A green third way? : philosophical reflections on government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

    Abstract

    The book kicks off by remarking that the year 1972 must have been a very special year indeed. The Club of Rome published its report 'The Limits to Growth', the Ecologist published its 'Blueprint for Survival', and the United Nations held its first environmental conference in Stockholm. These three occasions were the first to use the notion of sustainable development with its current connotations. However, sustainable development only received its lasting status as a meta-objective for national and international environmental policy-making with the publication of the WCED-report 'Our Common Future' in 1987. This report defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Subsequently, the debate on sustainable development reached a new climax with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This conference introduced the idea that sustainable development asks for adjustments of lifestyles and patterns of consumption, apart from adjustments in the sphere of production. UNCED emphasised the need for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles, and the second Dutch National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP2) translated this emphasis to the Dutch context.

    UNCED and NEPP2 initiated an extensive public debate on government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles, which was dominated by communicative and economic strategies. Unfortunately, these strategies hitherto failed to reconcile government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles and respect for people's freedom to follow their own lifestyles. Therefore, this book's objective is to provide this very reconciliation by drawing an outline of a green third way for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles. This green third way presents itself as an alternative for the first (communicative) and second (economic) ways in the Dutch public debate. The book aims to articulate people's concerns about the deterioration of nature and the environment, materialised in the worldwide support for the notion of sustainable development, within a largely political liberal frame of reference.

    Chapter 2 maps the Dutch public debate on government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles. This analysis shows that although communicative and economic strategies dominate the debate, these strategies are seriously flawed in their attempts to evade the principled question of whether government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles implies an intolerable infringement of people's freedom to follow their own lifestyles, visions of the good life or consumptive preferences. Communicative and economic strategies are thus criticised on three accounts: 1) their failure to recognise the inextricable interconnectedness between attitudes and behaviour in people's lifestyles; 2) their evasion of the question of how government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles could respect the individual freedom of choice; and 3) their unwillingness to investigate whether sustainable development could offer sound reasons to restrict this freedom of choice. Both strategies are, therefore, incapable of providing a meaningful interpretation of all key terms in the phrase 'government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles'. It is not much of a surprise then that they cannot reconcile government intervention and respect for people's freedom to follow their own lifestyles. Therefore, the chapters 3,4 and 5 subsequently set out to remedy these three flaws of communicative and economic strategies. Luckily, lately a third strategy dawned in the Dutch public debate. This third strategy provides some of the materials to develop an outline of a green third way for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles.

    Chapter 3 argues, mainly inspired by Giddens's theory of structuration, his and Beck's accounts of reflexive modernisation and Douglas's grid-group analysis, for a narrative conceptualisation of the notions of lifestyle and self-identity. This conceptualisation 1) emphasises the inextricable interconnectedness of practices and narratives of self-identity in people's lifestyles, 2) stresses the duality of individual and society in the constitution of lifestyles, 3) changes the modernist distinction between citizen and consumer for the public-private hybrid of the citizen-consumer, and 4) maps the plurality of lifestyles in contemporary globalising, individualising and detraditionalising societies. The narrative conceptualisation of lifestyles implies that it is no longer possible to evade the question of whether government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles necessarily entails an intolerable infringement of people's freedom to follow their own lifestyles. It will not do to emphasise some remaining freedom in either practices or narratives of self-identity, since these practices and narratives are inextricably interconnected in people's lifestyles.

    Chapter 4 argues, mainly informed by Berlin's and Rawls's political liberalism, Raz's liberal perfectionism and Habermas's notion of a deliberative democracy, that most government intervention in lifestyles is indeed an intolerable infringement of the individual freedom of choice. This liberal point of view 1) argues that respect for the individual freedom of choice implies that the government should take a neutral and anti-perfectionist stance, 2) holds it that directive, communicative and economic, strategies for government intervention would only be justified if certain choices harmed others, caused injustice, or were obviously irrational, 3) accepts, in the second instance, that the political liberal argument is not neutral and anti-perfectionist at all, but believes that this perfectionist turn only strengthens the need to respect the individual freedom of choice, and 4) advocates extensive public deliberation on the objectives and instruments of environmental policy-making. The political liberal emphasis on the need to respect the individual freedom of choice implies that directive strategies for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles generally do not show enough respect for people's freedom to follow their own lifestyles, unless it is obvious that certain lifestyles harm others or cause injustice.

    Chapter 5 argues, mainly on the basis of Rawls's savings principle, Wissenburg's restraint principle, Passmore's chains of love, and De-Shalit's transgenerational communities, for a double interpretation of sustainable development as a principle of intergenerational justice and a future-oriented green ideal. This double interpretation 1) embraces the restraint principle and the argument that no individual can claim an unconditional right to destroy environmental goods as a baseline that could justify directive strategies for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles, 2) suggests that people's concerns about the deterioration of nature and the environment articulate future-oriented narratives of self-identity that could fuel non-directive strategies to develop further responsibilities towards nearby future generations, 3) prefers to draw a list of primary environmental goods instead of quantifying some environmental utilisation space as a practical guideline for day-to-day environmental policy-making, and 4) concludes that the uncertainty of scientific knowledge about the unintended environmental repercussions of consumptive choices casts serious doubt about attempts to justify directive strategies for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles beyond the requirement of sustaining the baseline of the restraint principle and the list of primary environmental goods. Sustainable development, thus, provides sound arguments to restrict people's freedom to follow their own lifestyles, when these lifestyles transgressed the baseline of the restraint principle and the list of primary environmental goods. However, the individual freedom of choice should not be restricted for any further environmental considerations. Non-directive strategies are thus to stimulate the development of such further responsibilities towards nearby future generations. The challenge for a green third way of government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles becomes to search for adjustments of social and material conditions that could tempt people to develop sustainable lifestyles.

    Chapter 6, finally, returns from these rather unearthly reflections to the more mundane issues in the public debate on government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles by presenting an outline of a green third way. This green third way offers an alternative to the overly directive communicative and economic strategies for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles, and broadens the prevailing political landscape with a strategy that promises superiority in addressing the intricacies of environmental policy-making in liberal-democratic societies. Although this green third way leaves ample room to use communicative and economic instruments to secure the environmental baseline of the restraint principle and the list of primary environmental goods, these instruments are framed in a quite different perspective or set of premises now. A short discussion of the Schönau Energy Initiatives serves to illustrate the kernel of an alternative strategy. This green third way offers a non-directive strategy for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles in which the government hopes to stimulate the development of sustainable lifestyles by adjusting the social and material conditions that surround people in following their lifestyles. The green third way, thus, reconciles government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles and respect for people's freedom to follow their own lifestyles to a satisfactory degree. It accepts that the requirement to secure the environmental baseline of the restraint principle and the list of primary environmental goods justifies the use of directive strategies for government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles in a limited set of conditions. However, it also emphasises that non-directive strategies should do the majority of the job. In this non-directive strategy the government should provide the social and material conditions in which a plurality of sustainable lifestyles could flourish.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Korthals, M.J.J.A.A., Promotor
    • Keulartz, F.W.J., Promotor
    Award date23 Feb 2001
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058083609
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2001

    Keywords

    • development
    • sustainability
    • lifestyle
    • government
    • intervention
    • philosophy

    Fingerprint

    Dive into the research topics of 'A green third way? : philosophical reflections on government intervention in non-sustainable lifestyles'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this