Why Environmental Zero-Sum Games are Real
Beyond Zero-Sum Environmentalism (2019); ISBN: 978-1-58576-202-6
10 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2019
Date Written: June 10, 2019
Most environmental policies have winners and losers. That is one reason why it is such a contested terrain. One might argue that these policies benefit society overall, but it rarely feels like a benefit to the local resource-dependent communities or polluting industries and their employees. Indeed, just as the environmental justice movement emphasizes protection of local communities from the harms of broader economic interests, the zero-sum tension in regulatory contexts is most salient when the winners are geographically diffuse and the losers are locally concentrated. The difference, of course, is that environmental policy increasingly is coming to the rescue of the local community in the case of environmental justice, whereas it can be the agent of locally concentrated economic harm in the case of environmental regulation. The local community of losers in those cases sense that they are trapped in a zero-sum conflict where they need to stand their ground against distant opposing interests who would have them reduce their emissions, water usage, or timber harvest for the benefit of the greater good. “Either I win and continue the status quo, or they win and I have to pay, or perhaps even go out of business,” as they see it. Appeals to the intrinsic value of nature do not get very far with most people who feel rammed into such “loser” situations. In this chapter contribution to the ELI edited volume, Beyond Zero Sum Environmentalism, we explore how to think about and respond to this form of zero-sum thinking.
Note: Copyright © 2019 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.
Keywords: zero-sum game; environmental policy
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