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Environmental Values

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Environmental Values

Editorial, Vol.20 No.1

Environment Inc. and Panda Logos

Environmental Values 20 (2011): 1-5
doi: 10.3197/096327111X12922350165879

Access published pdf version Historians who consider the events of 2010 from some distant point in the future will no doubt be drawn, inter alia, to two issues that served to define the zeitgeist of that year. The first was the explosion of, and subsequent oil spill from, the BP Deepwater Horizon oilrig. The second was the rapid fiscal retrenchment of national and local governments the world over. Both of these issues clearly have implications for the construction and enforcement of environmental values in the twenty-first century, and also serve to frame the themes that are covered in this issue of Environmental Values. The Deepwater Horizon disaster brings the question of corporate-environmental relations to the centre-ground of political debate. At the same time, the rolling back of the contemporary state is forcing society to question not only governments' ability to effectively deliver social welfare, but also the competencies of states to maintain various environmental standards and protections. These issues are, of course, also deeply interconnected, and at least to some extent, reinforcing. Prominent incidents of corporate-environmental malfeasance always serve to support popular calls for governments to take a more interventionist stance on the monitoring and regulation of business activities. Meanwhile, the diminution of the public sector is likely to significantly impede the capacities of state bureaucracies to intercede in corporate-environmental affairs.

At one level, the lessons of the Gulf Coast oil spill appear to be all too obvious. From the explosion itself, to the gruellingly slow act of 'capping' the ruptured well, this event appeared to reflect another example of the irresponsible behaviour of corporations towards the biosphere. However, beneath this surface reading is a much more complex set of issues. Early commentaries of the spill proffered a fairly conventional narrative: that BP cut corners (particularly in its choice of cement) in order to save money and maximise profit. However, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling in the US recently conceded that it found no direct evidence of cost cutting that could be directly connected to the disaster. Instead the Commission identified what it described as a 'culture of complacency' in the operations of BP and its partners, Transocean and Halliburton, in the Deepwater Horizon venture. The early findings of the National Commission reveal salutary insights into the nature of contemporary corporate environmental risk and responsibility.

First, are the escalating levels of risk that corporations are taking in their geo-ecological relations. According to BP's own Annual Report, Operating at the Energy Frontiers (2009), dwindling supplies, and the complex access issues that surround many conventional sources of oil and gas, mean that the company is having to operate at much more risky frontiers of energy production (prime among these are its deepwater and ultra deepwater operations) (see also Monbiot, 2010). Cultures of corporate complacency appear to mix poorly with these extreme operating environments.

The second set of insights to emerge from the BP oil spill pertains to the distributed nature of contemporary corporate responsibility. At one level, the distributed nature of environmental responsibility is a product of changing forms of technological specialisation, and the fact that large-scale environmental operations often require a range of corporate partners with different forms of technical expertise, and perceptions of risk. The particular nature of deepwater drilling expertise also meant that the US government was ultimately dependent on the corporate sector to stop the leak. At another level, however, the implications of the oil spill for BP shareholders reminds us that the mobilisation of financial capital is a crucial component in the realisation of corporate environmental relations (see Monbiot, 2010). As more financial capital is required to fund increasingly risky corporate interventions in the biosphere, we all have a role in considering the environmental impacts of our investment decisions. Developing this type of perspective on the Gulf Coast spill is not meant to absolve BP from their responsibilities and associated failures, but instead serves to emphasise the need to move beyond both the optimism of ecological modernisers, and the revanchist reductionism of CEO-bashing, as we consider how to foster effective corporate care for the environment.

The fiscal retrenchment of states the world over constitutes a more significant threat to environmental sustainability, at least at a global level, than the events of the Gulf Coast. Rather than utilising the global financial crisis as a context within which to develop a form of ecological Keynesianism, underwritten by a Big Green State (see New Economics Foundation, 2008), many states are attempting to balance their national finances by down-sizing their systems of social and ecological welfare provision. To these ends, in the UK the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) was one of the first places that the fiscal axe of the state fell. Since its establishment as an Independent Standing Body in 1970, the RCEP has played a valuable role in guiding and informing the development of an environmentally literate UK state. The abolition of the RCEP not only represents the loss of important environmental capacity within the UK, but also signals a significant diminution in the ability of British society to assess the environmental performance of its elected representatives. Much has, of course, already been written on the ambiguities that surround the varied relations that exist between states and the environment (see Gandy, 1999; Whitehead et al., 2007). However, whether states are seen as environmental guardians, or complicit partners in the wanton destruction of ecosystems, clearly, as corporations begin to explore the inner and outer reaches of nature, states will be increasingly crucial arbiters of our collective environmental futures. This issue of Environmental Values offers a variety of perspectives on these issues.

We begin with a comment (Norton, 2011) and reply (Callicott, et al., 2011) that address Callicott et al.'s (2009) paper on the epistemological underpinnings of Aldo Leopold's work. In debating the degree to which Leopold's work was grounded in a Pragmatist (big P) epistemology, this fascinating exchange considers the role of experience, dogma and philosophy in the constitution of human attitudes and actions towards environmental resources. In exploring the role of economic pressures, governmental action, and community self-determination in the development of environmental conservation in the US, this dialogue helps to cast critical light on the obstacles that corporations and governing authorities place on the development of non-anthropocentric systems of nature conservation. Next is the winning paper of the 2010 Environmental Values Student Essay Competition. Here Sarah Hards (2011) explores the complex connections that exist between environmental values and action. Hards argues against simplistic linear models that translate values into predictable and corresponding actions, and claims that we need to explore the co-constitution of the beliefs we hold and the everyday practices which make-up our lives. Drawing on the testimony of climate activists in the UK, Hards operationalises a practice-based approach to environmental values that serves to expose some of the reasons why people find it so difficult to adopt more environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Van Huijstee et al. (2011) provide the first of two analyses of emerging relations between corporations and civil society sector groups (see also Anshelm and Hansson, 2011). Focusing on the emerging partnerships between environmental NGOs and businesses in the Netherlands, van Huijstee et al. reveal the strategic opportunities that emerge for NGOs that form partnerships with the private sector, and the operational challenges that such working arrangements can create. Moving beyond claims that partnerships between environmental NGOs and businesses reflect the death of environmentalism, van Huijstee et al. show the contingent advantages and disadvantages that emerge from different forms of civic-corporate relations.

Anshelm and Hansson (2011) explore the convergence points that exist between the corporate world and ENGOs in the wake of climate change. Anshelm and Hansson argue that the need for urgent action to address climate change is generating a new form of pragmatism within corporate-ENGO relations (see also Spash, 2009). While spawning a new age of consensus politics within climate change policy, Anshelm and Hansson warn that by working closely with the corporate sector that ENGOs run the risk of transforming from 'watchdogs' to 'lapdogs', and losing much of their combative capacity.

In the final paper of this issue Smith (2011) develops an assessment of the eco-politics of Edward Hyams. Edward Hyams was a novelist, gardener, historian, broadcaster, and anarchist, and in his book Prophecy of Famine (co-authored with H.J. Massingham in 1953) he developed a foundational critique of the environmental consequences of industrial capitalism. Exploring questions of land-ownership, social decentralisation, and the progressive potential of radical forms of eco-politics, Smith explores a series of issues that appear to be becoming ever more significant in the changing political and environmental times we find ourselves in.

If the twenty-first century is to be a century within which our environmental values become increasingly mediated through the corporate sector, what each of the papers in this issue emphasises is that civil society (whether expressed through radical academics, climate activists or Environmental NGOs) has a crucial role to play in determining precisely what these values will be and how they will be expressed.

Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University


Anshelm, J. And A. Hansson. 2011. 'Climate change and the convergence between ENGOs and business: on the loss of utopian energies'. Environmental Values 20: 75-94.
BP 2009. Annual Report. Operating at the Energy Frontiers: How a Revitalized BP is Driving Efficiency, Momentum and Growth. London: BP.
Callicott, J.B., W. Grove-Fanning, J. Rowland, D. Baskind, R.H. French and K. Walker. 2011. 'Reply to Norton, re: Aldo Leopold and Pragmatism'. Environmental Values 20: 17-22.
Callicott, J.B., W. Grove-Fanning, J. Rowland, D. Baskind, R.H. French and K. Walker. 2009. 'Was Aldo Leopold a Pragmatist? Rescuing Leopold from the imagination of Bryan Norton'. Environmental Values 18: 453-486.
Gandy, M. 1999. 'Rethinking the ecological leviathan: environmental regulation in an age of risk'. Global Environmental Change 9: 59-69.
Hards, S. 2011. 'Social practice and the evolution of personal environmental values'. Environmental Values 20: 23-42.
van Huijstee, M., L. Pollock, L. Glasbergen and P. Leroy. 2011. 'Challenges for NGOs partnering with corporations: WWF Netherlands and the Environmental Defense Fund'. Environmental Values 20: 43-74.
Monbiot, G. 2010. 'BP's Dumb Investors' http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/06/21/bps-dumb-investors/ (Accessed on 18/11/10).
New Economics Foundation (NEF). 2008. A Green New Deal: Joining-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices. London: NEF.
Norton, B. 2011. 'What Leopold learned from Darwin and Hadley: comment on Callicott, et al.'. Environmental Values 20: 7-16.
Spash, C.L. 2009. 'The new environmental pragmatism, pluralism and sustainability'. Environmental Values 18: 253-256.
Smith, M. 2011. 'Edward Hyams: ecology and politics "under the vine"'. Environmental Values 20: 95-119.
Whitehead, M., R. Jones and M. Jones. 2007. The Nature of the State: Excavating the Political Ecologies of the Modern State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Other papers in this volume

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