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What is ecodemocracy?

Ecodemocracy can be defined as follows: Groups and communities using decision-making systems that respect the principles of human democracy while explicitly extending valuation to include the intrinsic value of non-human nature, with the ultimate goal of evaluating human wants equally to those of other species and the living systems that make up the Ecosphere.

The principle of ecodemocracy applies to decisions directly affecting conservation, as well as those indirectly impacting it through their effects on habitats and the environment in general. And it can operate at any geographic scale, from a local stakeholder group to an international alliance of governments (although it aligns itself particularly well with the thinking behind bioregionalism – the geographical organisation of socio-political systems by ecologically defined boundaries, such as watersheds, instead of socially constructed boundaries such as nations).

How ecodemocratic decision-making would work in practice

"Deliberative ecodemocracy": A simple way to modify existing socio-political systems to ensure that the intrinsic value of non-human nature is considered is to allocate protected time in any decision-making process for public discussion on this intrinsic value. This could be achieved, for instance, through a "Council of All Beings", which is a process in which participants step aside from their human identity and speak on behalf of another life-form

"Ecodemocracy by human proxies with voting rights": A way to extend the benefits of the discursive process in deliberative ecodemocracy would be to assign stakeholder status and voting rights to non-humans, which would be achieved through human proxies (they would need a good grasp of both ecological and ethical principles). Stakeholder status could be assigned to species, ecological communities, or non-living components of ecosystems such as water and soil.

"Ecodemocracy by juries of citizens": Instead of having a number of individual proxies, a group of experts in ecology, environmental science, and ethics could be assembled to produce recommendations on decisions that would be preferable from the perspective of the community of life. A second panel, formed of elected politicians, would similarly create a proposal, but one that considers the desires of humans in the traditional way (this would not exclude nature conservation). Where there were important differences between the recommendations of the two panels, a jury of citizens would be tasked with deciding whether, within an ecocentric worldview, the human desires were sufficiently important to outweigh the needs of the community of life as a whole.

"Ecodemocracy by statute": The three mechanisms described above could all be operated locally, nationally, or globally. A fourth and complementary option, but one specifically relevant for the level of the state, would be for the need to act in accordance with the intrinsic rights of non-human nature to be written into a statute. Ideally, this statute would be written in such a way that it cascaded down through every layer of political decision-making.

"Subversive ecodemocracy": I finish the list of possible mechanism, with a very different suggestion for how our interactions with non-human nature could be governed in a way that accounts for the intrinsic rights of nature, which is to use the mask of an economic rationale to subversively pursue a more radical ethic. However, the subversive approach, by its nature, nixes any potential for inspiring culture change in broader society and it must, therefore, be considered a last resort.  

Find out more

This article is based on an extract from a more detailed piece on ecodemocracy, which I co-authored with Patrick Curry in the journal ECOS. You can access the longer article, which is titled "Ecodemocracy: helping wildlife's right to survive", via the page here.

If you are interested in the ecocentric ideas presented in this article, you can find out more and join a discussion group by visiting the Ecocentric Alliance website.

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