What Is Fair in the Environmental Debate?

  • Susan Clayton
Part of the Critical Issues in Social Justice book series (CISJ)


Public debate over environmental issues has become a battle to define what is fair. For the most part, none of the competing positions claims to be ruled principally by self-interest. And, although the economic literature on methods for allocating natural resources is vast, considerations of productivity and efficiency do not seem to be foremost in reactions to environmental conflicts. It is increasingly difficult to escape a sense that environmental resources are not limitless and that some of them, in fact, are already in short supply. Since there are not enough resources for everyone to have as much as she or he wants, the situation is perceived to require some distributive tradeoffs. There is therefore a need to determine what distributive rule, and even what process for determining that distributive rule, will be most just (Lerner, 1981). There is evidence that perceptions of justice affect environmental attitudes and behavior. Kals (1993), for example, found that perceived justice of various policies was a significant predictor of attitudes toward various environmental policies in Germany. Opotow (1994) has shown that including the bombardier beetle in one’s scope of justice was a significant mediator between attitudes about the beetle and support for providing environmental protection for the beetle. Finally, Axelrod (1994; Axelrod & Lehman, 1992) has found evidence that, at least for some people, “principled” outcomes—which certainly include outcomes that would be defined as just—have a greater impact on decisions in environmental conflicts than do economic or social consequences. But there is no standard, culturally-promulgated way of thinking about justice with regard to the environment. It is only recently that human interaction with the natural environment has widely been seen as involving ethical decisions and considerations of fairness (e.g., Heberlein, 1972). Thus there is perhaps a broader range of ways in which justice is embodied in the environmental debate than in regard to other social issues, and there is more of a contest to see which view will emerge as the dominant one in public policy.


Procedural Justice Environmental Justice Environmental Attitude Contingent Valuation Method Environmental Conflict 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Clayton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe College of WoosterWoosterUSA

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