Conventionalist environmental thought faces a central problem: the absence of an environmental order of magnitude that obeys the same rules as the six others. This article suggests a way of overcoming this problem: considering environmentalism, not as the ideal model of society, but as a critique of capitalism. In this perspective, the theoretical foundations and the historical effectiveness of the environmental critique of capitalism are analyzed.
I develop a conceptual analysis of environmental ethics, built on the compassionate motives highlighted by Hans Jonas and on the procedural norms of deliberative democracy. General development is characterized as an ethical construct, the hardcore of which consists in a conception of the person and of personal development. Personal development is construed, in the manner of Paul Ricœur, as the outcome of the communicative actions of the singular person, aiming at the “good life”. Deliberative democracy is characterized by the norms of communicative action developed by Jürgen Habermas. These norms derive action from the unanimous agreement of persons affected by its consequences, obtained in conditions of procedural impartiality allowing each person’s point of view to be voiced and heard. We develop two versions of them, adapted to the issues of urban ecology and sustainable development respectively. I show how the scope of compassionate motives impinges on the distinction between the persons-ends and the things-means of development, and how this affects the substance of communicative action. I analyze also the meaning of decision risk in this normative context.