The State and Nature: Voices Heard, Voices Unheard in America's Environmental Dialogue

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9780130289087: The State and Nature: Voices Heard, Voices Unheard in America's Environmental Dialogue

This anthology of 44 original readings--accompanied by substantial editorial commentary--traces a two-hundred year history of U.S. environmental policy, and links intellectual thought with political action. The readings--organized into seven historical eras--provide an historical dimension for understanding contemporary environmental politics and the implications for environmental policy. Beginning with such classics as James Madison's Federalist Paper #10 and Alexis deTocqueville's Democracy in America, it traces the gradual widening of this dialogue up to the present time. Readings cover a variety of topics (e.g., public lands, air and water pollution, property rights, energy, toxics, and population control) by a diverse range of voices, including elected political leaders as well as by a variety of intellectual leaders, including a number of important writers, thinkers, and political actors who are neglected in other volumes (e.g., Frederick Douglass, Margaret Sanger, and several American presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to Ronald Reagan). For those interested in Environmental Policy and American Environmental History.

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The State and Nature traces a two-hundred year history of environmental policy, broadly conceived, in the United States. It does this through a selection of original readings, accompanied by substantial editorial comments designed to make explicit the link between the readings and what was occurring in the country at the time of the writings.

The readings have been selected in this manner: First, we relate intellectual thought with political action. A basic premise is that ideas matter in politics and policy making, although there may well be a substantial time differential between the occurrence of an idea and its application in the public sector. Further, it is usually a case of accretion; it takes a number of writings, over time, on a given subject before politicians and policy makers take notice and act.

Second, the selection of readings is premised on the belief that a fundamental relationship exists between the state, its political institutions and processes, and the natural environment in which it is, literally, grounded. To put it another way, physical space and political space are interconnected, although not in a narrow, deterministic manner. Most physical locations allow for the appearance of a rather wide array of social organizations. But clearly such basic natural phenomena as mountains, coast lines, rivers, degree of rainfall, nature of soil, and so forth, act as constraints on economic, political, and social behavior. In the opposite direction, the impact of the state on its natural underpinnings also can vary extensively. A society's footprints can leave traces on nature that range from negligible to destructive.

Third, the readings have been selected to provide a historical dimension to understanding contemporary environmental politics. This, we believe, is essential: History matters. Exploring Thomas Jefferson's philosophy about democracy and human connections does more than shed light on the personality of one of the founding fathers and the nation's third president: Jefferson's land policies shaped the nation. His exaltations of the virtues of the yeoman farmer are embedded in American political consciousness; the image of the small family farm is the referent that frames many issues even as farming and ranching wear a more corporate face. And today in public meetings and ad-hoc community forums around the country, citizens can be heard debating the merits of Jefferson's ideal of participatory democracy versus Madison's representative republic, as they grapple with the challenge of designing new approaches and new institutions for resolving resource-management conflicts. Moreover, many modern debates have antecedents in historical debates. Yesterday's debate about dam construction on the Snake River is today's debate about dam removal. Today's debate over teaching evolution versus the biblical version of creation has deep roots in prior social and legal battles about the roles of science and religion in American life. The existing framework of environmental policy—including laws, administrative organizations, interest groups, public attitudes and behavior, and the roles of science, ethics, and economics—can thus only be understood fully by examining its evolution. For example, virtually all informed commentary on the current political situation notes how extremely difficult it is to get anything done. Frustration is endemic, as is apathy among a large number of citizens. Adjectives such as gridlock, deadlock, stalemate, and status quo are used to characterize current policy making. Why?

A major reason is that America, since the New Deal of the 1930s, has witnessed an explosion in interest group formation and its attendant lobbying (Lowi 1979; Berry 1989, 1999; Clarke and McCool 1996). This has occurred at all levels of government, from the local to the transnational. In one sense, such an increase in political action can be viewed as an indicator of a healthy polity. But the downside is that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The substantial increase in the variety and number of groups in America has produced a condition approaching political paralysis. Moreover, the explosion in special interests, and in what is called single-issue politics, have occurred at the same time as millions of Americans have turned off to politics. This latter group, perhaps constituting a numerical majority, has come to believe that political participation on its part is futile, precisely because it sees politics as controlled by special interests.

What many people think is needed at this juncture is a political movement, and strong leadership, to break what scholar James MacGregor Burns called in 1963 the "deadlock of democracy." Centrifugal forces always have been strong in the United States, but from time to time political leaders and movements have emerged to provide the centripetal force necessary to check the forces of disintegration and fragmentation that have always been with us. This occurred, for instance, at the beginning of the twentieth century with President Theodore Roosevelt, who championed both political reforms and the progressive conservation movement.

In this evolutionary context, it is also important to note the gradual widening of the debate in America over environmental policy. As the legal scholar Christopher Stone noted in his book, Should Trees Have Standing? (1972), the history of law in western societies has been in the direction of according the same rights to individuals, groups, and entities that once belonged to a few. In the same way, over the space of two hundred years there has been a marked increase in the voices heard in the environmental policy arena. With the introduction of new voices there comes a different conception of nature, or at least different beliefs of what is important and what is not. And, while the extension of democracy in this manner is generally considered a positive development, it is possible to have too much group identification and not enough community spirit. We believe that this is the political condition facing the United States in the twenty-first century.

It is these two enduring features of American politics—group activity as the engine driving most policy making and periods of inspired national leadership that stress Americans' common purpose amidst their great diversity—which provide the basis for the readings. In other words, this book documents a history of "punctuated equilibrium" in American politics and environmental policy making. A political theory of punctuated equilibrium seeks to more thoroughly explain what historians and other scholars have long known about the episodic nature of American politics: The country enjoys long periods of relative quiescence, followed by the build-up of political "anomalies," which then get resolved by a creative outburst in the political arena. Interestingly, social scientists have borrowed the theory from the field of evolutionary biology, and especially from the well-known work of Stephen Jay Gould.

This book casts a broad net in order to document the diverse nature of environmental and resource issues. The readings cover such topics as public lands, air and water pollution, property rights, energy, toxics, and population control. We are purposefully avoiding the overworked dichotomy wherein environmental policy is treated as pollution-control policy, with the Environmental Protection Agency as the major focus, and natural-resources policy is treated as public-lands policy, with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service as the primary foci. In addition, we want to emphasize the point that environmental policy can be as much about how humans treat one another as it is about how they treat nonhuman flora and fauna. Racism, for example, squanders both natural and human capital; resources often become pawns in games to gain ascendance over others, with devastating impacts upon physical landscapes as well as democratic principles. If humans cannot learn to treat different races, ethnicities, and genders with respect, it is unlikely that our relationships to nonhuman objects will ever be one of stewardship and community.

The readings are organized into seven historical eras. Admittedly, we had to omit a number of seminal essays and authors to keep this book to an acceptable length. The choices were especially difficult for the last two historical eras, roughly 1961 to the present, because of the virtual explosion of scholarship and political action in the environmental arena dining these years. We preface the readings in each section with commentary describing the evolving American state and intellectual thought relating to resource use and preservation during that period. Each specific reading also is preceded by a short biographical sketch about the author as well as discussion of the author's overall influence. Finally, we are keenly aware that many think history is only tangentially related to current policy issues. To add to the relevance of the readings, discussion questions at the end of each section are designed to provoke instructor and student discussions about the link between contemporary issues and the evolution of political and intellectual approaches to the state and nature.

Many individuals had a hand in seeing this effort to completion and deserve our thanks. Joel Rayan and Laura Tanzer, graduate students in the Department of Political Science and the School of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona, performed various research tasks. Val Catt did invaluable work in initial manuscript preparation. James Clarke and Richard Cortner read portions of the manuscript and made numerous helpful suggestions along the way. Finally, we wish to thank Rachel Dorushka and Beth Gillett Mejia of Prentice Hall and production editor Mary Araneo for their encouragement and support in turning project concept into publication reality.

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