S1E16. Dale Jamieson on Environmental Ethics and Democracy
Play • 1 hr 6 min
On this episode of Free Range, Mike Livermore speaks with Dale Jamieson, a Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy at New York University. His most recent book, Discerning Experts, was published in 2019 by the University of Chicago Press. The discussion begins with an examination of the tension between animal welfare and environmental ethics. Jamieson traces this tension back to the origins of environmental advocacy and the development of environmental law. This tension is best exemplified by the idea that animals often cause suffering to other animals, yet it is widely accepted that humans should not intervene to prevent the suffering of a gazelle when it has been caught by a lion. This leads to a discussion of the action-inaction dichotomy — the idea that letting something occur is not as bad as causing the same thing to occur — and a broader consideration of what the study of ethics involves, what its aims are, and why we engage with it. (:49 – 16:09) Expanding on the concept of human intervention in nature, Professor Livermore asks whether our ability to effectively intervene has gone beyond the limits of our ethical comprehension. Professor Jamieson suggests that what has actually occurred is that humanity now undervalues the importance of small actions while overestimating the significance of large actions, before touching on how this attitude has affected public policy regarding not only the environment but, more generally, individual moral responsibility. Jamieson points out that the consensus-based view of government that characterized the era in which environmental policy was developed no longer applies to the climate change conversation. (16:11 – 32:05) This expands to a question of the role of cosmopolitanism in environmental policy, and the process of translating societal values into policy. After discussing the relationship between values consensus and technocratic governance, Jamieson points out the poor quality of current democratic discourse and the potential for public deliberation to address values conflict. Using the example of the Senate filibuster, Livermore raises the concern that in deliberative institutions, those acting in good faith are often manipulated and subsumed by those acting in bad faith. Jamieson raises questions about the interaction of participation, politics, and successful governance in democracies and authoritarian regimes. (32:10 – 49:36) Relating this to the concept of unforeseen consequences, Livermore points out that advances in technology have, it would appear, empowered authoritarian regimes while simultaneously weakening democratic societies. Jamieson connects this to some of his recent work, which examines the shifting nature of regulation in the wake of so many different industries moving online. Jamieson and Livermore then discuss the role of the state and perceptions about the ability of the state to address pressing social concerns like climate change. (49:40 – 1:01:47) The conversation ends with a brief examination of Elon Musk’s attempt to purchase Twitter, before Jamieson concludes with an anecdote about what he hopes for in the future. (1:01:52 – 1:05:45) Professor Michael Livermore is the Edward F. Howrey Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law. He is also the Director of the Program in Law, Communities and the Environment (PLACE), an interdisciplinary program based at UVA Law that examines the intersection of legal, environmental, and social concerns.
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