The main components of liberalism talk about equal rights for all human beings (anti-chauvinism), deregulated environment (freedom of individuals), property ownership (privatization) and more emphasis is being given to social justice (modern liberalism). And liberal democracy is the form of government in which representatives elected through a democratic process, operate under the principles and philosophies of liberalism (ensuring equal rights and protecting rights of all). But the liberalist prism of distinctive theories and methodology have been strongly criticized for not unfolding itself to environment philosophies. Liberalism which is primarily based on the anthropocentric (human beings) model, fails to undermine the fact that the notion of meeting basic human needs cannot be achieved without the exploitation of physical nature. The survival of entire humankind is dependent on the ecosystem as it has always been the ‘supplier of our needs’.
Liberalism (especially neo-liberalism) has been constantly termed as the dominant cause of growing inequalities, environmental degradation and thus ecological crisis. The liberal notion of self-regulated environment (with minimal state-role) further promotes privatization (and thus globalization) and makes liberalism an anti-environmental political morality. As a result of human chauvinism, the environmental degradation has been multiplied amidst the rising globalization and rapid urbanization and it seems as if environmental concerns have been excluded from the ethical community.
In the Indian context of liberal democracy (economic liberalization policies post 1991), the economy has received significant and regular attention defined by food scarcity and foreign exchange interruptions but the functioning of its democracy has received next to none. Democracy, today has failed to live up to the expectations of the vision of our founding fathers. The fundamental problem in the system is that the same political and economic actors and institutions that exploit nature get the task of resolving ecological challenges. The approach of modernization as part of the Nehru’s model of democratic socialism and mixed economy, no doubt let India towards the marriage between economic progress and social justice (Rohmetra, 2012). But the model failed to inculcate an atmosphere of ecological consciousness in the Indian society. Political and economic interests being preferred over ecological interests in the initial policy-making arena, led to rising ecological challenges in the longer run.
The current issue of Karnataka-Tamil Nadu dispute over sharing of Kaveri river water itself is a perfect example of how political and economic masked under the disguise of ecological needs leads to only chaos and ecological disturbance. In a libertarian democratic society, one has the freedom to express his or her concern but in case where protestors pick up violent acts (like burning and destroying public property), it doesn’t fulfill the prime objective. Such acts cause only harm to the environment, which in the first place is not an individual or community property to be owned by someone. And this is just one such incident, there are many more examples where the ecosystem is being hampered by the human chauvinism. The economic liberty observed in the early 1990s, paved path for more privatization as it welcomed both domestic private players and foreign private players to hugely invest in the human development activities without evaluating the adverse impact it had on the ecosystem. The media propaganda at times plays a key role in misguiding the larger mass from critical general issues (like that of climate change, global warming leading to environmental degradation). The extreme penetration of human activities into the ecosystem, who in aspire of growth and to satisfy increasing demands, has hardly left any space for environmental sustainability to fit in the welfare state model.
Looking from the environmental perspective, unless humanity doesn’t step forward to rebuild a healthy relationship with the ecosystem, no political or social arrangements will be significant in resolving ecological challenges. Eco-centrism proposes for a nature-centered system of values; wherein ecological concerns will be integral to the actual policy-making process. It talks about strengthening of local communities and involving them more in the participatory-decision making process. The society must adapt model of ‘eco-democracy’ (Curry & Gray, 2016), which not only encapsulates the benefits humans get from preserving the environment but also accounts for the inherent values of non-human nature. Eco-democracy depicts the core relationship shared between democracy and eco-centric values. Eco-centrism favours daily use of environmental-friendly items and apply 3R cycle (of reuse, recycle and reduce) for treating environmental waste. Eco-centrism rejects all kinds of dominant logics and is linked by two rights- one is of the human nature rights (demand for a healthy and safe environment) and other is of non-human rights
The real potential of eco-centrism principle of participation depends on how people carry out their environmental duties. There can be different way of expressing the shared environmental responsibilities. People should vote for individuals or parties prioritizing environmental interests. A mobilized citizen movement along with strong and efficient local bodies will ensure environmental safety right from the grass-root level. Various political and economic actors and institutions including the citizens must generate a sense of agency in order to be successfully tackling ecological challenges and also meeting the objective of having a sustainable ecosystem framework, for all and forever. Accountability check needs to be done on parastatal departments and bilateral agencies, who practically are not obliged to the citizens and the ecological concerns. Education can play an instrumental role in making people aware of environmental concerns along with importance of intrinsic values of all species who are part of the ecosystem. Liberal theories need to also cohere to ‘holism’ or to Aldo Leopold’s’ ‘Land Ethics’, which considers nature as the prime source of life.
Eco-centrism will have to build a new course of political movement which would direct policy making being more eco-sensitive, otherwise the unresolved and mounting ecological challenges will soon take its toll on the entire humankind.
What we can do?
Talking from a policy perspective, just by restricting or applying strict regulations on private players (who are the largest consumer and exploiter of nature) or making use of punitive measures will not completely ensure ecological concern to be ingrained in the liberal democratic political framework, rather it can be achieved only through direct public action. In order to attain eco-centrism policy making and transforming the society into eco-democratic, there is need of an enormous cultural change with the involvement of all the key stakeholders. Citizen participation and consultation in the planning decision-making is very essential for tackling ecological challenges. Public policy should devise spaces where the citizens can meet on the basis of a participatory parity. Such large-scale interactions in the open space will make people more ecological conscious and aware of our common humanity.
Liberal theories have conceptualized environment as ‘property’, which is considered open for exploitation for the progress and well-being of human beings. A more socialist type of liberalism is more suitable to relate the dependency we have on the ecosystem and address the ecological challenges. Ecological challenges are global issues which have no limits. Each and every component of the ecosystem will be impacted by it. The larger question to be answered is how the society would be able to safeguard the modern liberal theory of a high quality life for the future, through required violations of liberal rights and freedom of today.