Environmental Pragmatism [preprint]

In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell (forthcoming)
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Environmental pragmatists argue that it is defeatist to declare in advance that the only effective way to deal with environmental problems is to usher in a complete cultural paradigm shift that radically transforms human value systems. Hence, they do not place a high priority on revolutionary attempts to convince doubters that natural systems, living beings, or sentient beings have intrinsic value. Instead, they prioritize creating a democratic context for adaptive decision processes, which of course includes the evaluation of vying principles. This approach reflects John Dewey’s distinction between a planning society and a planned society. Whereas incommensurable values are an inherent problem for any planned society, such as Plato’s Republic or the former Soviet Union, they are irreducible frictions within a planning society. This focus on planning is illustrated by pragmatist philosopher Andrew Light’s work on climate diplomacy as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy for International Affairs. The Kyoto Protocol began with an abstract principle of equitable emissions. But its top-down, punitive approach precipitated a race to the bottom when it came to agreeing on binding targets. In contrast, the Paris Agreement’s bottom-up “pledge and review” approach fronts adaptive processes through which countries intra-nationally decide what to do, take stock, and reconvene to pressure each other. Such continuous cooperative planning makes it more likely that evolving situations will be met creatively and with higher ambition. 
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