Proceduralism and Expertise in Local Environmental Decision-Making
Among Bryan Norton’s most influential contributions to environmental philosophy has been his analysis and evaluation of democratic processes for environmental decision-making. He examines actual cases of environmental decision-making in their legal, political, ethical and scientific contexts, and, with contextual constraints and goals in mind, he theorizes concerning what they accomplish and how they can be improved. Informed by the political theories of both John Dewey and Jürgen Habermas, Norton’s pragmatist approach holds that appropriate democratic decision procedures will generate broadly defensible decisions. Thus, his view of environmental decision-making is based in—and requires—inclusive, democratic, empirical inquiry. While accepting these criteria, I examine how, in practice, it is difficult to identify when these conditions have been adequately met. I investigate the limitations of Norton’s proceduralist approach through a case study in community-based forest management in a New York State urban old-growth park. I argue that Norton’s procedural priorities are too rigid given the contextual constraints of local decision-making. While they are useful for guiding an ideal, high standards sense of the decision-making process, less rigid Deweyan considerations of social learning and community engagement often provide sufficient guidelines for evaluating success.
KeywordsEnvironmental pragmatism Proceduralism Deweyan inquiry Community decision-making Adaptive management
My knowledge about the case study comes from public meetings, from conversations with Brian Liberti, head of the Forestry Division for the City of Rochester, NY, and from planning documents distributed by the City of Rochester. Thanks go to William Throop for asking questions that directed my thoughts about the case, to Matthew Brown for sharing ideas about Deweyan inquiry, and to Charles Burroughs for encouragement to write about the much-loved Washington Grove. Patient and insightful audiences at Green Mountain College, the University of Waterloo, and an International Society for Environmental Ethics conference in Kiel, Germany made helpful contributions, and Ben Minteer, Sahotra Sarkar, and Paul Thompson improved my ideas and their expression immeasurably.
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