Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Does The Environment Have A Right?


University of Chicago Program on the Global Environment
Student-Organized Conference
Saturday, May 9 2009
Harper Memorial Library 130

Organizers: Greg Gabrellas, Christina Melander, Ardevan Yaghoubi

Today, environmental crisis saturates public discourse, and the “green” economy is now on the national agenda. What will environmentalism on the Left look like in the coming century? On the verge of possible catastrophe, what is to be done? This conference brings together renowned intellectuals and researchers to discuss the philosophical, political, and social implications of the environmental crisis.

Breakfast 8:30am

Panel One 9:00am- 11am

"Intersections of Philosophy, Politics, and the Environment in the 21st Century":
The first panel will discuss the relationship between philosophy, politics and the environment. Which kind of philosophy is adequate to understanding the environment in the 21st century? What are the major problems that philosophy can help address, and how have previous attempts clarified or obscured the task ahead? Is the framework of political or human rights adequate to understanding environmental problems-- if so, why? If not, what other frame do you suggest?

Timothy Morton (Department of English, UC-Davis)
“Ecology beyond Capitalism”

Abstract: Ecological ideology (the various “environmentalisms” for want
of a better word) is either fully embedded within capitalist ideology; or,
when it strives to escape, it only achieves a kind of geostationary orbit.
Is it possible for us to imagine a postcapitalist ecology? Yes--ecology
intrinsically transcends capitalism. My project Ecology without Nature
argues that in order to develop this idea we will need to drop the idea of
nature, and the numerous “new and improved versions” derived from
environmentalism, systems theory, Spinozan Deleuze and Guattari-style
imagery, and so on. In so doing, ecological politics will have to move
beyond consequentialism and towards something more like Kantian duty.

Steve Vanderheiden
(Department of Political Science, University of Colorado at Boulder)

“Climate Change and Environmental Rights”
Abstract: Here, I consider the plausibility of several environmental rights as guidelines for the development of global climate policy. Two such rights represent extensions of existing human rights and have previously been posited as genuine right claims: the right to an adequate environment (which includes a right to a stable climate) and the right to develop (claimed by residents of developing countries against strict greenhouse gas emission limits). One other right claim has been defended by philosophers and climate policy activists but goes considerably beyond recognized human rights: the right of equal access to the planet’s atmospheric services. Finally, and representing the biggest departure from existing rights discourses, one might posit a right held by nonhuman and/or inanimate objects or the environment itself to flourish, claimed against human interference in such nonhuman flourishing interests. Together, I shall argue, these form a coherent scheme of rights that usefully inform the contours of a justified human response to climate change.

Peter Cannavo (Department of Government, Hamilton College)
“Civic Republicanism and the Ecological Challenges of a New Century”
Abstract: In meeting the contemporary ecological crisis, Americans should reach beyond liberalism to rediscover an earlier tradition in American politics: civic republicanism. Civic republicanism's emphasis on virtue and engaged citizenship provides a political and philosophical foundation and rationale for the sorts of lifestyle changes, material sacrifices, and communitarian values that can move us toward a more sustainable society. Moreover, civic republican themes are still implicit in American politics and can provide publicly acceptable arguments for environmental policies, more effectively than can either rights-based liberalism or ecocentrism.

Moderator: William Wimsatt (Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago)

Lunch 11:30am-12:15pm

Panel Two 12:15-2pm

"Applications and Implications of Environmental Justice On the Ground":
The second panel will discuss the practice of environmentalism, sensitive to the strengths and limitations of particular groups or individuals involved in these struggles. How have different environmentalist movements or groups conceived of environmental politics? What do the struggles for indigenous land rights, environmental conservation, and against urban pollution have in common? Conversely, can all these movements for environmental justice truly stand on common ground? What are the broader political and social implications of environmental justice movements on the ground?

Alaka Wali (The Field Museum, Chicago)
“Environmentalism from Below: Toward Conservation and a Life with Dignity"
Abstract: Too often the focus of scholarly critique of environmental practice has been the actions and ideologies of large, international conservation organizations and institutions. Yet, there has been a florescence of "organic" or locally-driven efforts to protect natural resources by small farmers, forest dwellers, riverine peoples, and even urban-dwellers. This environmental movement "from below", parallel in some respects to globalization from below, is based in people's sense that only by protecting their resource base will they be able to maintain a dignified life, free from want. Supporting these alternative forms of environmental practice is critical to the task of safeguarding nature.

Thomas Sheridan (Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona)
“Endangered Species, Embattled Ranchers, and Urban Sprawl”
Abstract: For the last twelve years, I’ve been involved in various political processes to conserve biodiversity and preserve large, unfragmented natural landscapes in Arizona and the West by trying to find common ground among ranchers, environmentalists, scientists, and federal and state land managers. Conservation in the trenches involves collaboration, compromise, and the formation of contingent political alliances that crosscut interest groups and confound conventional notions about what is “left” and “right” in U.S. politics. Anthropologists have strongly critiqued conservation efforts in the developing world for failing to incorporate the needs, aspirations, and “traditional” ecological knowledge of local indigenous peoples. But what happens when local rural people are white, often conservative ranchers? A growing number of people in the West, myself included, reject preservationism on one end and private property fundamentalism on the other to create a “Radical Center.” That Radical Center strives to produce a West of sustainable ranching, growing linkages between urban consumers and rural producers, and conservation across multiple jurisdictions and land tenure regimes to prevent the urban, suburban, and exurban sprawl that is devouring wildlife habitat and fragmenting the wide open spaces.

Yayoi Lagerqvist (Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“Defining and Adapting Communal Rights to Natural Resources in Mainland Southeast Asia”
Abstract: Swidden agriculture in the mountainous regions of mainland Southeast Asia has been a subject of control by the state since the colonial period. In Laos, state agencies employed different methods including violence, exclusion, zoning and legislation to regulate access of upland ethnic minorities to valuable forest resources, while at the same time imposing control over them through relocation and displacement. Unlike the neighboring countries in the mainland Southeast Asia, where the state continues to impose control of forest and upland ethnic minorities, the Lao government adopted customary rights of local communities to natural resources during the 1990s by formally recognizing local people’s access and use of resources based on customary practices including swidden agriculture. In the current paper, I will review the process by which customary rights to local resources were defined and recognized in Laos, especially through decentralization of resource management and support for collective action. These movements were supported by the central government and financed largely by international donors, establishing a process of participatory land use planning, and resource management practices. However, increased integration of Laos to regional economy is changing local demand for resources, especially land, and transforming the upland swidden landscape and rural people’s livelihood basis. This poses a new challenge to the institutional basis that recognizes customary rights to land and resources in rural areas.

Martha Kaplan (Department of Anthropology, Vassar College)
“Fiji’s Globe-Trotting Water and Singapore’s Stay-At- Home Water Wally”
Abstract: Water, as beverage and resource, has an increasingly complex social life in the Asia Pacific region, and globally. This paper juxtaposes the unusual national and global biographies of water in postcolonial Fiji and Singapore. In Fiji, since the 1990s, vast quantities of fresh water have been pumped up, bottled, branded as “Fiji Water,” exported and sold throughout the globe, by a privately owned North America-based company, yielding the company revenue in the millions of US dollars. In Singapore, in contrast, water has been constructed as a national resource. Fresh water (such as rain water) is reserved for use as beverage, while waste water is recycled into “new water” for use in industry and agriculture. A cartoon mascot, “Water Wally” inculcates water care. Fiji’s water story can be understood as corporate depredation in a small post-colonial nation-state. But the local politics are more complex, leading us as well to the story of internal, colonially continuant divides. Ethnic Fijian claims to special stakeholding, to ownership of land and water, derail both political democracy and even the most basic questions of whether the nation is getting a fair price for the water shipped to US elite drinkers. To more fully figure out Singapore we need to ask questions out of Green politics as well as Red. Red politics draw our attention to fundamental issues of power and inequality, Green politics also engage questions of real world crisis, but sometimes only from elite standpoints. In Singapore, it appears that corporate R&D and the state’s capillary infiltration of daily lives has created a model for extraordinary water conservation. The local and global class politics of Singapore’s biopolitics have been particularly well studied. But Singapore is using its national persuasive apparatus toward water conservation ends that some in Green politics might well appreciate.

Moderator: John Kelly (Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago).

Break 2:30-3:00pm

Panel Three 3:00-5:00pm

"The Turn to Green: A Left Turn?":
The third panel will discuss the critical theory of society and environmental politics. Must critical theory take into account the environment-- and if so, to what extent? For what end? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a number of tendencies on the Left have gravitated to notions of "eco-socialism," and there are many popular interpretations of Marx as an ecologist. More recently, green capitalism has been touted by politicians and environmentalists alike as a size-fits-all panacea to impending environmental crises. How can we explain the "green" turn, and what are its limits and possibilities?

Timothy Luke (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)
"A Green New Deal: Why Green, How New, and What is the Deal?"
Abstract: For nearly two decades now, a few thinkers and movements, which are regarded as being on "the Left," have gravitated toward visions of "eco-socialism" and/or "ecologism." In fact, these ideological formations are accepted by some groups as action programs for answering the serious challenges of major environmental crises first identified during the 1950s and 1960s. Since the neo-liberal 1990s, many more voices also have been touting the merits of a "green" or "natural" capitalism. Indeed, the 2000s have seen quite a few politicians and environmentalists casting it as a one size-fits-all panacea for "breaking through" an older dead environmentalism to develop workable solutions for today's environmental crises. Frequently, these voices ask us to revisit the New Deal years in the USA for the inspiration to launch a Green New Deal for the 21st century. How can we explain this "green" turn, and what are the limits and possibilities implied by working towards such a Green New Deal in the current political context?

Steve Vogel (Department of Philosophy, Denison University)
“Alienation and the Built Environment”
Abstract: What does it mean to be alienated from nature? It’s a familiar claim in contemporary environmental discussions that today we are so alienated, but I will argue that on at least one important account of alienation – the one developed by the young Marx – nature is not the sort of thing from which we can be alienated. For Marx, alienation arises when something humans have produced appears to them as independent of them, which means that we can only be alienated from things that we have built -- and nature presumably is not such a thing. But on the other hand the world we actually inhabit nowadays – the one that environs us, the “environment” -- is something we have built. I’ll suggest that we are alienated from the (built) environment, in the sense that we fail to recognize it as built and furthermore fail to see that the processes of building that construct it are social ones. This has significant implications for an environmental political theory: to overcome our alienation, on this account, would mean both to acknowledge that the world we inhabit is one we have helped construct and to organize the social practices of construction self-consciously and democratically.

Stanley Aronowitz (Department of Sociology and Urban Education, CUNY Graduate Center)
“Can We Fix the Environment under Capitalism?”
Abstract: Environmental reform seems to be at or close to the top of the Obama agenda. The problem is most environmental groups have followed the typical market-oriented solutions that have been proposed by the administration and have prevailed since the Clinton administration such as carbon taxes and trades. My presentation will examine several questions: 1. are markets the solution to the crisis? 2. What kind of economy do we need to address global warming, vanishing species, water and air pollution. 3. What are the political prerequisites for achieving genuine ecological justice?

Moderator: Moishe Postone (Department of History, University of Chicago).

Cosponsored by: The Green Campus Initiative, The Sustainability Council, The Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT), with thanks to SGFC for additional funds.

For more information or questions regarding the conference please visit http://pge.uchicago.edu or email gregg@uchicago.edu. Persons in need of assistance should contact pge@uchicago.edu or 773-702-1673.