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Rawls on Environmental Issues: A Critical Examination

Environmental Policy
Green Politics
Political Theory
Ross Mittiga
University of Virginia
Ross Mittiga
University of Virginia

Abstract

In recent years, political philosophers have worked at creating a suitable framework to address environmental issues—most seriously climate change—in accordance with the basic assumptions of liberal political theory. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of this work has drawn on John Rawls. Yet, Rawls repeatedly expressed doubt over whether problems concerning “what is owed to animals and the rest of nature” could be handled from “within the scope of justice as fairness.” In this paper, I address the apparent discrepancy between Rawls and those who appeal to him by critically examining the resources Rawlsian theory offers. I argue that while Rawlsian theory can be extended to address certain environmental problems as matters of justice, the scope of these problems and the protection Rawlsian theory affords are considerably more limited than most political-ecologists would find satisfying or than is arguably required to answer the ecological crisis effectively.