Deep Equity, Nonzero-Sum Environmentalism, and a Sustainable Planet

AuthorDavid Takacs
Chapter 6
Deep Equity, Nonzero-Sum
Environmentalism, and a
Sustainable Planet
David Takacs
As humans appropriate ever more of the planet’s bounty, leaving less
for nonhuman species and the ecosystems t hey inhabit, conicts
emerge over who or what gets which resources, and what counts as
“resources” in the rst place. Such conicts result in, and emerge from, some
of the unproductive zero-sum framings described in this volume.
Dualistic, zero-su m framings result in unproductive clashes between
parties who may be talking past each other. Such clashes even ex tend to
choosing appropriate frames through which we view t he natural world, and
thus how we set priorities to manage that world: Are ecosystems gardens to
be cultivated and manipulated for human need s, or are they wildernesses
imbued with intrinsic worth, whose species are valuable for their own sa ke,
to be managed for continued ecological fu nction and evolutionary potential?
Is the natural world capacious enough to allow for both paradigms to guide
our attempts to manage the planet?
In three of my research arenas, promoters of new conservation strategies
split the dierence, modulating between nature as sacred and nature as pro-
fane. In all cases, these three multifaceted approaches to solving problems
serve as counter-narratives to win-lose, zero-sum environmentalism.
Public funders and private investors are pouring billions of dollars into
reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in
the developing world. In REDD+, investors pay people to preserve carbon in
biomass, and then sell credits based on the stored ca rbon to those wishing to
oset their own greenhouse ga s (GHG) emissions.1 In biodiversity osetting,
rapidly gaining currency as a tool that (potentially) promotes prudent eco-
1. For overviews of REDD+ and how it works, see, e.g., David Takacs, Environmental Democracy and
Forest Carbon (REDD+), 44 E. L. 71 (2014) [hereinafter Environmental Democracy and Forest
Carbon REDD+]; David Takacs, Forest Carbon (REDD+): Repairing International Trust, and Recipro-
cal Contractual Sovereignty, 37 V L. R. 653 (2013) [hereinafter Forest Carbon REDD+];
112 Beyond Zero-Sum Environmentalism
nomic and ecological planning, de velopers degrade biodiversity in one place
in exchange for paying to protect it elsewhere, and perhaps improving a spe-
cies’ or ecosystem’s chances for long-term survival.2 In South Afric a, to fulll
the constitutionally guaranteed right to safe, clean drinking water, ocials
are developing projects to enhance the ecological in frastructure in the 8% of
the nation’s land that provides 50% of its water. In so doing, they plan simul-
taneously to create more and cleaner water, augment local ecosystem serv ices,
protect nonhuman species, and create jobs for poor people in rural area s.3
Each of these examples presents nonzero-sum solutions to environmental
problems, and broadens the way we frame the problems in the rst place.
A worldview shaped by ecological science requires that in a ny situation we
consider the manifold connections between multiple entities. ese connec-
tions are shaped by the past, and extend into the future. An action in one
place may have predictable (or not) implications for a distant location, render-
ing simple win-loss calculations impossible. Such a worldview also requires
us to consider diverse currencies by which “wins” and “losses” are tallied. In
the three examples I discuss here, currencies (potentially) expand beyond
immediate nancial g ain and loss, or ability to develop a property or not. We
can, in addition, trade in local a nd global ecosystem services provided, GHG
mitigated, aesthetic and biophilic benets accrued, democratic decisionmak-
ing participation rights enjoyed, human rights of present and future genera-
tions guaranteed, jobs created, and economies grown. In all three research
areas, those who prize diverse ecosystems, the biodiversity they harbor, and
the ecosystem services they provide win in diverse ways. But even those
who do not explicitly prize these ecological a ssets nonet heless benet from
enhanced environmental amenities, a lbeit in more diuse ways, harder to
quantify by traditional zero-sum means.4 e natural world, viewed t husly,
is not simply a single resource; it is multiple, manifold resources that negate
simple zero-sum accou nting.
David Takacs, Forest Carbon Osets and International Law: A Deep Equity Legal Analysis, 22 G.
I’ E. L. R. 521 (2010) [hereinafter Forest Carbon Osets].
2. One of the best sources of information on this scheme is the Business and Biodiversity Osets
Program (BBOP). See, e.g., Wildlife Conservation Society, BBOP Principles on Biodiversity Osets,les/bbop_principles.pdf. For an overview, see David
Takacs, Are Koalas Fungible?: Biodiversity Osetting and the Law, 26 N.Y.U. E. L.J. 161 (2018)
[hereinafter Are Koalas Fungible?
3. For a comprehensive description of this program, see David Takacs, South Africa and the Human Right
to Water: Equity, Ecology, and the Public Trust Doctrine, 34 B J. I’. L. 55 (2016) [hereinafter
South Africa and the Human Right to Water].
4. J.B. Ruhl discusses this phenomenon that on a macro scale, everyone wins when we sustain function-
ing ecosystems, even if on a micro scale it might look like there are immediate losers. See Chapter 1
at 7.

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