Democratic Dilemmas in the Age of Ecology

Trees and Toxics in the American West

Democratic Dilemmas in the Age of Ecology

Book Pages: 176 Illustrations: Published: October 1994

Author: Daniel Press

Environmental Studies, Politics > Public Policy

Environmental problems present democratic dilemmas. The problems are so large and so often pit localities and interest groups against each other that they challenge basic democratic institutions, particularly the ideal of citizen participation in society’s choices. In this book, Daniel Press examines the conflict between environmental political thought and democratic theory and asks whether successful environmental protection is beyond the capabilities of democratic decisionmaking.
Press introduces the primary debate in this confrontation as a choice between political centralization and decentralization. Do citizens faced with environmental crises tend to look first to a centralized leadership for solutions or do they tend to respond at a more local and grassroots level? What is the role of technical expertise in this process and how does it effect public participation in these matters? Do confrontations over environmental issues increase support for a more fully democratic decisionmaking process? Representing social, political, and economic challenges to democracy, these and other questions are then investigated empirically through analyses of case studies. Focusing on two recent controversies in the western United States, ancient-forest logging in Oregon and California and hazardous waste management in California, and drawing on in-depth interviews with individuals involved, Press clarifies the relationship between environmentalism and democracy and explores the characteristics of "new" democratic forms of environmental policymaking.
Revealing a need for a more decentralized process and increased individual and collective action in response to environmental crises, Democratic Dilemmas in the Age of Ecology will be of interest to a wide range of audiences, from scholars concerned with applications of democratic theory, to activists and policymakers seeking to change or implement environmental policy.


“For many years now there has been a debate regarding the complex relationship between ecologically-based stringency and the quality of democratic practice. . . . Press has done something here that should prove to be very useful, within political science, policy analysis, and the wider society. He has looked at real cases in the context of an attempt to render more precise the concerns within the aforementioned debate.” — Robert Paehlke , Policy Sciences

"The book makes an important and interesting contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of environmental disputes and their connections to broader issues of democratic theory and federalism." — Bruce A. Williams, University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign

"This book makes its point—a significant one about the relevance of participatory democracy to the issue of environmental sustainability—straightforwardly and without mincing words. It accomplishes the difficult task of both crystallizing and advancing the debate across the fields of democratic theory and environmental politics." — Albert R. Matheny, University of Florida


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel Press is Assistant Professor of Applied Environmental Policy Analysis, Environmental Studies Board, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

1. Environmentalism Returns to the Democratic Fold 1

2. Environmental Political Thought and Democratic Theory 12

3. The Challenges to Democratic Environmental Policy: Social Justice, Technocracy, and Economics 28

4. Empirical Study of the Centralist-Decentralist Debate 61

5. Trees and Toxics 79

6. Challenges to Democratic Environmental Policy-Making in Forest and Hazardous Waste management 108

7. Conclusion 123

Afterword: The Distant Democracy 136

Notes 139

Bibliography 153

Index 161
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1514-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1503-2
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