Reflections on ‘Freedom’ in Our Present Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of freedom recently. As with so many things, different people seem to use different definitions of freedom and this complicates our collective conversations. I am not going to try to persuade anyone about the right definition of freedom. With that said, I want to highlight a few reflections on freedom that I find helpful in our present time.

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Rethinking Environmentalism

Amartya Sen the so-called “Mother Theresa of Economics” and many development guru’s fourth member of the Trinity recently wrote an excellent piece about environmental policy. Slashing through nonsensical partisan beliefs, Sen challenges readers to not only take climate change seriously but also to keep it in it’s place among the important issues facing the world today. As the title of the article claims, many environmentalists – obsessed with their unequivocally nobel goals – forget about many of our world’s other important and pressing issues, namely the needs of poor countries.article_inset_sen_625

The recent focus of energy thinking has been particularly concentrated on the ways and means of reducing carbon emissions and, linked with that, cutting down energy use, rather than taking energy use as essential for conquering poverty and seeing the environmental challenge within a more comprehensive understanding. There would appear to be an insufficient recognition in global discussion of the need for increased power in the poorer countries. In India, for example, about a third of the people do not have any power connection at all. Making it easier to produce energy with better environmental correlates (and greater efficiency of energy use) may be a contribution not just to environmental planning, but also to making it possible for a great many deprived people to lead a fuller and freer life. 

Through Sen’s own “Freedom’s” (or capabilities) approach:

The environment is not only a matter of passive preservation, but also one of active pursuit. Even though many human activities that accompany the process of development may have destructive consequences (and this is very important to understand and to address), it is also within human power to enhance and improve the environment in which we live. Indeed, our power to intervene, with reason and effectiveness, can be substantially enhanced by the process of development itself. For example, greater female education and women’s employment can help to reduce fertility rates drastically, which in the long run can reduce the pressure on environmental destruction, including global warming and the decimation of natural habitats. Similarly, the spread of school education and improvements in its quality can make us more environmentally conscious. Better communication and a more active and a better informed media can enhance our awareness of the need for environment-oriented thinking. It is easy to find many other examples of interconnection. In general, seeing development in terms of increasing the effective freedom of human beings brings the constructive agency of people in environment-friendly activities directly within the domain of developmental efforts.


HT @JustinSandefur