Democracy, like religion, offers a powerful vision of collective order, and like religion, democracy retains its vitality through constant adaptation and transformation. No recent social phenomenon has so comprehensively tested the plasticity and regenerative capacity of democracy as environmentalism in the late twentieth century. The arrival of the “environment” as a matter of public concern changed the playing field for democratic thought and action in fundamental ways. It framed new issues for political conflict, opened up novel possibilities for action and alliances, expanded the time scale of responsibility toward nature and future generations, created unprecedented tensions between expert and lay knowledge, limited to some degree the sovereignty of nations, gave rise to new demands for international cooperation, and prompted once-unimaginable questions about the rights and entitlements of human beings and their fellow creatures on this planet. The resulting explosion in environmental controversies, laws and treaties, court decisions, forms of expertise, and modes of civic expression disrupted the conventional meanings of both components of the word “democracy”: who is the “demos,” or populace, whom governments should represent and protect, and what does it mean to govern in relation to environmental problems? Indeed, to repeat Robert Dahl’s famous question of the 1960s,...

This essay may be found on page 57 of the printed volume.

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