Environmental discourses in Danish water planning

The environmental discourses in the politics of the world has been identified and described by professor John S. Dryzek from Australian National University. The work has been published as a third edition in 2013. This categorization is utilized here as a base for a quick overview of the discourses in Danish water planning.

2. October 2014

The four basic environmental discourses

Dryzek’s categorization of four basic environmental discourses entails departing with traditional industrialism that can either happen as smaller adjustments (reformists) or as radical change. In the prosaic discourses there is an acceptance of the present political-economic society and industrial-era-thinking attempts on reducing problems, whereas in the imaginative discourses agents view the environmental challenges as opportunities to seek harmony between economic and ecological considerations.

The figure shows Dryzek’s own figurative categorization of four basic environmental discourses: problem solving, survivalism, sustainability and green radicalism. The other more elaborated discourses are derived from the text in “The politics of the Earth. Environmental discourses”.

The figure shows Dryzek’s own figurative categorization of four basic environmental discourses: problem solving, survivalism, sustainability and green radicalism. The other more elaborated discourses are derived from the text in “The politics of the Earth. Environmental discourses”.


Specification in brief punctate of discourses within the basic discourses

– stand for humans ability to rule the rest of the world
– nature is just components, that we can utilize to unlimited growth
– Julian Simon (1980s) argues, that when prices fall on natural resources, there is no scarcity
– human ingenuity and technology is the answer, and even growth in human populations are welcome, since it provides more brains for problem-solving
– liberal capitalism is taken for granted

economic rationalism:
– faith in market mechanism and human ingenuity will solve problems
– also known as Thatcherism and Reagonomics
– everybody is an economic rationalist trying to find best economic options for themselves
– no belief in active citizenship
– favours the word free in rhetoric e.g. free market and opposes further legislation
– example: the US delegation forwarded international tradable quotas of CO2 at the Kyoto conference in 1997

administrative rationalism (government):
– the collective efforts by the administrations of the state and unions and uniformity in actions on environmental pressures can actually solve occurring problems
– experts of the technocracy know better and advice through cost-benefit-analysis and risk assessments to steer in the right direction
– “nature is rightfully subordinate to human problem-solving”
– liberal capitalism is taken for granted

democratic pragmatism (governance):
– citizens are above the bureaucrats
– nature is subordinate to human problem-solving
– “ecoduties” are basic social obligations in green liberalism
– when developing public policies, there shall be room for experiments, while at the same time the public are allowed to give critic in order for the process to become truly democratic
– the thermostat metaphor, where we adjust a bit, when issues comes to the public attention
– liberal capitalism is taken for granted

limits to growth:
– there are limits on all resources
– “freedom in the commons bring ruin to us all”, Garret Hardin (1968)
– we only have our one planet with boundaries for e.g. acidification, pollution and climate change symbolized by spaceship Earth
– the discourse is forwarded by the elites in production, Club of Rome in 1972 with “The Limits to Growth”, and the discourse entails control and hierarchy
– also growth in population is seen as a basic problem
– focus on the global capacity of the ecosystems

sustainable development:
– sustainability is for humans, but biodiversity shall be protected due to many populations rely on fully functional ecosystems
– the dominant environmental discourse due to the Brundtland Commission (1987)
– equity inside the present generation and equity between the present and future generations
– focus on the local and regional capacity, where actions need to be taken (Local Agenda 21)
– stretching “limits” by improvements in technology and experimenting, but ambiguity on the issue of limit
– organic growth achieved through cooperation
– working for the public good
– acceptance of capitalism

ecological modernization:
– acceptance of capitalism, but a changed capitalism to make economic and ecological considerations equally necessary and move away from inefficient, polluting growth
– the metaphor of a tidy household that maximizes the household’s perception of well-being, while minimizing waste by effective use of all goods
– claims no tough choices is needed to reach both economic and ecological improvements due to options in e.g. low-carbon technologies

green politics:
– both political action and structural change of society are perceived necessary to solve both social and ecological problems by controlling the selfish dark side of human desire and motivate the public-spirited
– the humans are seen as apart from nature due to capacity to reason, but not above, and the duty for mankind is therefore proper stewardship
– there is a belief in possible progress for humans
– both organisations and individuals must learn

green consciousness:
– a melting pot, that consists of a range of understandings like deep ecology, ecofeminism, bioregionalism, ecological citizenship, lifestyle greens and ecotheology, where the biocentric equality is opposed to the human domination of nature in other discourses
– the discourse appeals to people’s emotions and demands a passion/idealism
– no government is perceived capable, and it is up to every individual to take action
– deep ecologists value nature in its entirety, and no species e.g. like humans are more valuable than others
– wants expansion of wilderness areas (Earth First! Dave Foreman 2000)
– some deep ecologist accept some depletion of nature due to vital human needs, however that does not include e.g. cars, vacation homes and sport s utilities
– ecofeminism points at men as decision-makers as root cause of ecological pressures, like deep ecologists that will hunt animals as a natural order
– liberalism is perceived to be social unjust and environmentally destructive due to egoistic individuals capacity to exercise power
– bioregionalists focus on adapting life to fit in e.g. a watershed or land dominated by particular vegetation type and opposes the capitalist economy and globalization that is destroying regional identity
– they favour river basin government (or governance) instead of state
– ecological citizenship share ideas with bioregionalism, but can be exercised by motivated citizens from wherever they are
– lifestyle greens are often vegetarian and e.g. driving bicycle and other personal choices in order to establish a post-industrial way of life
– ecotheology: Lynn White (1967) has argued, that the Judeo-Christian view of God above nature and man in his image is the root cause of humans abuse of nature, and other religious people turn to Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism, that preaches more humble lifestyles toward nature


The environmental discourses found in analysis of Danish water planning

The categorization of discourses has been made through utterances that are shared to a degree by a certain set of stakeholders in the period 2010 to 2014 from representatives of some 30 or more organisations.

The figure provides an overview of how a perception of discourses in the Danish water planning can be placed within Dryzek’s four basic environmental discourses categorization.

The figure provides an overview of how a perception of discourses in the Danish water planning can be placed within Dryzek’s four basic environmental discourses categorization.

The perception of main organisations and other organisations for the discourse-coalitions are:

– Sustainable Agriculture (BL) for the fraud also including consultants like Hjeds/agronomist and individual landowners with template hearing answers. They have turned to writs on behalf of all members to avoid risking precedence through one lost case.

– Danish Agriculture & Food Council (L&F) for done enough, roll back a bit also including consultants like Møhlenberg/DHI, foresters, fish farms businesses, food industry and cultural preservation interests. They have made test cases against the state agencies.

– State authorities for doing it right and cost-efficient, but … also including municipalities, water supply and waste water utilities plus the Outdoor Council and Organic Denmark (ØKO). They have promoted general measures, which they also recognize are insufficient, but even so they reduced these measures in April 2014.

– Academia for the targeted differentiation also including consultants like Moeslund/Orbicon, The Ecological Council (DØR) and retired official Madsen/ex-NST. That promotes differentiation in measures and it is OK to e.g. focus on big lakes.

– Greenpeace for the disrupted system also including the author and some sparse utterances, that have shown little participation, which may be explained by global outlook.

– European Commission (EC) and Danish Society for Nature Conservation (DN) for the ambitious – full use of polluter-pay-principle (PPP) also including Danish Ornithological Society (DOF), anglers, hunters and CONCITO. They have also taken to court measures with a polluter-pay-principle test case. They want to include all water bodies and have a national (regional) focus.

An overview to grasp the pattern of what separate the discourses – Annex 37

The full analysis of utterances in discourses – Annex 5

From this it is clear that the agricultural sector is not united. Rather the sector is subdivided on the three discourses under problem solving. Furthermore green radicalism stands out as being almost non-existent in the debate. The claim by Dryzek, on sustainability being the dominant at present, is not apparent and cannot be concluded from the research.

EU as a driver with directives holds the intentions, while implementation and achievement of the desired results are still missing. However, the first set of river basin management plans has entered into force again at 30. October 2014.


Suggested literature:

Dryzek, J. S. 2013. The politics of the Earth. Environmental discourses. Third edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Jensen, J.H. 2014, The Danish implementation of the Water Framework Directive – analysis of events and storylines with a focus on river basin management plans, Aalborg University.

Hajer, M.A. 2005, “Coalitions, practices, and meaning in environmental politics: From acid rain to BSE” in Discourse theory in European politics, eds. D.R. Howarth & J. Torfing, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire & New York, pp. 297-315.

Hajer, M.A. 1995, The politics of environmental discourse: ecological modernization and the policy process, Clarendon Press Oxford.