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Background environmental justice: An extension of Rawls's political liberalism

Edward R Abplanalp, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation extends John Rawls’s mature theory of justice out to address the environmental challenges that citizens of liberal democracies now face. Specifically, using Rawls’s framework of political liberalism, I piece together a theory of procedural justice to be applied to a particular constitutional democracy. I show how citizens of pluralistic democracies should apply this theory to environmental matters in a four stage contracting procedure. I argue that, if implemented, this extension to Rawls’s theory would secure background environmental justice. I explain why the theory can be viewed as a partially specified political conception of environmental pragmatism, and how it relates to public environmental policy and discourse. While the framework is anthropocentric, it is one that reasonable non-anthropocentrists can endorse. ^ Using this theory of background environmental justice, I argue that liberal democracies must take measures to secure basic environmental rights for all presently existing and future citizens. Measures must also be in place to secure a minimum of social goods (including environmental goods) that guarantees that all citizens (present and future) can exercise their basic rights and liberties. Moreover, disparities in environmental goods should only be tolerated if they arise in accord with Rawls’s principle of fair equality of opportunity. This will require the saving of natural capital for future generations. It also requires measures to maintain social structures that will enable future citizens to compete for all other environmental goods and hardships in accord with the requirement of fair equality of opportunity. Also, there are conditions under which regressive ecological tax policies are justified. Moreover, due to Rawls’s constraint of just savings, irrespective whether global climate change is caused by human activity, citizens of liberal democracies should significantly reduce their use of petroleum and coal, and turn to alternative forms of energy. I discuss carbon taxes, as well as carbon allocation trading schemes. I also argue that free democracies should employ precautionary reasoning when attempting to meet the demands of background environmental justice.^

Subject Area

Philosophy|Political Science, General|Sociology, Environmental Justice

Recommended Citation

Abplanalp, Edward R, "Background environmental justice: An extension of Rawls's political liberalism" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3398293.