Can Ethics and Justice Pave a Sustainable Pathway for Human Ecosystems?
Wednesday, August 7, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
M100EF, Minneapolis Convention Center
Charles H. Nilon
Steward T.A. Pickett
Conflicts over the allocation of natural resources continue to be a pervasive societal problem, degrading ecosystems and human wellbeing: this compromises sustainable pathways for human ecosystems. Humanity’s unparalleled capacity to change ecosystems and alter the course of evolution originates from two propensities which Homo sapiens shares with all species, namely, occupying all accessible habitats and consuming all available resources. Humanity’s adaptability and innovation, through language, technology and culture, have allowed us to broaden our ecological niche, while undermining the negative feedback that would otherwise curb growth. But codes of ethics and justice are evolving to structure the use and management of shared resources. Ethics are the moral principles governing individual or group behavior, while justice relates to equity or fair distribution of benefits and harms. To advance sustainability science, ecologists can connect with social science research on ethics and justice and contextualize it within ecology. Rawls’ theory of ‘justice as fairness’ identifies a just society by just institutions and fully compliant behavior, while Sen’s comparative or realized justice approach examines what individuals do, as influenced by institutions and social interactions. If applied to natural resource management and policy, these approaches may reduce societal injustices and environmental damage, including resource inequities and scarcity induced by climate change.
In this symposium, we explore whether human activities that preserve the rights and welfare of affected human communities and ecosystems can be not only ethical, but also sustainable. We introduce ecological and social science scholarship related to the theory, implementation, and evaluation of ethics and justice to examine the sustainability of diverse environmental resource allocation systems. The first speaker argues for a global ethical movement and highlights an initiative to close the gap between our understanding of the specter of global collapse and society’s failure to respond. The next two speakers explore the intersections between environmental justice and sustainability frameworks as they relate to environmental decision-making and risk assessment. The final three speakers examine diverse terrestrial and aquatic coupled human and natural systems, specifically agricultural, food and fisheries systems, which span local, national and global scales. These talks demonstrate that fairness issues need to be routinely addressed in all ecological and policy interventions, as they inherently involve value choices among complex trade-offs. The symposium concludes with a discussion on how to synthesize this research into a coherent framework and practical tools that can assess and implement more just and sustainable resource management and policies.
Environmental Justice Section, Traditional Ecological Knowledge Section Section, Agroecology Section, Human Ecology Section, Applied Ecology Section