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Environment, Wealth, and Authority: Global Climate Change and Emerging Modes of Legitimation

Karen T. Litfin
International Studies Review
Vol. 2, No. 2, Continuity and Change in the Westphalian Order (Summer, 2000), pp. 119-148
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The International Studies Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3186430
Page Count: 30
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Environment, Wealth, and Authority: Global Climate Change and Emerging Modes of Legitimation
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Abstract

A central feature of modernity is that state authority has been conceived as resting on the consent of the governed, which in turn depends upon governments' ability to promote economic prosperity. The performance criteria upon which political authority has been judged in large part are positively correlated with the exponential growth in the use of fossil fuels. An international scientific consensus has emerged: the burning of fossil fuels will cause global climate change sometime in this century. This suggests that the authority of science presents a challenge to a key source of the state's political authority: its role as guarantor of wealth production. Moreover, since the real impact of global climate change will not be felt for several decades, the notion of intergenerational responsibility is implicit in contemporary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Given that the liberal notion of political authority entails consent of currently living self-interested citizens, efforts to promote intergenerational responsibility suggest that the basis of political authority is being revised by efforts to cope with global environmental degradation.

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