The Monetisation of Ecological Concerns through Environmental Taxation: A Critical Analysis on Enviornmental Taxes and the Forms Responsibility and Enviornment take within Context

Moira Marlene Mittler

Student thesis: Master thesis


The aim of this thesis is to carve out the network of conditions that constitute the phenomenon of environmental taxes in order to understand the practice better. This is done through exploring the conditions that have to be met that has made it possible for us to have a particular discussion on environmental taxes. These conditions entail the historical conditions in terms of modes of problematizations as well as the conditions in terms of the correlative dimensions of subject relations, normative frameworks and forms of knowledge. The conditions are explored through answering the question of how, why, and in what form have environmental taxes become a phenomenon or an experience that it is possible to have a particular discussion on today?
Moreover, the forms that responsibility and environment take within the framework of the practice of environmental taxation are presented. Finally, the concerns that arise when implementing environmental taxes are discussed based on the findings of what form environmental taxes, responsibility and environment take.
The analytical strategy used in the thesis is highly influenced by Michel Foucault’s social constructivist philosophy and in particular by his late works from 1979-1984. Furthermore, the thesis is inspired by the analytical tools that Marius Gudmand-Høyer (2013) has develop based on Foucault’s work. Through this analytical framework the conditions of having a certain discussion on environmental taxes are examined through carving out certain historical modes of problematizations that have led to the emergence of environmental taxes as a particular practice. The modes of problematizations are finally reorganized in the dimensions of forms of knowledge, normative frameworks and subject relations that constitute the socially and temporarily dispositioned experience of why environmental taxes are perceived as relevant (Foucault: 1984a).
This thesis came to find that environmental taxes have emerged as a response to cope with the problem of previously conflicting issues of economic growth and ecological concerns. Environmental taxes are developed as the concrete praxis to stretch the limits of environmental carrying capacity by incentivizing businesses to develop and adapt greener technology. Through combining economic growth and ecological concerns, environmental taxes thus operate as a mechanism that enables a “green growth”, namely a form of growth which allows for exponential growth (economic, population and industrialization-wise) while at the same time taking into consideration ecological and environmental concerns. The discussion of responsibility did not exist in within this context, but the focus lied on the outcome of polluting less. Environment in 2 terms of nature and the harm that environmental damage imposes on society and human beings took its form as something which is measurable in economic assets.
This led us to question whether it is possible to put a price on environmental degradation that takes place both with respect to the present and in the future. Moreover, the absence of the concept of responsibility led us to reflect over whether we risk not discussing alternative ways of coping with environmental degradation such as for instance consuming and producing less.
Consequently, the practice of environmental taxes as an economic incentive operate within a system that accepts that there will be some levels of pollutions in the present and in the future. This rationality is also anthropocentric: it assumes a power relationship of humans over nature and accepts that nature only will be preserved in relation to humans’ wants and needs. Finally, environmental taxes rely heavily upon technological development to control present and future pollution levels. The practice assume that technology will be developed at the same rate as the growth is causing pollutions if the limit to environmental carrying capacity is to be sustained.
In the context of environmental taxes operating as a mechanism to allocate responsibility the thesis came to the conclusion that taking responsibility takes its form as something which takes place through paying a price of environmental degradation to finally make up for the negative consequences by covering for various clean-up costs. This led us to reflect upon whether negative impacts that already are persistent can be nullified once the polluters have economically covered for the clean-up costs. This led us to wonder whether environmental taxes in this context enable the polluters to free themselves from taking responsibility by paying an economic fee rather that enabling them to take responsibility.

EducationsMsc in Business Administration and Philosophy, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages76
SupervisorsMarius Gudmand-Høyer