Parlamentets natur: Produksjonen av en legitim miljø- og petroleumspolitikk (1945–2013)
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Sociology as a discipline is concerned with relationships. The relationship addressed in this thesis, is the one between society and nature. More specifically, the process of making pollution and the environmental condition relevant for – and in – parliament is used as an analytical prism to gain better understanding of that relationship. Building on theoretical perspectives from pragmatic moral-political sociology developed by Boltanski and Thévenot (2006), the thesis analyses the changing valuation of "nature" and "the environment" in Norwegian parliamentary debates.
A parliament is an important arena for making decisions that have consequences for society and for the environment, for example to pass regulations on pollution control. Parliamentary debates are interesting because they provide rich empirical data on how nature is valued and the environment made relevant for society. Debates in the Norwegian parliament, Stortinget, are marked by a strong obligation to give reasons for the political stand taken. The parliament can be seen as a site for calculating the legitimacy of decision alternatives. Reasons given will explicitly be assessed against other concerns that arguably should be taken into account. The arguments put forward by opponents and proponents must not only hold against opponents in parliament, they are also justifications towards the public. Verbatim transcripts from parliament are thus a relevant source for exploring several interlinked questions: When and how are nature made a relevant for parliament? How is nature valued in these debates? How are decisions on environmental- and petroleum policy legitimated? What kind of knowledge is made relevant? In what ways have parliamentary debates changed over time and how can we understand these changes?
Empirical data is an extensive sample of Norwegian parliamentary debates from 1945-2013. Particular attention is given to debates on how Norwegian petroleum production should be regulated to avoid undesirable environmental impacts. The petroleum industry contributes with one fourth of Norway's gross national product, directly and indirectly employs a substantial part of the labour force, has been vital for development of the welfare state and can be seen as important for Norwegian identity as a rich and successful country. Parliamentary debates on restricting extraction of petroleum because of potential environmental harm can be understood as examples of how society is dealing with environmental problems caused by successful industrialization. Such debates are interesting precisely because it seems inevitable that continuous expansion of petroleum activity will be considered more important than environmental concerns. These debates make an excellent case for studying how collective decisions on nature and environmental problems have been legitimized. However, the thesis does not seek to explain Norwegian environmental- and petroleum policy as such. Rather, it uses parliamentary debates on these topics as an analytical prism to explore how environmental problems are managed by parliament.
The analysis expands on the framework established by Boltanski and Thévenot. This framework has been developed to understanding justification in public debates. When there is disagreement in public debates, such as parliamentary debates, the actors are assumed to activate a limited set of justification principles, orders of worth. The different orders of worth refer in various ways to the common good; e.g. tradition, solidarity, competitiveness, efficiency, etc. Orders of worth are regarded as formed by historical and cultural processes; they are embedded in social institutions and organizations and they are important for the co-ordination necessary for normal action. They are however tested out and their relevance is renegotiated in situations of disagreement and conflict. The framework emphasises the analysis of situated action. In the context of this project, the specific context and accounts of the environmental entity made relevant by the parliamentary members in the debates is analysed as a process of particular relevance to grasp the manufacture of political legitimacy.
The strength of this theoretical approach is that it makes it possible to capture the forms and conditions of the justification-principles mobilized to create legitimacy in parliament. Further, the specific way of understanding the situation is seen as related to more or less formalized ways of making valid accounts of the situation, such as the systems for measuring the environmental condition and for calculating policy-relevant pollution, etc.
In addition to verbatim transcripts from parliament, other official documents from the political process (Propositions, Whitepapers, Recommendations and Bills) are analysed. These documents describe the decision-making situation, the relevant "facts" that should be taken into account, the goals to be reached and problems to be avoided. They describe the part of reality that is defined as "relevant" for the situation, and they make some understandings of the decision situation more relevant than others. Together with the debates, these documents are used as point of departure to explore the complex range processes that made one understanding of the situation more valid and relevant than others. Based on theoretical resources from social scientific studies of science and the literature on governmentality, particular attention is given to the relation between scientific knowledge production and policy formation. To strengthen the analysis of this topic, thirteen qualitative interviews with researchers and policy advisors was conducted. The individuals interviewed were involved with establishing ecosystem-based environmental management plans for large marine ecosystems in Norway.
Based on this theoretical framework and empirical data, the thesis maps the historical trajectory of the political conflicts on the environmental consequences from industry in Norway, and the petroleum industry in particular. The conflict level and content of these controversies are analysed and several substantial claims are made.
The analysis exposes how the form of valuable nature has changed substantially over time. That is, what makes nature valuable for parliament has changed over time. In the early 20th century nature was primarily regarded as a robust and unchangeable entity. Starting from the early 1950s this understanding of nature is undergoing important changes. Rather than being viewed as a robust entity, nature is to larger extent seen as fragile and should be protected from humans: Nature should be conserved. During the next decades the relevant form of nature to protect is gradually redefined as "the environment". In contrast to the idea of protecting "nature" from humans (the conservation of nature), pollution was primarily a problem because it harmed the human environment.
The changing form of valuable nature also has consequences for how pollution should be avoided and what kind of policy instruments that are considered relevant. In the period before 1945 the value of nature was primarily understood as material. Thus, the problem with pollution was not that it had a negative effect on nature as such, but rather that it could have detrimental consequences for other humans. Pollution from a factory could reduce harvests and economic profit from fishing, etc. Such damage could provide a basis for monetary compensations or could be banned. Pollution was primarily treated as a conflict between the interests of individuals or groups, and it was not necessarily a political issue to reduce pollution.
From the 1950s onwards this understanding is changing: The value of nature should be regarded as "something more" than just material. Pollution influences the human environment in many ways. However, the parliamentary debates are marked by a continued ambivalence regarding the specific principle to use in decision-making. To demand "non-pollution" is not regarded as a viable option. Even though it was often criticised, the main principle for decision-making continued to treat nature as a material and economic entity (e.g. polluter pays principle, cost-benefit approach, etc.). This approach was adjusted and mended in various ways during the next decades, but the formation of legitimate policy alternatives continued to be based on it.
A significant change occurred during the 1990s. The Norwegian parliamentary debates from this period are characterised by a harsh ecological self-critique. This had several consequences, among them a new environmental statute in the Norwegian Constitution. A new way of valuing nature emerged: What is valued is not nature "itself" but the function that nature has for humans, the conservation of nature understood as a "life supporting production system" for humanity. This view of nature specified the valuation of nature as anthropocentric. Another important dimension of the new way of valuing nature is that it clearly limited what form of nature that should be protected: It is legitimate to pollute and to harm parts of nature, but only as long as one does not threaten the production system that humans depend upon. As long as an activity can go on without diminishing the functional utility of nature for humanity; use, change and destruction of nature can be considered legitimate. This could be understood as a minimum definition of sustainability.
The thesis links this development to the discussion on a potential "green order of worth". The status of this order of worth has been considered highly uncertain in the literature. A main reason is that earlier analyses have found that nature can be made relevant in all the existing orders of worth; as commodity in the marked order, as part of local tradition in the domestic order, etc. Based on a detailed analysis of the arguments put forward in the Norwegian parliament and the justification of decisions in environmental and petroleum policy – it is suggested that a novel anthropocentric ecological order of worth has been established. The development of this order of worth can also be traced in the historical analysis, but its breakthrough as a legitimate order in parliament can be dated to the early 1990s.
The establishment of a new ecological order of worth provides a common principle for solving environmental controversies: When the value of nature is to be coordinated with other social considerations in parliamentary decisions, it is primarily nature's function as a production system for humanity that is valued. Even tough nature still can be made relevant in all the other orders of worth, the legitimacy of a decision can be tested towards the principles in the new order of worth if there is disagreement on whether the potential environmental harm is legitimate.
The thesis also maps the historical development of the environmental management system in Norway. It shows that historical changes in how nature is valued are related to changes in what type of knowledge that has been relevant for environmental decision-making and management systems. The changing valuation of nature is thus related to changes in systems for measuring, calculating and evaluating environmental impact. The new ecological order of worth is also linked to substantial changes in this system in the last two decades.
In particular, the thesis analyses changes in how petroleum activity is regulated and controlled. Instead of mainly being oriented towards controlling the pollution from petroleum production to the sea and air, considerable resources has been directed towards calculating the total impact on the ecosystem from the industry. A new set of measurement techniques has been developed to achieve better control over "the environmental condition". The development of ecosystem-based environmental management plans for large marine ecosystems is on example. Data from increased "nature surveillance" is important for the development of ecological indicators that are used to measure the ecological condition. These indicators have been developed further into ecosystem statistics. An illuminating example is the Norwegian Nature index, representing the condition of large ecosystems in Norway as a number a number between 0 and 1.
The analysis indicates that the changes in Norway are closely related and in part inspired by international development, conventions and United Nations initiatives. Thus, the specification of an ecological order of worth should be tested out against data from other countries and international organisations.