Responsibility displacement strategies

From the PhD of Rebecca Pearse, 2015. The political economy of carbon pricing in Australia: Contestation, the state and governance failure. UNSW.


Hay (1994) argues that environmental regulation can be understood as a feature of state crisis displacement strategies. Looking at global environmental politics, Colin Hay outlined a range of displacement strategies available to the state in order to preserve legitimacy in the face of international and domestic pressures for environmental protection. These strategies include: engage in political risk analysis in terms of cost to the state;  shift responsibility upward to global or regional political agendas; shift responsibility down to civil society; shift responsibility across to other nations or non-domestic capital as the culprit; do the minimum necessary to re-secure legitimacy; over-state the state’s ‘green conversion’ (Hay, 1994: 96-97, 1996).
Hay is effectively describing responsibility displacement strategies aimed at deflecting or deferring environmental crises. He emphasised general constraints on the state in dealing with global environmental problems, the most significant being the imperative for the state to institute law and regulation in harmony with global economic growth. He argued that state strategies for crisis displacement are a means to deflect the global ecology-capital contradiction. They should also be understood with regard to the type of environmental problem (a symptom of the fundamental contradiction) and the specific concerns brought into public contestation within civil society (Hay, 1994: 94). For instance, climate change poses serious risks to society and high economic costs, compared to a single site of pollution or species extinction. This makes the likelihood of international cooperation more distant than compared to regulations for ozone depletion for instance which are considered high risk and low cost.

(Pearse, 2015: 87-8)

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