Ecodemocracy can be defined as follows (Gray and Curry, 2016): "Groups and communities using decision-making systems that respect the principles of human democracy while explicitly extending valuation to include the intrinsic value of non-human nature, with the ultimate goal of evaluating human wants equally to those of other species and the living systems that make up the ecosphere." More practically, it can be thought of as being achieved through implementing 'representation for non-human nature' in political processes.
The principle of ecodemocracy applies to decisions directly affecting conservation, as well as those indirectly impacting it through their effects on habitats and the environment in general. And it can operate at any geographic scale, from a local stakeholder group to an international alliance of governments (although it aligns itself particularly well with the thinking behind bioregionalism – the geographical organisation of socio-political systems by ecologically defined boundaries, such as watersheds, instead of socially constructed boundaries such as nations).
Ecodemocratic decision-making in practice
Deliberative ecodemocracy: A simple way to modify existing socio-political systems to ensure that the intrinsic value of non-human nature is considered is to allocate protected time in any decision-making process for public discussion on this intrinsic value. This could be achieved, for instance, through a 'Council of All Beings', which is a process in which participants step aside from their human identity and speak on behalf of another life-form.
Ecodemocracy by human proxies with voting rights: A way to extend the benefits of the discursive process in deliberative ecodemocracy would be to assign stakeholder status and voting rights to non-humans, which would be achieved through human proxies (they could be people elected based on their grasp of both ecological and ethical principles or people chosen by random ballot). Stakeholder status could be assigned to species, ecological communities, or non-living components of ecosystems such as water and soil.
Ecodemocracy by juries of citizens: Instead of having a number of individual proxies, a group of experts in ecology, environmental science, and ethics could be assembled to produce recommendations on decisions that would be preferable from the perspective of the community of life. A second panel, formed of elected politicians, would similarly create a proposal, but one that considers the desires of humans in the traditional way (this would not exclude nature conservation). Where there were important differences between the recommendations of the two panels, a jury of citizens would be tasked with deciding whether, within an ecocentric worldview, the human desires were sufficiently important to outweigh the needs of the community of life as a whole.
A call to action
What is needed most urgently is practical experimentation with implementing 'representation for non-human nature' at different scales and in different contexts. Only through trial and error will it be possible to establish a set of empowering recommendations. If you would like to become involved in this project, please email the author via this contact form. ■
Gray J and Curry P (2016) Ecodemocracy: helping wildlife's right to survive. ECOS 37: 18–27.