Illiberalism and the Environment

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
David SONNENFELD, SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry, USA
Peter Leigh TAYLOR, Colorado State University, USA
Since their inception, popular environmentalism and environmental sociology have developed in close relation to – in extension of, dialogue with, and critique of – liberalism and liberal values as applied to the environmental sphere. The liberal worldview, based on classical Western ideals privileging the rights of individuals, citizenship, political pluralism, representative democracy, and accountable states and institutions, remains at the heart of environmentalism and much environmental social science. Many nation-states are predicated on the rule of law and responsive institutions, including with respect to environment and society. Global institutions are founded on liberal ideals as well, including the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Rio Declaration, and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Yet Western-style, liberal democracies are hardly universal. Illiberalism is widespread, in forms ranging from illiberal democracies to centralized states, theocracies, monarchies; and non-state forms including various 'rights' and millenarian movements. Across the world, liberal states and institutions co-exist with, and sometimes are overshadowed by, illiberal counterparts, leaders, and movements. At the same time, strained by social and environmental crises, all states face increased calls for environmental intervention, sometimes over the rights of individuals, communities, and dependent territories. This paper asks, What are the implications of this wide spectrum of socio-political forms, ideologies, and movements for an environmental sociology of the full range of human–environment interactions that can support attainment of a more sustainable global future? How does the interaction between political actors, including the state and civil society, play out with respect to environmental problems and responses? What are the implications in diverse contexts for the relationship between humans and nature? Liberal democracy and environmental protection pose daunting tradeoffs with critical consequences for humans and nature in diverse political contexts. Yet even in illiberal contexts, the fates of humans and the natural environment remain inextricably intertwined.