AuthorSarah Krakoff/Melissa Powers/Jonathan Rosenbloom
Sarah Krakoff, Melissa Powers,
and Jonathan Rosenbloom
Protecting the environment can only occur at the expense of: jobs, economic
growth, population increase, anti-poverty measures, food production, etc.” is
type of expression has been around as long as there have been eorts to reign
in pollution and ensure the vitality of natur al systems. Behind it are a variety
of concerns, including resistance to government regulation, skepticism about
the importance or extent of environmental harms, a nd sometimes even pro-
environmental views about the limits of Ear th’s carrying capacity.
When the Environmental Law Collaborative (ELC) met for its third
biennial meeting (ELC3) in the summer of 2016, President Donald Trump
had secured the Republican Part y’s nomination but had not yet won the
presidential election. We could not foresee the extent to which acrimonious
and divisive langua ge would be used to further the Trump Administration’s
policy goals. We did not know, in other words, that zero-sum rhetoric and a
winners-ver sus-losers vie w of the world would domin ate discourse about pub-
lic policy and governance. It was therefore coincidental that we had already
set out to tackle the origins and mea nings of zero-sum frameworks and asses s
their implications for natural resource a nd environmental protection. Since
the election, the Trump Administration’s rationales for a host of environ-
mental and natural resources policies have embraced a zero-sum approach,
seemingly preferring a world divided into winners and losers. Accordingly,
many of our writings, which mostly occurred after the election, interrogate
and analyze the Trump Administration’s actions. Other chapters address
how zero-sum rhetoric gained ascendance in t he rst place, and why it often
obscures the values underlying con icts about environmental protection.
As several authors explain, one problem is that many zero-sum charac-
terizations have very little to do with the original meaning of a “zero-sum”
game. In game theory, zero-sum means that a person may gain only at the
expense of another person losing. Two-person games, such as chess and
checkers, exemplify this win/loss dichotomy. Tra nsported to economics, the
idea of zero-sum similarly mean s that one party must lose for another to win.
But, contrary to the common way the term is used, zero-su m outcomes are

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