2 Supporting environmental conversation: policy and action
2.1 Dealing with change in what matters: ethics, policy and action
Much of what has been covered so far in this unit deals with the individual human capacity to frame nature as a means for enabling environmental responsibility. But what are the implications of this for actually doing something about policy design and action to improve matters? Framing the natural world is an inevitable human endeavour that we all carry out, whether consciously or subconsciously, as part of our interaction with human and non-human nature. For example, each of the tools listed below might be considered as a system (a framework that may be put to work in conveying ideas around environmental responsibility):
classification or typology (e.g. the three views of environment – externality, managerial and integral – that you met in Part 1, or the perspectives on sustainable development introduced in this part)
metaphor (e.g. ‘conversation’ as a way of understanding the interaction and tension between human and non-human nature)
analogy (e.g. the ‘family’ as a way of understanding two dimensions of responsibility, caring and accountability)
models (including simple diagrams, as used in this part to help you understand the various dynamics of responsibility).
The codified expressions of rights and duties can also be regarded as framing devices, each prompting questions regarding its value as a framework for both understanding and practice. And from a framework for responsibility (fwR) viewpoint, we might question the comprehensiveness of any one particular ‘right’ or ‘duty’ and also the impact it may have on different perspectives. Such matters, it might be argued, are essential when raising issues of environmental responsibility.
Be that as it may, a system, framework or any other human conceptual construct always starts with some distinction over what matters. In other words, it starts with an ethical judgement on the realities of the ‘real world’. Yet this real world may be judged differently by different people, as David Russell suggests (Russell and Ison, 1991):
My real world is different from your real world and this must always be so. The common ground which is the basis of our ability to communicate with one another, comes about through the use of the common process of perceiving and conceptualising. The process might be common but the end products are never the same … we do not share a common experiential world.
The initial judgements made by humans are judgements of ‘fact’. But judgements on reality are, in the first instance, intuitively determined by some bounded value judgement of what is good and what is bad. In framing what matters, we are therefore dealing in the first instance with a consequentialist ethic. In other words, ‘caring for environment’ is based on the fundamental criterion of what harms the environment. Given the differences in human perspectives, there may often not be a consensus on such judgements. However, in many cases there might at least be some movement towards convergence. Marilyn Holly, in her discussion of the role of virtue-based ethics, describes this convergence as an asymptotic tendency, approaching but never reaching consensus (2006, p. 414):
I suggest that we must think in terms of at best an asymptotic approach to consensus about what harms the environment, and use this as a criterion of wrong environmental action, and then argue backward as it were to what human virtue(s) would prevent such wrong environmental action and what human actions would promote right environmental action. Leopold's Land Ethic … could be the criterion of right and wrong environmental action as promoting or not promoting the beauty, stability, and integrity of the ecosystem. Then, arguing backward from this, we could specify what human virtues as character traits would lead to environmentally right actions that also promote human flourishing. Both of these, conceived of in this way, may or may not be time-bound by the ethos and the conditions of a given historical/philosophical milieu. These matters can be rethought from time to time.
An assessment of what matters is not only arguably the first point of departure in environmental responsibility but also, as Holly further suggests, variable over time and place. This variability is due not only to the change and natural flux in Nature, but also to ever-changing sets of human judgements. Werner Ulrich (2003) refers to these judgements in terms of boundary critique. They include judgements of ‘fact’ associated with developments in science; societal and individual value judgements permeating through an evolving human culture; and boundary judgements used to frame our understanding and practice regarding what is good and what is right for the environment.
Activity 10 Making judgements on climate change
Take around half an hour to listen to this three-part studio discussion on issues relating to climate change:
Transcript: Audio 1
Transcript: Audio 2
Transcript: Audio 3
Make notes on (a) the issues raised during the discussion, (b) instances where you feel that the three participant discussants are using judgements of ‘fact’ or value judgements, and (c) whether you experience the discussion more as a conversation or as a debate. You will be asked to reflect further on this audio resource later.
Given this flux of change and interaction, what confidence might we have in the framing of the natural world being used at any one time to support relevant policy design and as a guide to action? In other words, how might we recognise appropriate professional expert support – in addition to citizen support – in the arena of policy design and action? I shall examine two complementary traditions in this section. First is environmental pragmatism, which has its roots in the tradition of philosophical pragmatism – a tradition referred to by Ronald Moore when he cites the influence of John Dewey (see also Box 3). Second is citizen engagement in the tradition of science and technology studies. Both of these traditions support the idea that value formation is integral to providing expert scientific support. In other words, they are both critical of the notion of value-free scientific support, and call instead for a more responsible mode of professional practice. The aim here is to try and recognise different attributes of professional expert support and citizen support for environmental responsibility in terms of contributing perspectives on what matters.