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Environmental Rationalism and Beyond: toward a more just sharing of power and influence

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Economics, especially the narrowly defined form of economics known as neo-liberal economics, along with its policy derivative known as economic rationalism, dominates public and political debate and decision-making in Australia and many other nations as the twentieth century approaches its close. In the context of environmental issues, as also in that of welfare issues, the present over-dominance is unhealthy. Despite the best attempts of environmental economists and ecological economists, they have had relatively little influence on the broader economic profession, or on the political and business communities. Economics and free trade also dominate the international scene at the expense of equity and environmental issues. Environmental debates, by their very nature, are usually complex, requiring interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches which include the economic perspective, but much else besides. Despite the importance of local context and spatial and temporal location, there is a need for a meta-theory or national philosophy to allow the integration across space and time so often needed. The present meta-theory, firmly based in economic rationalism, is inadequate as a basis for environmental decision-making. We desperately need a new meta-theory that explicitly integrates economic, environmental, welfare and many other perspectives. Perhaps such a meta-theory could be broadly based on the concept of sustainability, though much more work is needed to refine such an approach. A major swing in public opinion from the old meta-theory to the new is essential as a forerunner to political action, and education at all levels is needed to bring about this change. There are some signs that this change is already informing public opinion, and that it may have begun to influence mainstream Australian politics.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2000

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