L., 2009; nef, nd). The health, and perhaps the very survival, of humans is under threat.

The toxic combination of bad policies, economics and politics is, in large measure, responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible. (CSDH, 2008: 1)

There is now overwhelming evidence that the interaction between human biology and the natural and social environments determines health. See Figure 8.1 for a summary of the determinants of health. The conditions in which people are born, live, work and age have a powerful influence on their health. There is generally no single cause or contributing factor to health or illness. Inequalities in these conditions lead to unequal health outcomes, and the majority are avoidable and also inequitable (Wilkinson and Marmot, 2003; Marmot and Wilkinson, 2006;WHO, 2009a;Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009).

We begin by reviewing some of the key literature on health, sustainability and the quality of the environment.

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