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The Co-Evolution of Sustainable Development and Environmental Justice: Cooperation, Then Competition, Then Conflict

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Type: Journal Article
Author: Ruhl, J.B.
Journal: Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum
Volume: 9
Date: 1999
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3198
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): sustainability
economic development
environmental change
Abstract: From Introduction: "Part I of this Essay outlines the most important complex systems concepts for purposes of analyzing the sustainable development/ environmental justice co-evolutionary system. Co-evolutionary systems exhibit basic behaviors such as cooperation, competition, and conflict as strategies for coping with complex positive and negative feedback effects between systems. Because what one system does affects both the others and itself, the success of any participant in a co-evolutionary system depends in large part on the adaptability of its "design"--how it is set up to respond to "moves" by its co-evolutionary kin. When legal policies co-evolve, each vying for prominence, legitimacy, support, and other real-world indicia of legal significance, they undoubtedly execute and respond to the basic co-evolutionary strategies of cooperation, competition, and conflict. "Part II of the Essay grounds that theme of legal policy co-evolution in the practical context of sustainable development and environmental justice. To begin that discussion, I use an example from the recent past to illustrate how a similarly-situated pair of environmental policies have co-evolved. The modern environmental movement in the United States emerged in the 1970s under a broad umbrella of environmentalism, which replaced resourcism as the dominant theme of environmental policy. An important component of environmentalism as it emerged out of the euphoria of the first Earth Day was the Deep Ecology movement - an ardent, ideological, fervent, yet ultimately small movement of deeply committed preservationists whose intensity fueled the early advancement of environmentalism. Over time, however, the cooperation between environmentalism and Deep Ecology waned, yielding eventually to competition and then "the current state of affairs" to open conflict. Deep Ecology helped environmentalism get off the ground, energized its early victories, and then was left in the dust. Today, mainstream environmentalism has little tolerance for the extremism of Deep Ecology. "After that retrospective case study, Part II of the Essay turns attention to the future of co-evolution between environmental justice and sustainable development. My working thesis is that environmental justice is to sustainable development what Deep Ecology was to mainstream environmentalism. Sustainable development policy feeds off of the intensely focused rhetoric of environmental justice, incorporating equity concerns as a key leg of sustainable development's environment-economy-equity policy triad. But this cooperation will not last. Environmental justice, as a discrete policy agenda, is simply too narrow, too ideological, and too unyielding to survive intact in the more adaptive sustainable development agenda. As environmentalism did relative to Deep Ecology, sustainable development will eventually win a dominant position through strategies of competition and open conflict directed at more narrowly-constructed policies such as environmental justice. Along the way, of course, sustainable development will have adopted many key items in the environmental justice agenda--i.e., the cooperation strategy of successful adaptation--but those components will appear as part of the sustainable development lexicon and toolbox, not as environmental justice policies."

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