2009-03-04

Environmentalists need not be deliberative, but need public reason

Under the western liberal democracy, social activists have much wider space than their counterparts in the other parts of the world. While deliberative democracy becomes a hot topic in the academic or political circles, scholars argue that environmentalists need not be deliberative.

True, groups like Greenpeace in many parts of the world enjoy the space for direct actions and campaigning, without any purposes of being part of deliberation. And many activists, even though lacking capacity of taking direct actions, still believe that direct campaigning is the most effective way to reject any compromise and achieve their ideals.

This is particularly true, when we are playing around the environmental standards between the developed and developing world. While the international groups are campaigning for the high standards like World Commission on Dams (WCD) guidelines, it will put pressure on the developing countries to raise their standards, rather than the compromised Sustainability Assessment Protocol developed by International Hydropower Association (IHA).

This is not to say deliberation is not helpful. In the context of the Mekong region where most of the countries have yet to fully develop its open and democratic system, the hydropower development is controversial. Public participation is still absent in any part of the process. The negotiation between the regional countries and the bodies are kept behind the door. Here comes the space for deliberation, which draws public participation through any platforms like forum or media.

That said, international groups are playing a role in, instead of deliberation, campaigning for an internationally recognized standards for the development process. Deliberation in this sense can only be treated as part of the political strategy.

However, as Mathew Humphrey added, even though there are many reasons the environmentalists do not need to pursue deliberation in their campaigning, they still need public reasons. For actions like Greenpeace, perhaps the reasons may not be timely. But for non-deliberative campaigns, how can we justify our call for high standards? How can we draw more legitimacy apart from higher moral grounds? This is perhaps one of the major questions left for our international campaigns.

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