The politics behind environmental law

18 March 2016

PPLE tutor dr Tobias Arnoldussen is a researcher of environmental law. 'I like to discuss with my students whether environmental conservation can be a new ideal in a society that is said to have lost its idealism.'

PhD defense Tobias Arnoldussen

Tobias Arnoldussen defended his doctoral thesis on debates over air pollution control measures in the Netherlands on 4 March 2016. In his tutorial groups he also discusses the issue with his students: 'I explain to them how the issue of environmental protection is a prime example of where politics, psychology, law and economics meet.'

Can conservation be a social value?

'Environmental groups are trying to employ the law to pursue their goals, and their pursuit changes the law. Environmental laws are a whole different category of law from your prototypal criminal statute: they don't regulate behavior with sanctions and injunctions, but use a mix of legal and ethical norms. Those ethical norms can be traced back to the Christian concept of good stewardship; the idea that we need to look after the earth that we have on loan. It is a return to the image of Almighty Nature, which we need to conserve to prevent imbalances. It appears that environmental laws have a different view on society than classical areas of law such as criminal law or private law.'

'I like to discuss with my students whether environmental conservation can be a new ideal in a society that is said to have lost its idealism. Can protection of the environment serve as a value to unite people? Does a community always need certain values to shape itself around? This is a discussion that fits perfectly within the course in Law, Justice and Morality.'

Air pollution and the Cold War

'To illustrate my point that environmental protection is where politics, psychology, law and economics meet, I tell my students about the Cold War history of the air pollution debate. That debate didn't come off the ground until the Soviets realized in the 70's that, while there were so many issues they couldn't co-operate on or even discuss, air pollution was an issue that they could address together with Western countries. The first major international conference on air pollution was organized by the Russians. When the Swedes saw an opportunity to address the deterioration of their forests due to acid rain caused by UK industries, and the Germans started fearing for their forests, air pollution became a hot topic.'

'I could also go into the motives of countries when they promote international standards. For example, the Netherlands tries to launch strict international environmental standards to make use of their competitive advantage: Dutch regulations are already quite strict and it suits Dutch businesses if others will have to adapt to the same standards. And then there is the subject of greenwashing or the debates over collaboration between environmental groups and big business.'

Elective course on environmentalism

Apart from teaching in Law, Justice and Morality I and II, and the Philosophy of Social Sciences courses, Arnoldussen will be offering an elective course on environmentalism within the PPLE programme. 'Students will travel the same path I have travelled to get to my thesis. I hope they will end up in the same place, but of course that will be up to them. They will be taking up different positions in the discussions: they will be environmentalists, industrialists, national politicians, EU politicians, and so on. I am very much looking forward to their debates.'

Published by  PPLE