Sunday, March 26, 2017

Populism and the Environment: A Book?

The mainstream media these days seems routinely to associate "populism" with the simplistic xenophobia, protectionism, and racism that lurks behind the Trumpista movement in the U.S., the rush to Brexit in the U.K., and anti-immigrant fever across Europe. This strikes me as unfortunate and limiting. 

The definitions of "populist" and "populism" with which I grew up are still to be found in a simple on-line search: Merriam-Webster Online defines "populist" as ""a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people," or one who belongs to a political party espousing such beliefs. Wikipedia defines "populism" as proposing that "the common people are exploited by a privileged elite." It goes on to note that "(t)he underlying ideology of populists can be left, right, or center."

Those definitions resonate with me, and it seems a shame to lose them. I can't do anything to rescue populism from its misuse by politicians and the media in general, but I wonder if there might be something to be done within the little chunk of public policy in which I very occasionally have a modicum of influence -- environmental "protection," management, and impact assessment.

I've long thought of myself as an environmental populist. One of my favorite books on environmental matters is Frank Fischer's Citizens, Experts, and the Environment, ( Fischer applauded "citizens who actively challenge the imposition of expert theories that ignore forms of local knowledge that can help to relate technical facts to social values." He wrote about the need for "environmental politics" to accommodate this kind of populism. 

I've spent most of my career trying to help citizens -- often but not always indigenous citizens and other ethnic and social minorities -- with the assessment and resolution of environmental impacts, with special reference to cultural issues. It seems timely to me, with the 2018 U.S. election looming, to think a little more broadly about populism and the environment. 

Being an old guy, who can't quite get used to the fact that people don't read books any more, I'm driven to imagine doing a book. Not writing it, but maybe helping edit it. A book that picks up where Fischer left off and promotes a kind of environmentalism -- and environmental impact regulation -- that broadly respects local knowledge and "the rights, wisdom, (and) virtues of the common people,"  A book that might appeal to some who lean toward Trump and Brexit -- as well as Sanders, Corbyn, and the various Green parties -- and perhaps to the broader-minded and less compromised elements of the mainstream elite.

Google informs me that there are already some books and journals that deal with environmental populism, but those I've reviewed seem to me altogether too deadly academic. I'm thinking of something short, snappy, and to the point. Chapters of, say, 2000 words each (an arbitrary and capricious number, but the point is, short), on such matters as:

Populism and Air Quality
Populism and Water Quality
Populism and Land Use Planning
Populism and Energy
Populism and Wildlife 
Population and Fisheries 
Populism and Social Impacts
Populism and Endangered/Threatened Species
Populism and Population Growth
Populism and Ecosystem Management
Populism and Climate Change
and of course...
Populism and Cultural Heritage

Plus, doubtless, several more. Each outlining how the "rights, wisdom, (and) virtues of the common people" can and should be factored into environmental management and impact assessment/resolution.

All aimed at maybe getting governments to adopt more humane approaches to the environment than those to which most now give lip service -- approaches that might actually work better than the often nonsensical stuff we now have in place, and that might be supported by a wide swath of the public.

What do you think? Anybody want to grab this ball and run with it? 


Anonymous said...

Stark juxtaposition. First you ascribe xenophobia and racism to Brexit, then you suggest that respect for local knowledge and virtues might appeal to Brexit supporters. That's revealing. You obviously must recognize some redeeming qualities behind Brexit, and see the common values and goals shared by Brexit in the U.K. and historic preservation in the U.S. No ? If we are going to live in a pluralistic society, doesn't historic preservation create implicit cultural barriers ? Shouldn't historic preservation be stopped, for the greater good of the pluralistic world to come ? I don't think Bernie really likes historic preservation much. It smacks of elitism, and social separation - even discrimination. Do away with all of those monuments to the past, and start fresh, equal, and fair to all.

Lance Foster said...

There are some good things in this, especially in the comments.

The main point is that deficit of info is not the issue to get the message to be heard and considered. It is a matter of rhetoric, trust and emotion.

Lance Foster said...

Add to this:

People use populist a lot, when what they really mean is nativist.