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How can nature be politically represented? An analysis of three conceptual models

Mihnea Tanasescu
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Mihnea Tanasescu
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Open Panel

Abstract

Three strategies of representing nature are analyzed: the EU principle of sustainable development, the newly given rights of nature in the Ecuadorian constitution of 2008, and the growing popularity and influence of terms like ''natural capital'' and ''ecosystem services''. The discourse of sustainable development in the EU and the new Ecuadorian constitution are taken as two distinct paradigmatic cases of the political representation of nature: the former sees nature as approachable through human interests alone, while the latter claims to incorporate nature within our political communities via the concept of rights, which suggests a little explored understanding stemming from a unique cultural, philosophic and political context. The nature-as-capital discourse offers yet another concept that claims to bring nature in through the established political economy of global Capital. I analyze what is specific about each of these strategies, before moving on to a normative evaluation of these concepts. The normative yardstick is given by the particular mixture of inclusion and autonomy that is achieved by each strategy. I subscribe to the thesis of the death of nature, which suggests that nature has entered the polis and needs to be taken into account (inclusion). Yet even within political life, nature still retains its otherness, which suggests an autonomy and self-directedness that needs to be respected. After defending the relevance of this normative standard, the three representative strategies are evaluated against it. The paper concludes with a series of remarks suggesting that we are yet to find an equitable political representation of nature.