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Rownowaga 1 uk-8-15


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Rownowaga 1 uk-8-15

  1. 1. Marius de geus illustrations: anna zabdyrska natURe and sUstainability in tHe eCoLoGiCaL UtoPian tRadition ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 8 13-10-30 14:38
  2. 2. I n our era of large scale environmental degradation and increasing climate problems, there is a need for counter images of an alternative ecologically sustainable society, one that protects and respects nature. Often it is forgotten that in the ecological utopian tradition one may find instructive visions, as well as highly evocative images of a sustainable society. It appears that society is letting an opportunity pass by, by not fully recognizing the true value that lies in the ‘ecotopian’ tradition. I shall investigate whether ecological utopias are capable of providing a meaningful contribution to the quest for an environmentally sustainable society. More particularly: what is the significance of various ‘ecological utopias’ for interpretations of mankind’s attitudes towards nature, and the modern social debate about the meaning of ecological sustainability? huMans as partiCipants in nature In the work of American political philosopher Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) one can observe the view of humans as ‘participants’ in their relation towards the natural environment. In The Ecology of Freedom (1991) Bookchin argues that the fundamental roots of the present ecological crisis must be found ‘in the underlying institutional, moral and spiritual changes in human society that produced hierarchy and domination – not only in bourgeois, feudal and ancient society, but at the very dawn of civilization’1. His central thesis is that the idea that humanity must dominate and explore nature, historically stems from the domination and exploitation of humans by humans. M. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom. The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy, Montreal: Black rose Books, 1991, p. 44 Historically, this conception can be traced back to a period when men began to dominate women: ‘From that point onward, human beings were regarded as mere resources, as objects instead of subjects. The hierarchies, classes, propertied forms, and statist institutions that emerged with social domination were carried over conceptually into humanity’s relationship with nature. Nature too became increasingly regarded as a mere resource, an object, a raw material to be exploited as a mere resource as slaves on a latifundium.’2 In reaction to this development, Bookchin argues for a more ‘holistic’ analysis of relationships in nature and society. In his view, natural evolution does not develop in the direction of a simplification of forms of life, but in the direction of growing complexity and variety. Hence, respect for nature is paramount: ecosystems are much too variegated to be left to humans and their claim to sovereignty and complete domination over nature. In essence, natural ecosystems resemble food webs rather than stratified pyramids. Ecosystems are organized non-hierarchically and rely heavily on forms of participation. What makes Bookchin’s ‘social ecology’of the utmost importance is ‘that it offers no case whatsoever for hierarchy in nature and society; it decisively challenges the function of hierarchy as a stabilizing or ordering principle in both realms. The association of order as such with hierarchy is ruptured’3 Bookchin argues in favor of making these principles the basic premises of a new bal- 1 ance between humanity and nature: mankind must strive for the maintenance of ecological spontaneity and non-hierarchical organization of the political, social and ecological systems. It also means that in the future agricultural and industrial practices, urbanization and the use of technology will have to be carefully tailored to the natural requirements of local and regional ecosystems.4 In his analysis, up to now human kind as well as nature have been the victims of a hierarchically structured society. The individuals are unfree because of the institutions and values of hierarchical society: citizens lack both power and opportunity to control their destinies and lives. These hierarchical social relations have a direct impact on humanity’s attitudes and behavior towards nature. An ecologically responsible society can only be accomplished when all the spheres of life that are contaminated by domination are ‘decontaminated’, for instance the relations between men and women, politicians and citizens, as well as the relationship between humanity and nature itself. In Bookchin’s view the introduction of an ‘anarchist society’ is vital in ending the dominant attitude of humans towards nature and in realizing an equilibrium between humanity and its environment.5 huMans as partners with nature English designer, writer, architect and craftsman William Morris (1834-1896) was one of the first utopians who gave an aesthetic portrayal of an ecologically balanced society. Ibidem, s.41 M. Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Montreal: Black rose Books, 1990, p.19-32 4 2 3 Ibidem Ibidem, p.37 5 autoportret 3 [42] 2013 | 9 ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 9 13-10-30 14:38
  3. 3. In his News from Nowhere (1891) Morris first provides a critical analysis of 19th century English capitalist society and the natural environment in his days which, as he put it, have grown ‘ugly’. He then sketches an extremely detailed alternative, where society and the natural environment are relieved of their ugliness and the world is once again ‘beautiful and harmonious’. In his work, Morris provides an even more nature friendly and far going view on the relationships between human kind and nature than Bookchin. William Morris had an extremely sharp eye for ‘modern’ problems such as large scale industrialization, environmental degradation, waste of natural resources, ongoing urbanization, and the destruction of valuable, traditional landscapes. According to him, the capitalist industrial system had deeply affected people’s attitudes towards nature. He describes how in general people led lives in which humans and nature were separated from each other, and nature was even treated as a slave: ‘…a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate – “nature”, as people used to call it – as one thing, and mankind as another. It was natural to people thinking this way, that they should try to make “nature” their slave, since they thought “nature” was something outside them.’6 In his interpretation, the industrialized 19th century society lacked a sense of nature and the Earth as a comprehensive whole. The natural surroundings were viewed by the inhabitants ‘ as an ugly characterless waste, 6 W. Morris, News from Nowhere, London: Kegan Paul, 1983, p. 154 with no delicate beauty to be guarded’. 7In reaction to this, Morris describes the need for a social, political and ecological revolution. The country would be divided in small scale decentralized unit (a commune, a ward, a parish), which would be self-governing. Private property of the means of production would no longer exist: large-scale factories, heavily polluting the natural surroundings and wasting energy and materials, would be replaced by environmentally friendly cottage industries and small scale workshops where products are made under safe working conditions.8 Morris accentuates that parallel to these drastic political and economic changes, an ecological revolution has to take place to ensure the people’s complete happiness. The perfect starting point of this ecological revolution was a completely different attitude of humans towards nature. Morris indicates in News from Nowhere that the inhabitants of this new society felt a deep ‘affection’ for their natural surroundings, for the landscape where they lived, and for everything that grows and blooms. In his utopian society many people would move from the cities to the countryside. There would be a dispersion of people and gradually city and country would flow seamlessly into one another. The result would be an exemplary and crucial ‘partnership’ between human kind and nature. In this ecotopian society people lived in a carefully managed garden landscape, where nothing was neglected or wasted, as the following passage indicates: and wastes, with a few towns interspersed, which were fortresses for the feudal army, markets for the folk, gathering places for craftsmen. It then became a country of huge and foul workshops and fouler gambling dens, surrounded by an ill kept, poverty stricken farm, pillaged by the masters of the workshops. It is now a garden, where nothing is wasted and nothing is spoilt, with the necessary dwellings, sheds and workshops scattered up and down the country, all trim and neat and pretty.’ For indeed, we should be too much ashamed of ourselves if we allowed the making of goods, even on a large scale, to carry with it the appearance, even, of desolation and misery’. 9 Morris most vividly describes how the people would live in simple yet solid homes with well-kept gardens and allotments, in harmony with their natural surroundings. Moreover, there would be abundant space for untouched landscapes and exist large pieces of wild nature. In his vision, when people assume an attitude of ‘partnership’, friendship and closeness with regard to nature, they consider humans and nature as ‘partners’ in the sense that the needs, interests and preferences of both sides must be taken into account and be weighed harmoniously.10 In this vision nature is observed as an alliance of different life forms, in which human and other life forms are not adversaries but are working together in order to achieve common purposes.11This requires a respectful Ibidem, p. 61 Ibidem, p.63 11 See also: P. Kockelkoren, Ethical Aspects of Plant Biotechnology In Plants – Report to the Dutch Government Commission on Ethical Aspects Biotechnology in Plants, Appendix I, [in:] Agriculture and Spirituality – Essays from the Crossroads Conference at Wageningen Agricultural University, Utrecht: International Books, 1995, part.5 9 10 ‘This is how we stand. England was once a country of clearings amongst the forests 7 8 Ibidem, p.162 Ibidem, p. 83 autoportret 3 [42] 2013 | 10 ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 10 13-10-30 14:38
  4. 4. relationship with nature and an emphasis on various forms of cooperation and balanced relations between life forms on earth. Overall, humankind is allowed to make use of natural resources, but without having the right to dominate or exploit nature. 12 As ‘partners’ humans will tend to draw more radical consequences than as participants. Being a partner implies an increased consciousness of being a part of nature and of feeling closely associated with the natural surroundings. In general, an intimate, close and friendly partner will set more stringent restrictions on man’s interventions in nature than a participant. Moreover, partners will systematically act in ways which stimulate nature to develop and realize itself, as in a flourishing and healthy human partnership. huMans eXperienCing a fundaMental ‘union’ with nature The most radical interpretation of the relationship between human kind and nature can be found in the ideas of American political philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Thoreau has become well-known as author of Walden, or a Life in the Woods (1854). In this most wonderful and still widely read book he meticulously recounts the greatest experiment of his life. As a matter of fact, he lived alone in the woods from July 1845 until September 1847, in a self- constructed cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts, his birthplace. In his writings Thoreau presents his general view of a radical simplification of life and develops an alternative vision on the relationship between human kind and nature. 12 Ibidem Strikingly, in Walden Thoreau continuously writes ‘Nature’ with a capital letter. He also consistently describes nature as a female figure, as can be seen, for example, in the following: ‘But there was dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips’. 13 In his view, nature is the mother of humanity, a creator of life and beauty. Like the native Indians, who in his time had already largely been driven onto reservations, he saw the Earth as ‘a living being’, and approached nature as a ‘living entity’, of which humans only make up a small part.14 To a larger extent than Bookchin and also Morris, Thoreau emphasizes the greatness, grandeur and benevolence of nature. He consistently writes with deeply felt reference and great awe about the ‘dignity’ of nature and the vital importance of preserving nature’s equilibrium. In his view nature was not created to be a possession of man, but has ‘ intrinsic value’: it exists in and of itself, and deserves to be treated with love and affection. Actually, he considers it his moral responsibility to protect the wild and preserve the forests.15 Thoreau shows how profoundly he enjoys the landscape, and talks with the deepest affection about pine, birch and oak trees, with which he appears to carry on entire conversations. His Walden is like a hymn to the nature around his simple forest hut. When Thoreau meditates he repeatedly experiences himself as being part of nature, and H.D. Thoreau, Walden, czyli życie w lesie, przeł. H. Cieplińska, Poznań, Rebis, 1999, s. 293 14 Idem, The Annotated Walden, edition by P. van Doren Stern, New York: Bramhall House 1970, p. 186-207 15 Idem, Walden… 13 perceives the essential connection between it and humans. He experiences a salutary sense of ‘union’ and ‘kinship’ with nature, and is surprised that he never really feels alone in the vast forests where he roams.16 He expresses total admiration for nature’s sublime beauty, which he treats with utmost care and deep respect, rejecting each human encroachment on nature. Accordingly, his priority is not to bring land under cultivation in order to make it productive, but rather to ‘maintain’ the wilderness and to live as the original Indian tribes: in an unspoiled land, in complete harmony with nature, without significantly changing the earth.17 iMpliCations for theory and praCtiCe This short survey of three different views on the relationship between human kind and nature found in ecological utopianism, leads to a number of relevant insights and noteworthy consequences for both theory and practice. In the analysis of Bookchin, Morris and Thoreau, an ecologically sustainable society assumes a set of completely different attitudes towards nature. A shared insight of these ecological utopians is that until now humans have shown an excessive tendency wanting to rule over nature. For many centuries humans have attempted to dominate nature and approach it as a means, an instrument completely at their service. However, this authoritarian and hierarchical way of thinking is absent from the principles of the three ecological utopians which were explored. As they note, in an ecologically sound society nature will need to occupy a key position, 16 17 Idem, The Annotated…, p. 88-93 Ibidem, p. 209-210 autoportret 3 [42] 2013 | 11 ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 11 13-10-30 14:38
  5. 5. and people will need to treat the natural environment with dignity and respect. Despite the specific differences between the views of ‘humans as participants in nature’, ‘humans as partners with nature’, and ‘humans experiencing a fundamental union with nature’, their arguments are pointing in the same direction. These ecotopian thinkers accentuate that, until humans have developed an attitude of respect, equality and deep concern for nature, an ecologically sustainable society will remain a very distant prospect. Admittedly, there are some quite serious problems with their visions. For instance, despite my ongoing sympathy for Thoreau’s reflections, his approach of achieving a union, unity and identification with nature is highly individualistic and remains too subjective. On the whole, it does not seem a ‘necessary condition’ that every individual citizen must be able to identify with for example trees, bushes, landscapes and so on, in the way Thoreau is proposing to effectively protect and maintain mother Earth. It seems not everyone will be capable of (or interested in) experiencing this highly personal and subjective kind of ‘spiritual and sublime’ unity with the natural elements. Additionally, such a revolutionary sociocultural change cannot be expected in the foreseeable future and in fact does not seem feasible. In my view, it is more important that citizens gain sufficient understanding of existing ecological relationships. For instance, people should become fully aware of the high complexity of our climatic and atmospheric systems, and understand the risks of possibly irreversible forms of damage to nature, as in the modern case of global warming and climate change. Besides, there is the logical problem which is inherent to the approaches of participation and partnership. In a literal way it is impossible to be a participant in relation to nature or a partner with nature, since nature is not able to speak or communicate in any reasonable and sensible way with us, nor can it act as a rationally thinking ‘moral agent’. Only figuratively speaking, humans may possibly attain to a role of being a participant, or for example a partner in relation towards nature. The critical remarks made above lead to the question how to choose for one of the three approaches mentioned. Why would one prefer either the attitude of participation in nature, opt for a partnership relation with regards to nature, or favor the idea of experiencing a fundamental union or unity with nature? Obviously, this is not the main theme of this paper, but let me provide a short commentary here. What could be the main criteria for making this kind of decision? For instance, one could look at the degree of realism and the level of practical feasibility. In that context, it seems the attitude of participation comes first, followed by the one of partnership, and lastly the attitude of realizing union or unity with nature. However, it can be defended that it is more rational and appropriate to evaluate the three ecotopian attitudes towards nature on basis of a different criterion: the degree to which they can inspire people to environmentally responsible behavior, individually and collectively, or to policies that effectively contribute to solving the current ecological crisis, global warming and climate change included. 18 W. Achterberg, Samenleving, natur en duurzaamheid, Assen: Van Gorcum, 1994, p. 161-164 18 Another controversial issue is whether a change of human attitudes towards nature will in any way be sufficient to achieve an ecologically responsible society. The obvious answer is negative. A change in attitudes and dispositions among citizens will not directly and automatically translate in different environmental government policies. Nor will changes in attitudes of citizens mean that they will actually change their daily environmental behavior in terms of transportation choices, food habits, housing habits and all other acquired pattern of behavior. As a matter of fact, these are exactly the deeply engrained routines and actions that tend to produce a larger individual Ecological Footprint. In earlier work, I have noted that changes in political, economic, financial and cultural institutions will be needed in order to achieve an ecologically sustainable society. 19 Changing human attitudes versus nature will indeed have to be constitutive element of a new green society, but will most definitely not be a sufficient condition. The role played by our contemporary attitudes towards nature is no doubt detrimental to our planet, but so are for example continuous economic growth, ongoing population increase, reliance on centralized and large scale energy production primarily based on fossil fuels, general food habits and consumption pattern in the rich countries, and so on. Another decisive issue concerns the ways people think about the broad and often elusive concept of ecological sustainability, to which I shall now turn. 19 M de Geus, The End of Over-consumption, Utrecht: International Books, 2003; M. de Geus, Utopian Sustainability: Ecological Utopianism, [w:] The Transition to Sustainable Living and Practice, ed. L. Leonard, J. Barry, Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, 2009, p. 77-101 autoportret 3 [42] 2013 | 12 ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 12 13-10-30 14:38
  6. 6. pragMatiC versus utopian ConCepts of eCologiCal sustainability In the decades following the publication of the UN report Our Common Future (Brundtland report 1987), the great majority of governments in the world have (at least in words and statements) accepted the concept of ‘sustainability’ as a general guideline for economic and environmental policy. In practice, however, the specific meaning given to the concept by the countries involved, varies considerably according to the importance which is attached to facts, uncertainties and risks in relation to environment and society. At least three interpretations of ecological sustainability have come to the forefront in western politics, which differ with regard to the robustness of the definition of sustainability (‘strong versus weak’), the general perception of existing and future environmental risks (high versus low), the expectations regarding the development of technological solutions for environmental problems (highly probable, versus not probable at all), and the answer to the question whether a ‘general consumer austerity’ is inevitable or preferable in order to achieve an ecologically healthy and responsible society. In the first line of thought, ecological sustainability is equated with the Brundtland approach of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘ecological modernization’. The general starting point of this essentially ‘liberal’ concept is that ecological sustainability can actually be ‘combined’ with economic growth, a strengthening of economic competitiveness, better management of urban planning, nature and biodiversity, and a decrease in absolute terms of environmentally hazardous emissions. In this line of reasoning again and again a general argument is made for so-called ‘creative and intelligent growth’ of the economy, provided that the overall pressure on the environment diminishes. Environmental policy is basically seen as a necessary, welcome impulse for change, for technical, economic or cultural renewal. The challenge of sustainable development and ecological modernization’ is considered as a decisive cause of innovation and improvement of the economic structure. 20 In this pragmatic ‘liberal’ political vision the environmental risks of continuous economic development are estimated to be relatively low. It is assumed that a prolonged exploitation of the earth will reveal new stocks of natural resources and that, if needed, the exploitation of alternative raw natural resources is possible. In addition, the expectations with regard to the contribution of new technologies to the improvement of energy efficiency and realization of environmental goals are very high. In this pragmatic view it is expected that the ‘integration’ of environment and economy will be accomplished by future technological revolutions and innovations. In line with this, an overall decrease of the level of production and consumption is not considered necessary. The main goal is to induce citizens to develop inherently friendly environmental behavior, without the need for austerity or of radical changes in lifestyles. Hence, the general aim is ‘greener’ or ‘sustainable’ consumption, not ‘reducing’ consumption. In the second view – which is often (but not always) associated with Christian religious ideas – ecological sustainability is looked at from the general perspective of ‘stewardship’. Here the basic point of departure is that human kind 20 A. Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009, p. 70 is morally obliged to cultivate and conserve the natural environment as a responsible and effective steward of the natural environment. Accepting responsibility in order to maintain the natural environment for future generations is a characteristic idea: humanity is held accountable for its share in the conservation of the ‘wholeness of the Creation’.21 In western democracies this Christiandemocratic idea of stewardship has remained influential in politics. Most Western-European Christian-democratic parties who are defending this position, do not perceive the environmental risks of economic growth as insurmountable and show an overall optimism about the future availability of natural resources. Their presumption is that, in the end, technological solutions for most current environmental problems will be found. In general, in this vision a need for more austere consumption patterns or lifestyles is rarely expressed. The emphasis is not on a radicalization of environmental goals and objectives, but on achieving the goals of already existing environmental policies. A third interpretation of ecological sustainability can be linked to radically green political parties in Western liberal democracies. The foundation of this idea can be traced back to utopian ecological thinkers such as William Morris, Bernard Skinner, Aldous Huxley, and Ernest Callenbach. In this ‘green-tainted’ interpretation, ecological sustainability is considered to be closely related to the idea of a ‘steady state economy’.22 P. Kockelkoren, op.cit, part 5 See, H.E.Daly, The Steady State Economy: toward a Political Economy of Biophysical Equilibrium and Moral Growth, [w:] Toward a Steady State Economy, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1973; T. Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, London: Earthscan, 2009 21 22 autoportret 3 [42] 2013 | 13 ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 13 13-10-30 14:38
  7. 7. Their ‘ideal utopian society’ incorporates both an economic and an ecological state of equilibrium. The just mentioned utopians do not think in terms of growth, increase, and expansion, but in terms of equilibrium, stability, and balance. They argue that a large share of environmental pollution and damage to nature is caused by society’s unlimited tendencies towards growth in production and consumption. They emphasize that society should break away from these growth tendencies, and advocate a society that is not based on the ideal of continuous economic development. Their focus on a so-called ‘steady state’ reflects itself in their principles, in particular the proposition of a so-called ‘stationary state’, as well as in their views on policy, where the ‘stable state concept’ is the decisive criterion upon which social decision-making needs to be systematically based. It is fair to say that up to now in western liberal democracies this specific ecological vision of green political parties has not gained much attention and support. Only the green political parties in for example Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have (at least to some extent) indeed been inspired by these radical utopian ideas. As a matter of fact, their preference for (some version of) a ‘steady state economy’ is demonstrative of the fact that they estimate the risks of ongoing economic development as very high. In the same vein, they tend to be pessimistic about the future availability of natural resources. Generally, the green parties are opting for risk evasive strategies and are reticent about the possibilities of the so-called ‘technological fix’: technological strategies to solve large scale environmental problems. In their perspective today’s high material standard of living will have to be replaced by a ‘high quality of life’, involving a decrease of general production and consumption levels. ConseQuenCes of the struCtural rejeCtion of the steady state notion In this final section the following question will be raised: What are the main consequences of the fact that in modern western liberal democracies governments are still relying on two - above mentioned - basically pragmatic interpretations of ecological sustainability, and are systematically rejecting the third and principled ‘steady state’ notion? By primarily relying on and referring to the two pragmatic visions of ecological sustainability, the key concept has been deprived of its foundational character. Ecological utopian thinkers as William Morris, Bernard Skinner, Aldous Huxley and Ernest Callenbach have underlined that ecological sustainability is intended as a foundational notion that aims at both an economically and ecologically stable situation. From their point of view, it is a ‘principled and normative’ concept in the sense that in this line of reasoning the aim of nature conservation, the preservation of scarce natural resources and intra- and intergenerational justice are quintessential, and must systematically be given priority over growth of production and consumption. In line with the arguments given above, the rejection of the value and relevance of the third perspective on ecological sustainability has led to a de facto acceptance and legitimization of the assumption that humans have the right to rule over nature. Ultimately, both within mainstream political liberalism with its preference for sustainable development and ecological modernization, and Christian religious political visions which are building on the idea of stewardship, human kind is still having the right to dominate over nature and approach it as a means. This is not surprising, as John Locke, the religiously inspired founding father of political liberalism, wrote the following words in his Second Treatise: ‘God, when he gave the World in common to all mankind, commanded Man also to labor, and the penury of his Condition required it of him. God and his Reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of Life, and therein lay out something upon it was his own, his labor. He that in Obedience to this Command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his Property, which another had no Title by, nor could without injury take from him.’23 Arguably, the right to property is a pivotal element in Locke’s theory, and nature is explicitly to be ‘subdued’’ and made productive. 24 This creates a clear contrast to utopian ecological thinkers as William Morris, Bernard Skinner, Aldous Huxley and Ernest Callenbach, who argue that in an environmentally sustainable society, nature will occupy a central position, and people will need to treat their natural surroundings respectfully and responsibly. A last consequence of the fact that modern western liberal democracies are primarily J. Locke, Two Treatises of Government, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1965, p. 24 R. Eckersley, Environmentalism and Political Theory: Toward an Ecocentric Approach, New York: State University of New York Press, 1992, s.23 23 autoportret 3 [42] 2013 | 14 ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 14 13-10-30 14:38
  8. 8. relying on the first and second interpretation of ecological sustainability, is that still no empirical, physical side-constraints or limits to the carrying capacity of the earth are accepted. Both from the perspective of liberal political and Christian political considerations, it is predominantly assumed that nature can be compared to a ‘spring’ that flows abundantly. Both in the Bible and in the work of John Locke it is noted that the Earth provides the rich material humankind may make use of. In his Two Treatises of Government Locke speaks of ‘the Plenty God had given to him’. 25 In his theory nature is a perpetually productive generator of foods, natural resources and so on. Locke views the commons as an unlimited and incessant source of riches, goods and services. The underlying assumption is that the earth will present us with new harvests and catches, new trees and plants in endless variations. There will always be enough food and natural resources to fulfill the incessantly growing human needs. This optimistic idea is systematically reflected in the two pragmatic visions on ecological sustainability analyzed, but is evidently at odds with the growing scientific insight that sustainability unavoidably implies the setting of specific physical limits to the growth of our economy and presupposes the acceptance of well-defined ecological boundaries. could be established. In various ways ecological utopias are capable of providing a valuable contribution to our ongoing quest for an environmentally sustainable and ecologically responsible society. As a consequence, a legitimization and acceptance of the assumption that humans have the full right to rule over nature has occurred. Apart from that, in the debates there has been no room to discuss the far broader and more integrated ecotopian visions on ecological sustainability. Moreover, the existence of physical boundaries or limits to the ecological carrying capacity of the earth has not yet been recognized in modern politics. All in all, there are still very good reasons to continue studying ecological utopianism and to critically reflect on the many worthwhile lessons which can be learned from this tradition about the vital role of attitudes towards nature and the deeper meaning of ecological sustainability. This paper has explored the value of ‘ecological utopianism’ for interpretations of mankind’s attitudes towards nature, and the modern social debate about the meaning of the much debated and influential concept of ecological sustainability. By developing this analysis, an increased understanding of the significance of ecological utopias for our modern environmental problems and debates 25 J. Locke, ibidem, p. autoportret 3 [42] 2013 | 15 ROWNOWAGA_1_UK_cs4-3.indd 15 13-10-30 14:38