Democracy and the Environment: An Empirical Assessment

Journal article

Midlarsky, Manus I. (1998) Democracy and the Environment: An Empirical Assessment, Journal of Peace Research 35 (3): 341–361.

This article examines empirically the relationship between democracy and the environment. Theorists and policy-makers have been eager to put forward the virtues of democracy as a benign political influence on the environment, especially in contrast to the obvious environmental degradation under Communism that became obvious after its fall. Six measures of environmental protection or degradation are examined as the dependent variables, with the independent variables emerging from earlier tests of the impact of the environment on democracy. In the multiple regression analyses of three of the environmental indicators, deforestation, carbon dioxide emission, and soil erosion by water, the statistically significant effect of democracy on the environment actually was negative, contrary to prediction. In the fourth case, protected land area, the impact of democracy was positive while in the remaining two instances, freshwater availability and soil erosion by chemicals, there was no significant effect of democracy on the environment. Other variables such as economic development, agricultural density, European location, age of the polity, and precipitation behaved empirically as one would intuitively expect. These findings suggest that democracy cannot be viewed unidimensionally in its relationship to the environment, and that assumptions by theorists and policy-makers concerning the positive effect of democracy on the environment need to be re-examined.

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