What is right, what is wrong, and what should we do in complicated environmental dilemmas? In the following text I dig a little into these matters through three lenses: deep ecology, ecofeminism and land ethics. This is a composition I submitted for an Environmental Management and Ethics course, and it gave me a lot of food for thought.
I chose for an environmental dilemma to study sustainable development and what this means for countries that are in their process of development. The concept of sustainable development, as seen during the lectures, is “development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. From this definition and its relationship the environmental dilemma mentioned above, we can derive three environmental ethical aspects:
1. The definition is very anthropocentric. While no species are mentioned, it is quite obvious that it is meant to and for humans as it relates to the consumption of natural resources. One could argue that it also applies to animals and other living beings, and this is definitely a valid interpretation, but I personally sustain that the idea of development creates a separation in this concept between humans and other species, thus making it anthropocentric. If we take Deep Ecology’s approach, it is readily apparent that the concept of sustainable development sees nature as an utility rather than something worthy of rights and respect on its own, as is all life. I then pose the following questionings: isn’t it time to make adjustments to this concept so that it puts humans as part of the planet’s ecology rather than above it? Is it feasible to do so in our present global context? If so, would it render tangible results?
2. History shows that most countries considered developed today have reached this status through fast, intensive and violent exploitation of natural resources — both their own resources and other nations’, be those (now former) colonies or poor independent countries. By the time the world began realising in large scale that pollution was a problem and human activity was affecting the environment, these countries had already achieved a certain stability and comfort. When international environmental treatises and policies started to come into the scene, including the concept of sustainable development, they were developmentally well stablished in relation to undeveloped countries. The first set of questionings that arise from this situation is:
A. How will nations that are in their process of development cope and deal with environmental limitations? The Kyoto Protocol and other policies establish tougher goals and restrains for developed countries, but is this enough of a contribution? There is no space in our current state for the argument some developing countries use of “the right to pollute”, derived precisely from the aforementioned situation, so how will these countries grow?
If we take ecofeminism’s lenses to this situation, we can infer that development was a process of oppression and subjugation of peoples, nature and women. We are still enduring the results of this oppression and will continue to do so for a long time to come — racism, exploitation and sexism are unfortunately very much a part of our life, particularly for those living in developing countries. I also sustain that the migration crises we are experiencing all over the world also has some roots in this matter. So I pose the second set of questionings:
B. Is it possible for historically oppressed peoples to come together and create a new ecological and social paradigm? How can this be established without violence and through democracy and dialogue? How would the patriarchal order react to this? And can anything from this order become a source of support for inclusion, equality and fraternity?
3. It is possible to infer that through land ethics’ view, sustainable development isn’t “right”. This kind of environmental ethics approach affirms that “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It’s wrong when it tends otherwise” (Leopold, A.;1949). While sustainable development is a nice concept, we all know it wasn’t created with the intention to preserve integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community for it’s own sake. It was created to manage the environment for humans’ sake, and in this I believe land ethics and deep ecology briefly touch. It is then possible to assume that Leopold would consider sustainable development a wrong thing, for it does not intend integrity and beauty for instance. Development will always mean going further and further, and I find this incompatible with the idea of integrity.
Thinking critically about sustainable development and the nuances it entails is essential to work towards fine-tuning this very important and relevant concept. While it is a fact we have made a lot of progress through the traditional definition, I believe the future will ask more of sustainable development, and it must evolve and grow to have the capacity to handle conflicts and problems that are certainly going to present themselves. Ethically, it was a giant step forward and an important beginning, for it brought us to a quality of self-consciousness as a collective regarding the consequences of our actions. However, it will need to be revised, recreated and fine-tuned periodically in order to not lose relevance and applicability with the changing times.