Liberal democracy is defined by free and fair elections, universal suffrage, rule of law, and protection of individual rights. Public participation is often limited to voting or nonbinding public hearings, rather than agenda setting and decision making—particularly in environmental policy, where scientific and technical expertise is often necessary to comprehend the issues as framed by professionals and policymakers. Perhaps as a result, the social, health, economic, and other costs associated with environmental degradation have been disproportionately concentrated among those who are least represented among decision makers: the poor and people of color.

Participatory democracy, in contrast, is characterized by engagement in civil discourse to develop consensus on policies that meet the needs, values, and priorities of diverse citizens. Through persistent engagement, participants gain a greater appreciation ...

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