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The Compromise of Liberal Environmentalism

By: Steven Bernstein(Author)

314 pages, tables

Columbia University Press

Paperback | Oct 2001 | #121678 | ISBN: 0231120370
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Hardback | Oct 2001 | #121676 | ISBN: 0231120362
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About this book

The most significant shift in environmental governance over the last thirty years has been the convergence of environmental and liberal economic norms toward "liberal environmentalism" – which predicates environmental protection on the promotion and maintenance of a liberal economic order. Steven Bernstein assesses the reasons for this historical shift, introduces a socio-evolutionary explanation for the selection of international norms, and considers the implications for our ability to address global environmental problems.

The author maintains that the institutionalization of "sustainable development" at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) legitimized the evolution toward liberal environmentalism. Arguing that most of the literature on international environmental politics is too rationalist and problem-specific, Bernstein challenges the mainstream thinking on international cooperation by showing that it is always for some purpose or goal. His analysis of the norms that guide global environmental policy also challenges the often-presumed primacy of science in environmental governance.

"Bernstein convincingly and usefully rejects the role of epistemic communities as a driving force behind the norm change he identifies [...] Compelling [...] His attention to the role of ideas in environmental policy is important."

"An original and thorough analysis of the evolution of international environmental governance [...] this fascinating work makes an important contribution."
Environmental Politics

"[T]ackled with style and commitment [...] [t]his is a book that many should and will want to read, both for its assessment of environmentalism internationally and for its original contribution to constructivist theory."
– Don Munton, Perspectives on Politics



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Steven Bernstein is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

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