Alexander Belyakov. Ethical issues in Sustainability


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Ethical and Philosophical Perspectives and their Relevance to Sustainability. February 2012. Ryerson University, Toronto.

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Alexander Belyakov. Ethical issues in Sustainability

  1. 1. Ethical and Philosophical Perspectives and theirRelevance to Sustainability Fundamentals in Sustainability Alexander Belyakov Email: 21. February 2012
  2. 2. Outline1. Ethics and values2. Mid-, light- and dark- green ethics3. Sustainability-related ethics in cases4. Ethics of indigenous people5. Question to discuss
  3. 3. EthicsEthics is a branch of philosophy that tries to define what is fundamentally right and wrong, regardless of cultural differences. Morals differ somewhat from ethics in that they reflect the predominant attitudes and feeling of a culture about ethical issues. Questions • (1) What are the components of a good life?• (2) What sort of things are good in themselves?
  4. 4. ValuesIntrinsic value vs. instrumental value:• intrinsic value: The worth objects have in their own right, independent of their value to any other end.• instrumental value: The worth objects have in fulfilling other ends.
  5. 5. Philosophical Issue • Who or what has moral standing (is morally considerable), and why? – Does the environment have moral standing? – Is value of nature instrumental or intrinsic? • What moral duty do we have toward those with moral standing? – Different ethical positions suggest different moral duties.
  6. 6. Ethical Positions Anthropocentrism: Human centered morality – Only humans have intrinsic value and moral standing. – The rest of the natural world has instrumental value (use to humans). Ex: Ducks Unlimited preserves wetlands for hunting Ex: Saving the rainforests will provide O2 and medicines for humans. Problem: Would you blow up the world if you were the last human
  7. 7. Impact of dominant anthropocentric approach on politics• Recourcism – nature is considered as recourse• Managerial environmentalism – recourses require management This serves as a foundation for modern environmental policy
  8. 8. Ethical Positions • Eco-centric Holism: ecosystem centered morality • Non-individuals (the earth as an interconnected ecosystem, species, natural processes) have moral standing or intrinsic value and are deserving of respect. • Individuals must be concerned about the whole community of life/nature. • Humans should strive to preserve ecological balance and stability.
  9. 9. Evolution of Ethics:Expansion of subjectshaving rights
  10. 10. Evolution of Ethics:Expansion of subjectshaving moral standing
  11. 11. Ecological ethicsEcological (environmental ) ethics = applicationof ethical standards to relationships betweenhuman and non-human entities Should we conserve Is is OK to destroy a forest to resources for future create jobs for people? generations? Should humans drive Is it OK for some communities other species to to be exposed to excess extinction? pollution?
  12. 12. Three mainstreams in ecological ethicsAnthropocentric Ecocentric view view
  13. 13. Western ethical expansion
  14. 14. Light Green or Shallow Ethics Consideration of only humans as having intrinsic value. Nonhuman beings are considered only in their usefulness for human EXAMPLESEnvironmentalism Lifeboat Ethics
  15. 15. Environmentalism• Rachel Carson as founder Advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and may be referred to as a movement to control pollution (precautionary principle)• Patrick Moore: “Environmentalism is to a large extent a populist movement that challenges established authority and appeals to the disenchanted, social revolutionaries, and idealists”.
  16. 16. Lifeboat Ethics Garrett Hardin (70s): Natural resources are limited and can not support humankind without measures. - We are in a lifeboat – wealthy societies should pick up poor nations in the sea - Tragedy of the commons – common goods are commonly owned and with free riders this may result in destruction
  17. 17. Mild-green or Intermediate Ethics Consideration of some elements of nature as having some intrinsic value – but human interests have priorityEXAMPLES Animal Animal Rights Liberation Movement Biocentrism
  18. 18. Animal Liberation Approach • Peter Singer (1977): calls to stop suffering of animals • Sentience, the ability to feel pain – Therefore extend moral standing to animals Justifies vegetarian diet BUT : How can you measure pleasure/suffering
  19. 19. Animal Rights Approach • Tom Regan (1983): Beings "subjects-of-a-life“ animals have right to life • BUT boundary of moral considerability is very restrictive – and many plants and animals left out – only if animals are like us in some important way will we grant them standing
  20. 20. Biocentrismlife centered ethics Paul Taylors Respect for Nature (1986) – Living things have a good of their own, a will to live, and end of their own. Thus they have inherent worth – With this perspective comes morally responsible behavior toward nature. Also: • (1) humans are member of earths life community • (2) all species part of interdependent ecological system • (3) all life pursues own good in own ways • (4) Humans not inherently superior (all life has moral standing)
  21. 21. Other critical points of Mild-green ethics• How can we determine what the "interests" of a living thing are?• How should we decide who should be the trustee for non-rational, morally considerable entities?• No basis for prioritizing concern for endangered species
  22. 22. Dark Green or Deep (Ecocentric) Ethics Considering intrinsic value of whole ecosystemsEXAMPLES Land Ethics Vernadsky Deep ecology theory; Gaia theory
  23. 23. Ecocentrism: ecosystem centered ethics Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic (1949) "All ethics rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.” – Leopold argued that Healthy ecological systems depend on protecting all parts
  24. 24. Lovelock’s holistic planetary Gaia theory • Arguing the earth is a self-regulating living system that maintains the conditions for the perpetuation of life, James Lovelock advanced the Gaia Hypothesis (1970s). • Although not intended as an ‘ethics,’ a biosphere-centered (large-ecocentric) ethics has been deduced from it, claiming: – People ought not degrade this wonderful system in such a way that it can not function to keep its systems within the various delicate margins necessary for life
  25. 25. Nöosphere by Vernadsky – before and unnoticed by LovelockThe "sphere of human thought".Vernadsky’ book, The Biosphere,first published in Moscow, in 1926,translated into French in 1929.The biosphere as a biogeochemicalevolving system.
  26. 26. Appealing to Moral Values –Responsibility of humankind for the planet• Mankind as a whole is becoming a mighty geological force. → Problem of the reconstruction of the biosphere in the interests of freely thinking humanity. New state of the biosphere - nöosphere.• The noösphere is a new geological phenomenon on our planet, when a man becomes a large-scale geological force. He can and must rebuild the province of his life by his work and thought.• Are our democratic ideals in tune with the elemental geological processes, with the law of nature, and with the noösphere? Vladimir I. Vernadsky. The Biosphere and the Noösphere, article written in 1943, and published in English in the American Scientist, January 1945.
  27. 27. Deep Ecology • Humans are deeply connected with nature. • All life systems are sacred and valuable -- apart from their usefulness to human beings • All species should be allowed to flourish and fulfill their evolutionary destinies • If humans identify with nature, then taking care of the natural world will become part of taking care of ones self.
  28. 28. Deep Ecology The problem & solution• Anthropocentrism destroy nature• A transformation of consciousness is needed, replacing anthropocentrism with a broader sense of the self – identity should be grounded to nature• When we understand that we are part of nature, eco-defense, as self-defense, will follow
  29. 29. Criticism of Dark Green ethics• Individuals get hurt when you ignore them in favor of wholes• How do you translate deep ecology into politics?
  30. 30. Case: Spiritual Evolution aka Dark Green Modern spiritual schools consider elements of nature as having soul and mind. Four elements: fire, earth, air, and water Earth elementals - gnomes Water elementals - undines /nymphs Air elementals - sylphs Fire elementals - salamanders The network “Star of Transformation” lead by Nadezda Domasheva and Vladimir Samoylenko (Ukraine) : objective for humankind is cooperation with those elements and elementals for the sake of joint spiritual evolution.
  31. 31. Case: The Ethical Approach in FinanceEthical Leadership at the organizational level for the companies operating on the financial market Light Green Ethical Funds• Include: investments in animal testing, pesticides and the fur trade• Exclude: armaments, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography or nuclear energy. Medium Green Ethical Funds• stricter criteria than light green, but still some companies with poor workplace relations, or responsible for ozone depleting chemicals.• Investments in smaller companies, mostly UK, Europe and North America.
  32. 32. Case: The Ethical Approach in Finance (cont.) Dark Green Ethical Funds• strict ethical criteria, only investing in companies which actively seek to improve our environment or benefit the community. Companies which favour renewable energy resources and sustainable development are preferred.• Exclude: human rights violators: companies who use child labour abroad or employ third parties who do so, unequal opportunities; oil companies; animal testing, large environmental impact, intensive farming, genetic engineering, nuclear power, timber and military involvement.
  33. 33. Ethics of indigenous people“Most indigenous people did manage, on balance, to coexistsustainable more successfully, and for great deal longer, thanmoderns. And a key to their relative success has been anEarth-oriented spirituality…” (Curry, 2011, p. 142-143)From wisdom of Gayaneshakgowa, the Great Law of Peace ofthe Hau de no sau nee, the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy:"in our every deliberation we must consider the impact of ourdecisions on the next seven generations."
  34. 34. Ethics of indigenous people (cont.) Mi’kmaw Nation, northeastern New England, Canadas Atlantic Provinces, and the Gaspé Peninsula
  35. 35. Question to discussDo you see any opportunity to introduce thenext seven generations principle into thepolicy and daily life?
  36. 36. Sources• Curry, Patrick. 2006. Ecological Ethics: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.• Schwartz, Geraldine and Berghofer, Desmond (2008). Ethical Leadership: Right Relationships and the Emotional Bottom Line – The Gold Standard for Success [online]. Available from: [Accessed: 21 February 2012].• Bill Muehlenberg (2011). A Review of Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout. By Patrick Moore. [online]. Available from: [Accessed: 21 February 2012].
  37. 37. Thank you for your attention