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The Ethics of Sustainability

Charles J. Kibert
Leslie Thiele
Anna Peterson
Martha Monroe
Table of Contents
I. Foundations for an Ethics of Sustainability
Chapter 1 The Sustainability Framewor
Chapter ! The Technolo"y Challen"e
Chapter # Main" $thical %ecisions
II. The Ethical Principles of Sustainability
Chapter & 'bli"ations to Future (enerations and the Precautionary Principle
Chapter ) The (lobal Community* Social Justice* and the %istributional Principle
Chapter + $n,ironmental $thics- 'ther Species and the Community o. Li.e
Chapter / Sustainable $conomics
III. Translating Principles into Practices
Chapter 0 The Process o. %ecision Main"
Chapter 1 Turnin" $thical %ecisions into Pro.essional Practices
Chapter 12 Personal and Planetary Sustainability
Sustainability is an important concept that is widely re.erenced and that has achie,ed
broad support. 3et it remains inherently di..icult to implement because o. its comple4ity
and due to the enormous shi.ts in thinin" that it proposes. Particularly challen"in" is the
de,elopment and implementation o. technolo"y* the ,ast ma5ority o. which has
si"ni.icant potential ne"ati,e conse6uences .or the health o. both people and planet. This
boo pro,ides natural and social scientists* en"ineers* architects* builders and other
technical pro.essionals with a clear description o. the meanin" o. sustainability and a
practical "uide to the ethical challen"es in,ol,ed in its promotion and achie,ement. It
describes the ethical concepts and principles that are inherent in sustainability and is
desi"ned to aid these pro.essions in e,aluatin" and directin" their acti,ities* particularly
when de,elopin"* deployin"* and employin" technolo"y.
Sustainability is commonly understood to re6uire the balanced pursuit o. three "oods-
ecolo"ical health* social e6uity* and economic wel.are. It is "rounded on the ethical
commitment to the well7bein" not only o. contemporary populations but also the well7
bein" and enhanced opportunities o. .uture "enerations. The scienti.ic and technical
pro.essions ha,e a special responsibility in this re"ard because the nowled"e and
technolo"ies they de,elop and employ ha,e immense impacts on natural en,ironments*
economies* and the empowerment o. citi8ens and societies. Moreo,er* their e..orts and
achie,ements can continue to produce e..ects* .or "ood or ill* well into the .uture.
In articulatin" the challen"e o. pursuin" both inter"enerational and intra"enerational
bene.its .or en,ironments* societies and economies* this boo "rounds practical decision7
main" in ethical concepts and ,alues. Throu"h e4posure to a wide ,ariety o. concrete
e4amples* case studies* moral debates* and e4ercises* readers will "ain a nuanced
understandin" o. the ethics o. sustainability and de,elop a set o. practical decision sills
that may be employed in its pursuit. The boo en"a"es a broad ran"e o. applications
such as nuclear and solar ener"y systems* biotechnolo"y and "enetic en"ineerin"*
materials e4traction* desi"n and production* built en,ironment desi"n and construction*
in.ormation technolo"y and robotics* nanotechnolo"y and communications technolo"y*
a"ricultural and .orestry technolo"ies. 9hile addressin" lar"e7scale national and "lobal
issues such as climate chan"e* hi"her ener"y costs* water and .ood shorta"e* po,erty*
species e4tinction* and resource depletion* The Ethics of Sustainability also brin"s home
the personal impact scientists and technical pro.essionals can ha,e at the worplace* in
their communities* and in their homes.
Sustainability is now a well7nown and commonly accepted .ramewor .or "uidin" a
wide ,ariety o. choices. Sustainability su""ests that* in the decision main" process*
societies that ha,e a "ood 6uality o. li.e ha,e an obli"ation to ensure both .uture societies
and contemporary* less well o.. societies are also able to achie,e a standard o. li,in" in
which their basic needs are met. The 9histler !2!2 :Canada; sustainable community
mo,ement describes sustainability as <= a minimum condition .or a .lourishin" planet in
the lon" term.>
Communities are applyin" sustainability to sol,in" ener"y problems*
addressin" waste disposal issues* de,elopin" "reenspaces* plannin" urban areas* and
rein,i"oratin" the local economy. Companies are usin" the concept o. sustainability to
e4pand the measure o. success .or their endea,ors .rom the .inancial bottom7line to a
triple bottom line that adds social and en,ironmental per.ormance to economic
per.ormance. ?ni,ersities are applyin" sustainability to "uide chan"es to their campuses*
curriculum* "o,ernance* in,estments* procurement policies* and relationships to their
local communities. In short* sustainability is a .ramewor upon which can be built
speci.ic strate"ies .or "uidin" decision main". For e4ample* The @atural Step*
de,eloped in Sweden* is a sustainability7based strate"y .or main" decisions about
resources utili8ation and disposal. @umerous other strate"ies that ha,e sustainability as
their core concept ha,e emer"ed and are bein" applied to "uide decision main" in the
pri,ate and public sectors.
The .uture is becomin" e,er more comple4 and it is increasin"ly di..icult to sa.ely
na,i"ate throu"h the ma8e o. issues that con.ront us. Aumanity .aces a .uture o. much
more costly ener"y* potentially catastrophic conse6uences due to climate chan"e*
shorta"es o. potable water* the blowbac o. e..ects .rom the ,ast array o. synthetic
chemicals de,eloped o,er the past hal.7century* and depleted .isheries* to name but a
.ew. And this is occurrin" in the .ace o. still rapidly increasin" numbers o. humans and
risin" per capita consumption. @ew technolo"ies abound* .rom "enetically en"ineered
seeds* to nanobots* nuclear .usion reactors* power.ul antibiotics* autonomous robots* and
a ,ast web o. wireless systems interconnected by data hi"hways. %eployin" these
technolo"ies has been dri,en by a calculus that* in li"ht o. the conse6uences
o. many o. these technolo"ies* must be considered obsolete. Sustainability can pro,ide
many o. the answers to how best to treat new technolo"ies and how to chan"e the basis o.
decision main" such that technolo"ical bene.its .ar outwei"h the ris* .or both the short
and lon" term and .or present and .uture societies.
The best nown de.inition o. sustainability is the one stated in Our Common Future*
more commonly nown as the Brundtland Ceport- <..meetin" the needs o. the present
without compromisin" the ability o. .uture "enerations to meet their needs.> Inherent in
this de.inition is the proposed responsibility o. contemporary society .or the 6uality o.
li.e o. todayDs population plus the preser,ation o. resources* the en,ironment* and other
in"redients needed .or .uture populations to also e4perience a "ood 6uality o. li.e. This
is an enormous and dauntin" tas and re6uires enormous chan"es in thinin"* policy* and
basic assumptions about the economy .or its .ull implementation. For the present* it
would mean that wealthier* more technolo"ically sophisticated societies would ha,e to
contribute materially and throu"h a wide ran"e o. assistance pro"rams to increase the
wealth o. poorer nations* to aid them in de,elopin" the capability to pro,ide the basic
needs o. their population. For .uture "enerations it means ensurin" the a,ailability o. a
wide ran"e o. resources- natural* cultural* mineral* educational* .ood* clean air and water*
"enetic di,ersity* and numerous others that support a "ood 6uality o. li.e. The natural
6uestion to as is- why apply the sustainability .rameworE In answerin" this 6uestion*
,ocabulary such as ri"hts* obli"ations* and interdependence must be used. $,eryone on
the $arth has a right to ha,in" their needs .or .ood* shelter* and clothin" met. Present
people ha,e an obligation to .uture "enerations to pro,ide them an intact and .unctionin"
planet in at least as "ood state as they recei,ed it. And we are all interdependent* present
and .uture "enerations* but it is the present* wealthier countries that control the .ate o.
e,eryone else* present and .uture. The application o. the sustainability .ramewor
there.ore re6uires a better understandin" o. the ethical concepts which support it. Amon"
these ethical concepts are the Precautionary Principle* the Chain o. 'bli"ation* the
%istributional Principle* the Land $thic* and the Ci"hts o. the 'ther Species. Throu"h a
better understandin" o. the ethics o. sustainability* it becomes clear why the
sustainability .ramewor is not only an approach to addressin" and sol,in" the many
di..icult problems .acin" us* but why it is in .act the ri"ht approach* the ri"ht thin" to do.
This boo is bein" written at the start o. the second decade o. the !1
Century* a time as
challen"in" as any in history* with the world .acin" some new* pre,iously unnown
challen"es. The "lobal .inancial system narrowly a,erted a total collapse* and althou"h
badly weaened and still not .ully stable* it was sa,ed by an enormous in,estment o.
public .unds* particularly in the ?.S. Just prior to the collapse* in July !220* "asoline
prices had reached an all7time hi"h* about F&.20 per "allon in the ?.S. Climate chan"e
continues* perhaps e,en acceleratin"* as the @orth Pole is clear o. ice in the summer*
enormous "laciers in (reenland and Antarctica brea apart at an increasin" pace* and
island nations o. the Paci.ic slowly sin into the risin" ocean surroundin" them. Capidly
meltin" "laciers in the Aimalayas portend .uture enormous .loods up to 1*222 ilometers
away* and increased de,astation .or the already po,erty stricen country o. Ban"ladesh.
The Aimalayan "laciers* which re"ulate the water supply to these ri,ers* are belie,ed to
be retreatin" at a rate o. about 1271) meters :##7&1 .eet; per year.
In the lon" term it
means the ultimate disappearance o. the "laciers supplyin" the se,en ma5or ri,ers .ed by
the Aimalayas :the (an"es* Indus* Brahmaputra* Meon"* Thanlwin* 3an"t8e and
3ellow ri,ers; and which pro,ide .resh water .or a substantial .raction o. the $arthDs
population. And this is 5ust the current e,idence o. climate chan"e. The .orecasted
e..ects o. climate chan"e present humanity with a potential disaster o. historic
proportions* with risin" temperatures* much hi"her sea le,els leadin"* the disappearance
o. substantial coastal 8ones* an inability to "row enou"h .ood to meet the worldDs needs*
the destruction o. the ocean con,eyor belt o. water mo,ement* includin" the (ul. Stream*
and new disease ,ectors* to name but a .ew o. the e..ects. And in spite o. this threat. the
!221 Copenha"en Summit on Climate Chan"e resulted in essentially no si"ni.icant
a"reement about how to proceed .orward.
In addition to stru""lin" with how to address climate chan"e* the ?.S. is en"a"ed in a
two7.ront war in Ira6 and A."hanistan* the ?nited @ations is stru""lin" to pre,ent the
de,elopment o. nuclear weapons by Iran* peace in the Middle $ast remains as elusi,e as
e,er* and the world continues to deal with the a.termath o. 1G11 and a "lobal stru""le
a"ainst Islamic .undamentalists en"a"ed in acts o. terror. The hi"h "asoline prices o.
!220 liely mar the point in time o. so7called Pea 'il* the time when oil production
peas and declines therea.ter. The price o. "asoline will liely rapidly increase well
beyond the July !220 pea due to decreased supplies and risin" demand* threatenin" to
dampen economic reco,ery.
In short* the world .aces numerous political* economic* and social challen"es that
threaten to undermine the wel.are o. people all o,er the world. Sustainability pro,ides
5ust the type o. approach needed to address these challen"es and the ethics o.
sustainability "i,es sustainability le"itimacy as a .ramewor. The ethics o. sustainability
pro,ides a clear sense o. the principles that mae sustainability more than 5ust a simple
problem7sol,in" system* but mae it an idea that is "rounded in commonly understood
ethical principles. In short* the ethics o. sustainability pro,ide the moral authority behind
sustainability as a .air and e6uitable approach to main" the world a better place.
This boo is or"ani8ed into three ma5or sections. Part I* Foundations of an Ethics of
Sustainability* pro,ides the startin" point .or discussin" the ethical conte4t o.
sustainability. It include three chapters* startin" with Chapter 1* The Sustainability
Framework* which describes the rationale .or sustainability as a paradi"m .or main"
decisions about a wide ,ariety o. issues* includin"* .or e4ample* de,elopin" and
deployin" technolo"y. Because sustainability is a relati,ely comple4 notion* there are a
number o. de.initions and meanin"s that ha,e been associated with sustainability and
these are addressed in Chapter 1* alon" with a history o. this concept* and a discussion o.
se,eral implementin" .ramewors that are based on the broad concept o. sustainability.
Applications o. the sustainability to ,arious sectors such as industry* a"riculture* the
public sector* and uni,ersities are described to demonstrate how ,arious institutions
implement sustainability in practice.
Chapter !* The Technology Challenge* addresses one o. the central 6uandaries that the
sustainability .ramewor is attemptin" to address* the de,elopment* deployment* and
application o. technolo"y by the scienti.ic* en"ineerin"* and other technical pro.essions.
An o,er,iew o. technolo"y* includin" its history and patterns o. technolo"y de,elopment
are co,ered. The connection o. sustainability to technolo"y includin" the conse6uences
o. technolo"y and ris assessment are addressed. Ma5or contemporary technolo"ies that
are currently bein" deployed are described and the connection o. these to sustainability
are discussed. These technolo"ies include "enetic en"ineerin"* nanotechnolo"y* robotics*
biotechnolo"y* and in.ormationGcomputer technolo"y.
The .inal chapter o. Part I* Chapter #* Making Ethical ecisions! pro,ides and o,er,iew
o. ethics .rom a "eneral point o. ,iew. $thical traditions* includin" reli"ious and secular
traditions* are described. An introduction to an ethics o. sustainability* based on the three
ma5or components H en,ironmental* social* and economics H is pro,ided. $thical
concerns in sustainable decision main" are discussed* leadin" to a .uller understandin"
o. an ethics o. sustainability and the start o. an articulation o. principles o. an ethics o.
Part II* The Ethical Principles of Sustainability* is the core o. the boo* and the .our
chapters in this section lay out detailed descriptions* discussions* and applications o. the
set o. principles that comprise the ethical .ramewor o. sustainability. Chapter &*
Obligations to Future "enerations and the Precautionary Principle* describes three
ma5or ethical principles that are the core o. the ethical .ramewor o. sustainability.
Chapter )* The "lobal Community! Social #ustice! and the istributional Principle!
co,ers the principles o. the ethical .ramewor o. sustainability that lin human beha,ior
to the .ramewor. It also .ocuses on the issues o. present societies separated .rom us by
social* political* economic* and "eo"raphic boundaries and who may not be capable o.
acti,ely representin" their own interests. Particularly important in this discussion is the
distributional principle which addresses the .air distribution o. ad,anta"es in society.
The ethical dimensions o. our relations to other species and the community o. li.e in
"eneral are addressed in Chapter +* En$ironmental Ethics% Other Species and the
Community of &ife. The .ield o. en,ironmental ethics predates the concept o.
sustainability and has much to add to an ethics o. sustainability. This chapter pro,ides an
o,er,iew o. the ma5or issues* thiners* and theoretical approaches in en,ironmental
ethics. It also co,ers issues o. special interest such as the role o. scienti.ic and ecolo"ical
principles and ideas in en,ironmental ethics. Additionally it addresses the relationships
between social and ecolo"ical communities in relation to en,ironmental 5ustice.
The .inal chapter o. Part II co,ers the third core concern o. sustainability* the economy.
Chapter /* Sustainable Economics* describes the relati,ely new .ield o. ecolo"ical
economics* to"ether with alternati,e measures o. economic wel.are* and se,eral
principles that pro,ide the underpinnin"s o. ecolo"ical economics. The theory and
principles o. ecolo"ical economics are re,iewed* particularly limits on the scale o. the
economy* the role o. natural capital as a true .orm o. economic capital* and methods .or
chan"in" incenti,es and shi.tin" the burden o. ta4ation such that positi,e outcomes .or
nature and society are incenti,i8ed. An o,er,iew o. the history o. ecolo"ical economics
is also pro,ided.
Part III o. this boo* Translating Principles into Practices* taes the principles .rom Part
II that comprise the ethical .ramewor o. sustainability* and shows how to apply them in
practice. The process o. decision main" is an important one and Chapter 0* The Process
of ecision Making* describes this important process* especially its application to
applyin" the principles o. the ethical .ramewor o. sustainability to decisions about
Chapter 1* Turning Ethical ecisions into Professional Practices* discusses how the
principles o. an ethics o. sustainability can be used to impro,e decision main" such that
it supports sustainability. It starts with the indi,idual main" ethical decisions that
stren"then sustainability and shows how "roup decision main" can be in.luenced to also
increase sustainability.
Applyin" sustainability ethics to pro.essional decision main" is important* but as
important is that the pro.essional applies these same principles in their personal li,es and
personal decision main". Chapter 12* Personal and Planetary Sustainability* co,ers this
notion and describes how these principles can be applied in a consistent manner to the
decisions o. daily li.e.
This boo describes an ethics o. sustainability that pro,ides the rational and moral basis
.or implementin" sustainability as a .ramewor to impro,e decision main"* particularly
with respect to technolo"y. The primary audience are scientists* en"ineers* technolo"ists*
mathematicians and other pro.essions en"a"ed in technolo"y de,elopment* deployment*
and employment. It proposes a set o. principles that can be used to "uide decision
main" such that the outcomes will impro,e the lot o. todayDs disad,anta"ed societies as
well as tomorrowDs yet unborn people who are clearly at the mercy o. our choices. More
o.ten than not these choices are about technolo"y and the approach to allowin"
technolo"ies to lea,e the laboratory without ade6uate debate and scrutiny is resultin" in
comple4 dilemmas .or the "lobal community. It is the hope o. the authors o. this ,olume
that asin" 6uestions about technolo"ies based on the ethics o. sustainability described
here will help chan"e the decision main" process and ensure that the bene.its o.
technolo"y to all "enerations .ar outwei"h any ne"ati,e conse6uences.
9histler !2!2 is the sustainability mo,ement o. 9histler* British Columbia* Canada. In.ormation about
this community sustainability mo,ement can be .ound at www.whistler!2!
From BBC @ews* <Aimalayan (laciers Meltin" Fast*> 1) March !22)!GhiGscienceGnatureG&#&+!11.stm
Sustainability is a concept that* o,er the past two decades* has "ained and continues to
"ain traction in a wide ran"e o. institutions and sectors* .rom national to local
"o,ernments* .rom a"riculture to tourism* and .rom manu.acturin" to construction.
Se,eral countries ha,e articulated policies centered on sustainability* usin" it as a
.ramewor on which to base inte"rated strate"ies co,erin" the en,ironment* the economy
and 6uality o. li.e. For e4ample* the ?nited Kin"dom embraces sustainability as part o.
its national policy as articulated in <Securin" the Future H The ?K Sustainable
%e,elopment Strate"y.>
Similarly the $uropean ?nion Sustainable %e,elopment
Strate"y describes the $?Ds approach to sustainable de,elopment and the se,en ey
challen"es .acin" its implementation.
A si"ni.icant number o. Fortune )22corporations*
includin" @ie* Coca Cola* %ell Computer and Starbucs are embracin"
sustainability as a strate"y in the .orm o. Corporate Social Cesponsibility :CSC;.
Sustainability is a .ramewor .or ecolo"ical* economic* and social policies and pro"rams
that continues to "row in importance and is .indin" application in an e,er wider ran"e o.
circumstances. For e4ample* the hi"hly success.ul "reen buildin" mo,ement in the ?.S.
is based on the concept o. sustainability* pro,idin" a use.ul template .or implementation
in other sectors.
The most .re6uently cited de.inition o. sustainable de,elopment is attributed to the
Brundtland Ceport o. 110/ H <Jde,elopmentK that meets the needs o. the present without
compromisin" the ability o. .uture "enerations to meet their own needs.>
There are at
least /2 other documented de.initions* some o. which* lie the Brundtland de.inition* are
people7centered* and many others that are .ocused on the en,ironment and ecolo"ical
systems. The Brundtland de.inition pro,ides a new ,ision o. de,elopment* optimistic in
its tone* but laced with challen"es and contradictions. It su""ests that in the process o.
de,elopin" we ha,e a moral responsibility to consider both the wel.are o. both present
and .uture peoples and the e..ects o. present acti,ities on the wel.are o. .uture
inhabitants o. our planet. Thus it could be said that sustainability addresses both
inter"enerational and intra"enerational e6uity. This presents a hu"e challen"e because
we are clearly not meetin" the needs o. e,eryone in present "enerations much less bein"
able to consider the 6uality o. li.e o. .uture peoples and their ability to sur,i,e. The
challen"e o. both shi.tin" de,elopment patterns to pro,ide sur,i,ability .or the
populations o. lesser de,eloped countries while tain" responsibility .or the wel.are o.
.uture peoples is dauntin". Althou"h not e4plicitly stated in the de.inition* the carrying
o. natural systems and the inherent need .or nature to be protected is implicit
because o. the utter dependence o. all human "enerations on the "oods and ser,ices o.
nature .or their sur,i,al.
In spite o. these challen"es the concept o. sustainability has e,ol,ed to become a
.ramewor .or main" comple4 and di..icult decisions. Contemporary sustainability
borrows some o. the main ideas o. sustainability .rom the Brundtland Ceport* especially
the notion that the needs o. both present and .uture "enerations should be considered in
decision main". It adds to this notion the need to balance en,ironmental protection and
restoration with the re6uirements o. a healthy economy and the needs o. human society.
At the heart o. this e,ol,ed notion o. sustainability are se,eral ethical issues* amon"
them the ri"hts o. .uture peoples* the obli"ation to consider the impacts o. technolo"y*
the ri"hts o. non7human species* and others. This chapter describes the concept o.
sustainability* the rationale .or its application* discusses other .ramewors based on
sustainability* and describes the ethical conte4t that is at the heart o. this concept.
'ne o. the reasons .or the widespread application o. the sustainability .ramewor is that
there are a ,ariety o. de.initions. %a,id Pearce* the eminent economist .rom ?ni,ersity
Colle"e London* and his collea"ues de,eloped a "allery o. &2 de.initions .or
%e.initions o. sustainability may co,er all three systems comprisin" this
.ramewor :social* en,ironmental* or economic; or may be sewed to one o. themL they
may or may not address .uture "enerationsL and they may address technolo"y* resources*
waste* pollution or other issues. The .ollowin" are some de.initions o. sustainability and
some thou"hts about this concept-
<J%e,elopment K that meets the needs o. the present without compromisin" the ability o.
.uture "enerations to meet their own needs.>
The (rundtland )eport
MSustainable desi"n is the set o. perceptual and analytic abilities* ecolo"ical wisdom* and
practical wherewithal essential to main" thin"s that .it in a world o. microbes* plants*
animals* and entropy. In other words* :sustainable desi"n; is the care.ul meshin" o.
human purposes with the lar"er patterns and .lows o. the natural world* and care.ul study
o. those patterns and .lows to in.orm human purposes.M
a$id Orr! Professor! Oberlin College! Ohio
MSustainability is e6uity o,er time. As a ,alue* it re.ers to "i,in" e6ual wei"ht in your
decisions to the .uture as well as the present. 3ou mi"ht thin o. it as e4tendin" the
(olden Cule throu"h time* so that you do unto .uture "enerations as you would ha,e
them do unto you.M
)obert "ilman! irector! Conte*t Institute
MA transition to sustainability in,ol,es mo,in" .rom linear to cyclical processes and
technolo"ies. The only processes we can rely on inde.initely are cyclicalL all linear
processes must e,entually come to an end.M
r. +arl ,enrik-)obert! M! founder of The .atural Step! Sweden
MActions are sustainable i.-
There is a balance between resources used and resources re"enerated.
Cesources are as clean or cleaner at end use as at be"innin".
The ,iability* inte"rity* and di,ersity o. natural systems are restored and maintained.
They lead to enhanced local and re"ional sel.7reliance.
They help create and maintain community and a culture o. place.
$ach "eneration preser,es the le"acies o. .uture "enerations.M
a$id McCloskey! Professor of Sociology! Seattle /ni$ersity
MClean air* clean water* sa.ety in city pars* low7income housin"* education* child care*
wel.are* medical care* unemployment :insurance;* transportation* recreationGcultural
centers* open space* wetlands...M
,a0el 1olf! Seattle 2udubon Society
MLea,e the world better than you .ound it* tae no more than you need* try not to harm
li.e or the en,ironment* mae amends i. you do. M
Paul ,awken! The Ecology of Commerce
The wide ,ariety o. de.initions .or sustainability is both a blessin" and a curse. It has
somethin" .or e,eryone. Sharachchandra LNlN described this phenomenon as .ollows-
Sustainable de,elopment is a Ometa.i4O that will unite e,erybody .rom the pro.it7
minded industrialist and ris7minimisin" subsistence .armer to the e6uity7seein"
social worer* the pollution7concerned or wildli.e7lo,in" First 9orlder* the
"rowth7ma4imisin" policy maer* the "oal7oriented bureaucrat and* there.ore* the
,ote7countin" politician.
The concept o. sustainability has its roots in what mi"ht be called <the crisis o.
de,elopment*> that is the .ailure since 9orld 9ar II o. international de,elopment
schemes intended to impro,e the lot o. impo,erished peoples around the world. The
.ailure o. these initiati,es means that the proportion o. those li,in" in ab5ect po,erty has
remained relati,ely steady o,er the past +2 years* around 1 in ) people. The poor
continue to li,e on the ed"e o. sur,i,al* with abominable li,in" conditions* malnutrition*
disease* and little prospect .or a better .uture. '.ten they li,e in countries crushed by the
burden o. debt* with poor in.rastructure* almost no educational system* the lac o. a
.unctionin" 5ustice system* and in the shadow o. omnipresent ,iolence. In the .a,elas o.
Bra8il and the slums o. Manila whole .amilies sur,i,e by "atherin" and sellin" metal and
other materials .rom "arba"e dumps. Simultaneously the world is .acin" en,ironmental
crises and resource shorta"es that compound the problem .or the worldDs poorest and
place stress on e,en the wealthier nations as ener"y prices rise* climate patterns shi.t* and
the $arthDs dowry o. biodi,ersity dwindles.
The 110/ Brundtland Ceport identi.ied this state o. the world as stemmin" .rom a shi.t in
the relationship between the worldDs natural systems and humanity which depends on
these systems .or its sur,i,al. The rapid "rowth in population and consumption has
resulted in a mismatch between the capacity o. natural systems and human acti,ities that
are constrained to .unctionin" within these natural systems. The Brundtland Ceport
su""ests there are two main imperati,es needed to correct this imbalance. First* the basic
needs o. all human bein"s must be met and po,erty must be eliminated. Second* there
must be limits placed on de,elopment in "eneral because nature is .inite. The ability to
meet the basic needs o. e,eryone is bounded by the capacity o. nature to help meet those
needs. Technolo"y must be de,eloped and applied 5udiciously to help meet the .irst
imperati,e without ad,ersely a..ectin" the capacity o. nature* either due to depletion by
e4cess usa"e* or ,ia destruction due to the ne"ati,e conse6uences o. some technolo"ies.
The .ollowin" sections describe some o. the issues that are .orcin" a rethinin" o.
con,entional approaches to policy* production* and consumption and .or which
sustainability pro,ides some answers.
Po(ulation an) Consu*(tion
Much has been said about the role o. population as the cause o. many "lobal problems
due to the need to .eed* clothe* and house $arthDs still rapidly "rowin" human population.
In .act the combination o. population and per capita consumption is challen"in" the
carryin" capacity o. the planet. In addition to the burden o. a rapidly "rowin" "lobal
population on relati,ely scarce .ood* water* land* and materials resources* the wealthier
nations consume .ar more per capita than the poorer countries. The worldDs wealthiest
countries* with less than !2 percent o. the worldOs population* contribute rou"hly &2
percent o. "lobal carbon emissions* and they are responsible .or more than +2 percent o.
the total carbon dio4ide that .ossil .uel combustion has added to the atmosphere since the
Industrial Ce,olution be"an. But this picture is now chan"in" rapidly* particularly in
China* where emissions are now risin" at 12 percent a year* 12 times the a,era"e rate in
industrial nations. By !22/ ChinaOs .ossil .uel emissions e4ceeded those o. the ?nited
States and continue to "row rapidly.
(lobal population continues to "row at an alarmin"
rate* with a population the si8e o. Me4icoDs :about 02 million; bein" added to the planet
each year and almost 1 billion people per decade.
Consumption is another side o. the problem* especially per capita consumption o. ey
natural resources which ,aries "reatly around the world. Typically* the citi8ens o. rich
industriali8ed nations use more o. the worldOs resources and produce more waste. As a
result they sometimes deplete their own resources and o.ten the resources o. other
For many resources* the ?.S. is the worldOs lar"est consumer in absolute terms and .or
others it is the lar"est per capita consumer. For 11 out o. !2 ma5or traded commodities*
the ?.S. is the "reatest consumer. These include commodities such as corn**
copper* lead* 8inc* tin* aluminum* rubber* oil seeds* oil and natural "as.
A typical e4ample is meat. China* with the worldOs lar"est population* is the hi"hest
o,erall producer and consumer o. meat* but the hi"hest per7capita consumption in the
world is that o. the ?nited States. The a,era"e ?nited States citi8en consumes more than
three times the "lobal a,era"e o. #/ ilos per person per year. A.ricans consume less than
hal. the "lobal a,era"e* and South Asians consume the least* under + ilos per person per
year. 'ther resources are used much more ,ariably* dependin" on local circumstances.
Fish* .or instance* has been a cheap source o. protein .or hundreds o. millions o. poor
people where,er it has been a,ailable. The hi"hest consumption le,els are in some o. the
worldOs poorest states* such as the Maldi,es or Kiribati* where .ish is plenti.ul. Per7capita
consumption is also ,ery hi"h in rich nations with well7established .ishin" traditions 77 11
and ++ ilos per capita in Iceland and Japan respecti,elyL way abo,e the "lobal a,era"e
o. 1+ ilos per capita per year.
To pursue sustainability* the so7called <twin horns o. the dilemma*> population and
consumption* must both be addressed.
Cli*ate Chan+e
Chan"es in the $arthDs climate are the rule rather than the e4ception and there is ample
e,idence that o,er the past se,eral million years there ha,e been si"ni.icant shi.ts in the
$arthDs a,era"e annual temperature.
As de.ined by the @ational 'ceano"raphic and Atmospheric and Administration
:@'AA;* climate change consists o. lon"7term .luctuations in temperature* precipitation*
wind* and all other aspects o. the $arthOs climate. The ?nited @ations Framewor
Con,ention on Climate Chan"e describes the phenomenon as a chan"e o. climate
attributable directly or indirectly to human acti,ity that alters the composition o. the
"lobal atmosphere* and that is* in addition to natural climate ,ariability* obser,able o,er
comparable time periods. The Inter"o,ernmental Panel on Climate Chan"e :IPCC; was
established by the 9orld Meteorolo"ical 'r"ani8ation :9M'; and the ?nited @ations
:?@; in 1100 to assess* on a comprehensi,e* ob5ecti,e* open* and transparent basis* the
scienti.ic* technical* and socioeconomic in.ormation rele,ant to understandin" the
scienti.ic basis o. ris o. human7induced climate chan"e* its potential impacts* and
options .or adaptation and miti"ation. The Fourth Assessment Ceport o. the IPCC*
published in !22/* concludes that the "lobally a,era"ed sur.ace temperatures ha,e
increased by 2.# P 2.1QF :2.+ P 2.!QC; o,er the twentieth century. For a ran"e o.
scenarios* the "lobally a,era"ed sur.ace air temperature is pro5ected by models to warm
2.0 to #.!QF :1.&
C to ).0QC; by !122 relati,e to 1112. Furthermore* "lobally a,era"ed
sea le,el is pro5ected by models to rise 2.#2 to !.1 .eet :2.21 to 2.00 meters; by !122.
These pro5ections indicate that the warmin" would ,ary by re"ion and be accompanied
by increases and decreases in precipitation.
Moreo,er* there would be chan"es in climate ,ariability* as well as in the .re6uency and
intensity o. some e4treme climate phenomena. It is important to note that the beha,ior o.
"lobal systems such as climate are nonlinear. $ach increase in carbon dio4ide will not
necessarily produce a proportional chan"e in "lobal temperature. Aowe,er* the dynamic*
chaotic character o. the $arthDs climate is such that climate can suddenly <.lip> .rom one
temperature re"ime to another in a relati,ely short time. Indeed* .ossil records indicate
that pre,ious .lips ha,e occurred* with temperature increasin" or decreasin" almost 12
:).+QC; in about a decade. The potential .or climate chan"e has pro.ound implications .or
e,ery aspect o. human acti,ity on the planet. Shi.tin" temperatures* more ,iolent storms*
risin" sea le,els* meltin" "laciers* and other e..ects will displace people* a..ect .ood
supplies* reduce biodi,ersity* and "reatly reduce the 6uality o. li.e.
ine,al Resou,ce De(letion
The depletion o. ey resources needed to support the ener"y and materials re6uirements
o. todayDs technolo"ical* de,eloped world societies* is a threat to the hi"h 6uality o. li.e
en5oyed by @orth Americans* $uropeans* Japanese* and the other countries that mae up
these societies. $,idence to7date seems to indicate that we ha,e ma4imi8ed our ability to
e4tract oil and that we are in an era o. probably .ar hi"her prices .or oil7based products*
amon" them "asoline* diesel* 5et .uel* and oil7based polymers. A similar scenario is
playin" out with other ey resources* most notably metals. A recent study o. the supply
and usa"e o. copper* 8inc and other metals has determined that supplies o. these
resources77e,en i. recycled77may .ail to meet the needs o. the "lobal population.
the .ull e4traction o. metals .rom the $arthOs crust and e4tensi,e recyclin" pro"rams may
not meet .uture demand i. all countries try and attain the same standard o. li,in" en5oyed
in de,eloped nations. The researchers* Cobert (ordon and Thomas (raedel* based their
study on metal still in the $arth* in use by people and lost in land.ills. ?sin" copper
stocs in @orth America as a startin" point* they traced the e,olution o. copper minin"*
use and loss durin" the !2th century. They then applied their .indin"s and additional data
to an estimate o. "lobal demand .or copper and other metals i. all nations were .ully
de,eloped and used modern technolo"ies. The study .ound that all o. the copper in ore*
plus all o. the copper currently in use* would be re6uired to brin" the world to the le,el o.
the de,eloped nations .or power transmission* construction and other ser,ices and
products that depend on copper. (lobally* the researchers estimate that !+ percent o.
e4tractable copper in the $arthOs crust is now lost in non7recycled wastesL while lost 8inc
is estimated at 11 percent. Interestin"ly* the researchers said that current prices do not
re.lect those losses because supplies are still lar"e enou"h to meet demand* and new
methods ha,e helped mines produce material more e..iciently. 9hile copper and 8inc are
not at ris o. depletion in the immediate .uture* the researchers belie,e scarce metals*
such as platinum* are at ris o. depletion in this century because there is no suitable
substitute .or their use in de,ices such as catalytic con,erters and hydro"en .uel cells.
And because the rate o. use .or metals continues to rise* e,en the more plenti.ul metals
may .ace similar depletion riss in the not too distant .uture. The impacts on metal prices
due to a combination o. demand and dwindlin" stocs has been dramatic. In a sin"le year
!22)7!22+* 8inc and copper e4perienced a #22R rise* and metals such as nicel* brass
and stainless steel rose by about !)2R. The "ood news is the there is a renewed emphasis
on recyclin"* usin" only the e4act 6uantity o. metals re6uired* and insurin" that all in7
plant scrap is reco,ered durin" manu.acturin".
Loss of Bio)i-e,sity
(iodi$ersity re.ers to the number and ,ariety o. li,in" or"anisms and the ecosystems in
which they occur. The concept o. biodi,ersity encompasses the number o. di..erent
or"anisms* their relati,e .re6uencies* and their or"ani8ation at many le,els* ran"in" .rom
complete ecosystems to the biochemical structures that .orm the molecular basis o.
heredity. Thus* biodi,ersity e4presses the ran"e o. li.e on the planet* considerin" the
relati,e abundances o. ecosystems* species* and "enes. Species biodi,ersity is the le,el o.
biodi,ersity most commonly discussed. An estimated 1./ million species ha,e been
scienti.ically documented out o. a total estimated number o. between ) million and 122
million species. Aowe,er* de.orestation and climate chan"e are causin" such a rapid
e4tinction o. many species that some biolo"ists are predictin" the loss o. !2 percent o.
e4istin" species o,er the ne4t !2 years.
%e.orestation is particularly de,astatin"* especially in rain.orests* which comprise 5ust +
percent o. the worldDs land but contain more than )22*222 o. the planetDs species.
Biodi,ersity preser,ation and protection is important to humanity since di,erse
ecosystems pro,ide numerous ser,ices and resources* such as protection and .ormation o.
water and soil resourcesL nutrient stora"e and cyclin"L pollution breadown and
absorptionL .oodL medicinal resourcesL wood productsL a6uatic habitatL and undoubtedly
many undisco,ered applications.
'nce lost* species cannot be replaced by human
technolo"y* and potential sources o. new .oods* medicines* and other technolo"ies may
be .ore,er .or.eited.
Furthermore* de"radation o. ecosystems contributes to the emer"ence and spread o.
in.ectious diseases by inter.erin" with natural control o. disease ,ectors. For e4ample* the
.ra"mentation o. @orth American .orests has resulted in the elimination o. the predators
o. the white7.ooted mouse* which is a ma5or carrier o. Lyme disease* now the leadin"*
,ector7borne in.ectious illness in the ?nited States. Finally* species e4tinction pre,ents
disco,ery o. potentially use.ul medicines such as aspirin* morphine* ,incristine* ta4ol*
di"italis* and most antibiotics* all o. which ha,e been deri,ed .rom natural sources.
The $arthDs ocean ecosystems contain a ma5ority o. all li.e .ound on earth and other
bodies o. water contain o,er !!*222 species o. .ish and ocean mammals* ran"in" in si8e
.rom the 1)2 ton* &2 meter lon" blue whale to ,ery small .ish that .eed on microscopic
phytoplanton. ?n.ortunately the worldDs .ishin" .leets are two to three times lar"er than
the le,el that would produce a sustainable yield o. .ish* that is* a yield that does not
deplete the stocs o. .ish or destroy the biodi,ersity o. the oceans. The methods used by
lar"e commercial .ishin" are destructi,e in two ways- they result in o,er.ishin" and they
decimate the ocean bottom due to the use o. bottom trawlin". ',er.ishin" can be de.ined
in terms o. biolo"ical impacts or economic impacts. In an economic sense o,er.ishin"
occurs when the stocs o. desirable .ish ha,e been depleted to a le,el that maes it
unpro.itable .or .ishin" companies to operate. Biolo"ically* o,er.ishin" has occurred
when the stocs o. .ish ha,e become so depleted that the sur,i,al o. the species is in
6uestion or the reco,ery o. the .ishery will tae an e4traordinarily lon" time. Much o.
the worldDs human population relies on .ish* both .rom marine capture and .rom
a6uaculture .or their nutrition. In a report published by the ?@ Food and A"riculture
'r"ani8ation* the scientists reported that )!R o. .ish stocs are .ully e4ploited* 1/R are
o,er7e4ploited* /R are depleted* and 1R are reco,erin" .rom depletion.
Dese,tification. Eut,o(hication. an) Aci)ification
In arid and semiarid re"ions land de"radation results in desertification* or the destruction
o. natural ,e"etati,e co,er* which promotes desert .ormation. The ?nited @ations
Con,ention to Combat %eserti.ication* .ormed in 111+ and rati.ied by 1/1 countries*
reports that o,er !)2 million people are directly a..ected by deserti.ication.
Furthermore* drylands susceptible to deserti.ication co,er &2 percent o. the $arthDs
sur.ace* puttin" at ris a .urther 1.1 billion people in more than 122 countries dependent
on these lands .or sur,i,al. China* with a rapidly "rowin" population and economy* loses
about #22*222 acres o. land each year to dri.tin" sand dunes.
Two en,ironmental conditions that .re6uently threaten water supplies are eutrophication
and acidi.ication. Eutrophication re.ers to the o,er7enrichment o. water bodies with
nutrients .rom a"ricultural and landscape .ertili8er* urban runo..* sewa"e dischar"e* and
eroded stream bans. @utrient o,ersupply .osters al"ae "rowth* or al"ae blooms* which
bloc sunli"ht and cause underwater "rasses to die. %ecomposin" al"ae .urther utili8e
dissol,ed o4y"en necessary .or the sur,i,al o. a6uatic species such as .ish and crabs.
$,entually* decomposition in a completely o4y"enless* or ano*ic! water body can release
to4ic hydro"en sulphide* poisonin" or"anisms and main" the lae or seabed li.eless.
$utrophication has led to the de"radation o. numerous waterways around the world. For
e4ample* in the Baltic Sea* hu"e al"ae blooms* now common a.ter unusually warm
summers* ha,e decreased water ,isibility by 12 to 1) .eet in depth.
2cidification is the process whereby air pollution in the .orm o. ammonia* sulphur
dio4ide and nitro"en o4ides* mainly released into the atmosphere by burnin" .ossil .uels*
is con,erted into acids. The resultin" acid rain is well nown .or its dama"e to .orests
and laes. Less ob,ious* howe,er* is the dama"e caused by acid rain to .reshwater and
coastal ecosystems* soils* and e,en ancient historical monuments. The acidity o. polluted
rain leaches minerals .rom soil* causin" the release o. hea,y metals that harm
microor"anisms and a..ect the .ood chain. Many species o. animals* .ish* and other
a6uatic animal and plant li.e are sensiti,e to water acidity. As a result o. $uropean
directi,es that .orced the installation o. desulphuri8ation systems and discoura"ed the use
o. coal as a .ossil .uel* $urope e4perienced a si"ni.icant decrease in acid rain in the
1112s. @onetheless* a 1111 sur,ey o. .orests in $urope .ound that about !) percent o. all
trees had been dama"ed* lar"ely due to the e..ects o. acidi.ication.
Dest,uction of En-i,on*ental A*enity an) En-i,on*ental Se,-ices
As the planet is trans.ormed by the con,ersion o. .orests and habitat by a"riculture*
e4traction* and de,elopment* the inherent 6ualities o. nature that humans en5oy .or
recreation and in which they .ind wonder* peace* and rela4ation* are disappearin" at
alarmin" rate. These 6ualities are sometimes re.erred to as en$ironmental amenity and
include the ser,ices o. natural systems such as pro,idin" clean air and clean water. .
The destruction o. .orests and other ecolo"ical biomes* to"ether with human impacts on
seas* oceans* laes* ri,ers* and other bodies o. water causes a reduction in the wide ran"e
o. ser,ices pro,ided by ecosystems. $cosystems pro,ide a wide ran"e o. "oods and
ser,ices to humanind at no cost that would otherwise be technically di..icult and costly
to replace. These "oods and ser,ices include production o. .ood and waterL control o.
climate and diseaseL support .rom the ma5or "lobal7"eochemical and nutrient cyclesL crop
pollinationL spiritual and recreational bene.itsL and the maintenance o. biodi,ersity. In a
study conducted by Cobert Costan8a and his collea"ues in 111/* they estimated the
economic ,alue o. these ser,ices was estimated to be almost double "lobal (ross
%omestic Product.
',er the past !222 years* appro4imately &27)2R o. $arthDs ice7.ree
land sur.ace has been hea,ily trans.ormed or de"raded by anthropo"enic acti,ities* ++R
o. marine .isheries are either o,ere4ploited or at their limit* atmospheric C'! has
increased more than #2R since the ad,ent o. industriali8ation* and nearly !)R o. $arthDs
bird species ha,e "one e4tinct.
The loss o. both temperate .orests and rain.orests is a
ma5or component o. the loss o. this amenity. Cain.orests* which support +2R o. the
worldDs species* are disappearin" at a rate o. 1) million hectares per year.
.orests .ound mostly in the ?.S.* $urope* and Cussia* are bein" destroyed at an e,en
"reater pace* with only 1R o. the ori"inal ?.S. and $uropean .orests remainin". 'ne o.
the outcomes o. de.orestation is the loss o. animal habitat and uni6ue .lora and .auna
which .uture "enerations will not be able to e4perience.
Po-e,ty an) the al)ist,ibution of !ealth
The Brundtland Ceport was the result o. an e..ort by the ?nited @ations to determine
how to brea the persistent "rip o. po,erty on the ,ast ma5ority o. the worldDs population.
Po,erty depends on a wide ran"e o. ,ariables and .rom country to country. The po,erty
threshold or po,erty line is "enerally accepted as a measure o. po,erty in any "i,en
country and it is de.ined as the minimum income re6uired to achie,e an ade6uate
standard o. li,in" in that country. The standard o. li,in" is "enerally accepted as the
,alue o. all resources consumed by a typical indi,idual in one year and includes rent and
transportation. Ad5ustments are made to the standard o. li,in" based on status :sin"le*
married* elderly;* and other circumstances. In !22/* .or e4ample* the po,erty threshold
.or a sin"le person under +) was F12*/0/ in the ?nited States. For a .amily "roup o.
.our* includin" two children* the po,erty threshold was determined to be F!1*2!/.
Po,erty in de,eloped countries tends to be cyclical* that is* the number o. impo,erished
people rises and .alls with economic conditions and unemployment. In the less
de,eloped countries* po,erty tends to be persistent. The terms absolute po,erty and
e4treme po,erty are sometimes used to de.ine the .orm o. persistent po,erty which is
independent o. time and place. Accordin" to the ?nited @ations* absolute po,erty is <a
condition characteri8ed by se,ere depri,ation o. basic human needs* includin" .ood* sa.e
drinin" water* sanitation .acilities* health shelter* education* and in.ormation. It depends
not only on income but also on access to ser,ices.> Absolute po,erty can be de.ined as
the absence o. any two o. ei"ht basic needs-
Food% Body Mass Inde4 must be abo,e 1+.
Safe drinking water% 9ater must not come .rom solely ri,ers and ponds* and must
be a,ailable nearby :less than a 1) minutes wal each way;.
Sanitation facilities% Toilets or latrines must be accessible in or near the home.
,ealth% Treatment must be recei,ed .or serious illnesses and pre"nancy.
Shelter% Aomes must ha,e .ewer than .our people li,in" in each room. Floors
must not be made o. dirt* mud* or clay.
Education% $,eryone must attend school or otherwise learn to read.
Information% $,eryone must ha,e access to newspapers* radios* tele,isions*
computers* or telephones at home.
2ccess to ser$ices% Access to typical ser,ices such as education* health* le"al*
social* and .inancial :credit; ser,ices.
For the purpose o. "lobal a""re"ation and comparison* the 9orld Ban uses re.erence
lines set at F1.!) and F! per day. Po,erty estimates released in Au"ust !220 showed that
about 1.& billion people in the de,elopin" world were li,in" on less than F1.!) a day in
!22)* down .rom 1.1 billion in 1101. This amounts to a reduction o. absolute po,erty
.rom 1 in & people in 1101 to 1 in ! people in !220. The international po,erty line o.
F1.!) a day at !22) prices is the mean o. the national po,erty lines .or the 127!2 poorest
countries o. the world.
In !221* the then 11! ?nited @ations member states adopted the ?nited @ations
Millennium %eclaration which laid out ei"ht ma5or de,elopment "oals to be achie,ed by
!21). (oal 1 o. the ?nited @ationDs Millennium %e,elopment (oals is to eradicate
e4treme po,erty and hun"er. Accordin" to the 9orld Ban* the de,elopin" world as a
whole remains on trac to meet the .irst Millennium %e,elopment (oal which is to hal,e
e4treme po,erty .rom its 1112 le,els by !21).
It could be said that "lobal e..orts to
reduce po,erty are ha,in" some success based on these statistics. Aowe,er the world is
enterin" an era o. diminishin" resources* includin" oil* metals* .ood* potable water and
output .rom .isheries. The worldDs population continues to "row at a rate o. about 1./R
year* strainin" natural and mineral resources. The result could be a re,ersal in these
positi,e trends i. population and consumption continue on their present tra5ectories.
In addition to bein" the meta.i4 described by Sharachchandra LNlN* sustainability is a
broad concept upon which others can be constructed. The .ollowin" sections describe
.our o. these sustainability7based .ramewors- The @atural Step* The Aanno,er
Principles* The Three7Le""ed Stool* and Corporate Social Cesponsibility.
The Natu,al Ste(
The @atural Step :T@S;* which is based on .our scienti.ically deri,ed <System
Conditions*> was de,eloped in the 1102s by %r. Karl Aenri CobSrt* a Swedish
oncolo"ist. These Systems Conditions are as .ollows-
4. In order for a society to be sustainable! nature5s functions and di$ersity are not
systematically sub6ected to increasing concentrations of substances e*tracted from the
Earth7s crust. In a sustainable society* human acti,ities such as the burnin" o. .ossil .uels
and the minin" o. metals and minerals* will not occur at a rate that causes them to
systematically increase in the ecosphere. There are thresholds beyond which li,in"
or"anisms and ecosystems are ad,ersely a..ected by increases in substances .rom the
$arthOs crust. Problems may include an increase in "reenhouse "ases leadin" to "lobal
climate chan"e* contamination o. sur.ace and "roundwater* and metal to4icity* which can
cause .unctional disturbances in animals. In practical terms* the .irst condition re6uires
society to implement comprehensi,e metal and mineral recyclin" pro"rams and decrease
economic dependence on .ossil .uels.
8. In order for a society to be sustainable! nature5s functions and di$ersity are not
systematically sub6ected to increasing concentrations of substances produced by society.
In a sustainable society* humans will a,oid "eneratin" systematic increases in persistent
substances such as %%T* PCBs* and .reon. Synthetic or"anic compounds such as %%T
and PCBs can remain in the en,ironment .or many years* bioaccumulatin" in the tissue o.
or"anisms* causin" pro.ound deleterious e..ects on predators in the upper le,els o. the
.ood chain. Freon* and other o8one7depletin" compounds* may increase the ris o. cancer
due to added ultra,iolet radiation in the troposphere. Society needs to .ind ways to reduce
economic dependence on persistent human7made substances.
#. In order for a society to be sustainable! nature5s functions and di$ersity are not
systematically impo$erished by o$erhar$esting or other forms of ecosystem manipulation.
In a sustainable society* humans will a,oid tain" more .rom the biosphere than can be
replenished by natural systems. In addition* people will a,oid systematically encroachin"
upon nature by destroyin" the habitat o. other species. Biodi,ersity pro,ides the
.oundation .or ecosystem ser,ices that are necessary to sustain li.e on this planet.
SocietyOs health and prosperity depend on the endurin" capacity o. nature to renew itsel.
and rebuild waste into resources.
&. In a sustainable society resources are used fairly and efficiently in order to meet basic
human needs globally. Meetin" the .ourth system condition is a way to a,oid ,iolatin"
the .irst three system conditions .or sustainability. Considerin" the human enterprise as a
whole* we need to be e..icient with re"ard to resource use and waste "eneration in order
to be sustainable. I. 1 billion people lac ade6uate nutrition while another billion ha,e
more than they need* there is a lac o. .airness with re"ard to meetin" basic human needs.
Achie,in" "reater .airness is essential .or social stability and the cooperation needed .or
main" lar"e7scale chan"es within the .ramewor laid out by the .irst three conditions.
To achie,e this .ourth condition* humanity must stri,e to impro,e technical and
or"ani8ational e..iciency around the world* and to li,e usin" .ewer resources* especially
in a..luent areas. System condition number .our implies an impro,ed means o.
addressin" human population "rowth. I. the total resource throu"hput o. the "lobal
human population continues to increase* it will be increasin"ly di..icult to meet basic
human needs* as human7dri,en processes intended to .ul.ill human needs and wants are
systematically de"radin" the collecti,e capacity o. the $arthOs ecosystems to meet these
In addition to the Systems Conditions* T@S pro,ides a systematic approach to
implementation by which corporations can pro"ress to a point where they are essentially
.ollowin" the .our systems conditions. The system is setup so that companies pro"ress
.rom Le,el 1 to Le,el )* and at each le,el they are decreasin" their impacts in accordance
with the Systems Conditions. The .i,e le,el are outlined in brie. below-
Le,el 1- Implement a policy o. year by year reductions in emissions o. synthetic and
substances .rom the earthDs crust* includin" solid waste* thereby a,oidin" local
Le,el !- Continue increasin" the ratio o. recycled to ,ir"in materials* decreasin"
dependence on materials e4traction.
Le,el #- Ma4imi8e resource e..iciency and introduce analysis to assist in reducin" the
non7renewable portion o. the materials stream.
Le,el &- Introduce Li.e Cycle Assessment :LCA; analysis to pro,ide a more detailed
understandin" o. the impact o. production decisions.
Le,el )- Set e..ecti,e limits on materials e4traction .rom the earthDs crust and the use o.
these materials. Consider use o. land and set limits on the use o. land .or production.
T@S pro,ides more o. an educational than a practical .ramewor .or companies to use to
pro"ress toward sustainability. It sets limits that are di..icult to determine much less
attain. In spite o. its shortcomin"s* T@S has become a ,ery popular and well7reco"ni8ed
sustainability based .ramewor that pro,ides insi"hts on limits that society will ha,e to
.ace or the conse6uences o. i"norin" them.
The Hanno-e, P,inci(les
In 111!* the city mana"er o. Aanno,er* (ermany* Jobst Fiedler* commissioned 9illiam
Mc%onou"h* one o. the early ma5or .i"ures in the emer"ence o. "reen buildin"s* to wor
with the city to de,elop a set o. principles .or sustainable desi"n .or the year !222
Aanno,er 9orld Fair. The principles were not intended to ser,e as a how7to .or
ecolo"ical desi"n but as a foundation .or ecolo"ical desi"n. 'ne o. the contributions that
emer"ed .rom this relati,ely early attempt to articulate principles .or the "reen buildin"
mo,ement was a de.inition o. sustainable design as the <conception and reali8ation o.
ecolo"ically* economically* and ethically responsible e4pression as part o. the e,ol,in"
matri4 o. nature.> These principles* commonly nown as the Aanno,er Principles* are
listed in Table 1.1.
Table 1.1 The Aanno,er Principles
1. Insist on the ri"hts o. humanity and nature to coe4ist.
!. Ceco"ni8e interdependence.
#. Cespect relationships between spirit and matter.
&. Accept responsibility .or the conse6uences o. desi"n.
). Create sa.e ob5ects o. lon"7term ,alue.
+. $liminate the concept o. waste.
/. Cely on natural ener"y .lows.
0. ?nderstand the limitations o. desi"n.
1. See constant impro,ement by the sharin" o. nowled"e.
In some respects the Aanno,er Principles could be said to e4tend the de.initions o.
sustainability by e4plicitly addressin" the non7material world o. spirit* describin" the
importance o. desi"n* e4plainin" how desi"ners ha,e a responsibility .or creatin" de,ices
and ob5ects that are culturally si"ni.icant and o. ,alue to society. It could be said that the
problems bein" addressed by sustainability are indeed problems o. poor desi"n. At the
!22/ meetin" o. the International Council o. Societies o. Industrial %esi"n* @athan
Shedro.. said* <%esi"n is a bi" part o. the sustainability problems in the world. %esi"n
has been .ocused on creatin" meanin"less :o.ten;* disposable :thou"h not responsibly so;*
trend7laden .ashion itemsTall desi"n. (raphic desi"n is particularly bad* thou"h paper
materials* at least* ha,e a hu"e potential to .i4 this problem.>
The Aanno,er Principles led to the de,elopment o. sustainable desi"n which is now
embedded in architecture and other areas o. desi"n such as landscape architecture*
interior desi"n* urban plannin"* and industrial desi"n. Sustainable desi"n can be
described as an approach that reco"ni8es that products and processes are interdependent
with the en,ironmental* economic* and social systems surroundin" them and implements
measures to pre,ent an unsustainable compromise to these systems.
It is a desi"n
approach that is o.ten described as holistic* systems7based* and syner"istic. The present
day "reen buildin" mo,ement embraces sustainable desi"n as central to the production o.
buildin"s* cities* and in.rastructure that lower the impacts o. construction and the
consumption o. resources associated with human7made structures.
The Th,ee Le++e) Stool Inte,(,etation
9hile not the .ormal name .or this sustainability .ramewor* the three-legged stool
interpretation is liely the most common understandin" o. sustainability and how it is
most commonly applied. In this model sustainability is comprised o. three systems-
ecolo"ical* economic* and social. For sustainability to be the outcome* these three
systems must be balanced. Aence the metaphor o. the three7le""ed stool- to ser,e its
.unction best* its le"s must be o. e6ual len"th. A stron" and healthy society is the
primary desired outcome o. sustainability. The needs o. its population are met and
societyDs ethical obli"ations to .uture "enerations are met thou"h a care.ul e4amination o.
the societyDs consumption o. resources* its populations "rowth* its "eneration o. waste*
the role o. technolo"y in the society* the beha,ior o. the economic system* and the
protection o. en,ironmental ser,ices and amenity. Clearly a stron" economy is a
.undamental need o. any nation and meetin" the needs o. its citi8ens includes ha,in"
institutions and re"ulations in place that pro,ide incenti,es and controls .or its economic
and .inancial systems. The .inancial crisis o. !2207!221 in which many bans* insurance
companies* broera"e houses* and other components o. the economic system .ailed* is a
warnin" .or the .uture about the need to mae the economic system a ser,ant o. the
people instead o. the re,erse. That bein" said* a stron" economy that pro,ides 5obs with
a li,in" wa"e and ade6uate healthcare* li.e insurance* pension and other bene.its is hi"hly
desirable .or a healthy society. And both society and its economic system must respect
the central role o. the $arthDs ecolo"ical systems in the health o. both society and the
economy. Indeed both are utterly dependent on healthy ecosystems .or their e4istence.
In spite o. its attraction as a simple de,ice .or understandin" sustainability* the three7
le""ed stool does ha,e some inherent con.licts and contradictions. %ue to the structure
o. the stool* humanity is placed outside o. the en,ironment instead o. bein" embedded in
the en,ironment. It could be said that the three7le""ed stool interpretation o.
sustainability is no di..erent than the neoclassical economic model* the .undamental
obstacle to the adoption o. sustainability as an international .ramewor .or decision
main". Thus humanity is embedded in the ecolo"ical system as is the economy. The
destruction o. the ecolo"ical system throu"h "rowth* consumption* and waste can only
result in serious problems .or human 6uality o. li.e and .or the economic system which
supports it.
Additionally the de,eloped world continues to consume resources and "enerate waste at
e,er7increasin" rates. $4cept .or a downturn caused by the .inancial meltdown o. !2207
!221* there is no trend to re,erse the pattern o. "rowth. The .ailure o. the ?.S. and
Cussia to si"n the Kyoto Protocol on climate chan"e* which addressed 5ust one o. the
many serious en,ironmental issues con.rontin" humanity* is a case in point.
It is liely
that in spite o. its e..orts to reduce carbon emissions* the ,ast ma5ority o. the power
plants planned .or the ne4t !2 years* each with a )2 year li.etime* will be coal7.ired
systems. Chan"in" the beha,ior o. the bi" emitters o. carbon is one o. the eys to success
in addressin" climate chan"e because .ewer than !2 countries are responsible .or 0oR o.
the worldDs carbon emissions. Chan"in" the beha,ior o. the bi" emitters has been .rau"ht
with problems. President Bill ClintonDs attempt to introduce a &.# cent per "allon carbon
ta4 on "asoline in 111# to .inance a transition to alternati,e and renewable ener"y
technolo"ies was soundly re5ected by Con"ress under intense pressure .rom the oil lobby.
The 9a4man7Marey <American Clean $ner"y and Security Act o. !221> is the .irst
serious e..ort on the part o. the ?.S. to cut carbon emissions* callin" .or a 1/R reduction
in !22) emission le,els by !2!2* and a 0#R cut by !2)2. At the Copenha"en Climate
Chan"e summit in %ecember !221* the 'bama administration a"reed to reduce ?.S.
carbon emissions by 1/R by !2!2. At this meetin" the Chinese also a"reed to reduce the
carbon intensity o. their economy &2R by !2)2. Both commitments* while reducin" the
rate o. "rowth o. carbon emissions* will not re,erse the concentration o. carbon in the
atmosphere and only delay the ine,itable impacts o. climate chan"e.
The three7le""ed stool has emer"ed as the most common interpretation o. sustainability
and the basis .or implementation. Corporate Social Cesponsibility* co,ered in the
.ollowin" section is an e4ample o. its application. Simply put* .or business sustainability
can be interpreted as e4pandin" the measures o. success .or a commercial endea,or .rom
the .inancial bottom line to the enterpriseDs social and en,ironmental per.ormance. This
is a si"ni.icant step .orward in the stru""le to ha,e sustainability become the .ramewor
.or all sectors o. society and pro,es the utility o. the three7le""ed stool interpretation .or
at least some staeholders.
Co,(o,ate Social Res(onsibility
A present there is aa "rowin" mo,ement in the world o. business to en"a"e in the
international dialo"ue about sustainability. The $44on Ualde8 oil spill* the Bhopal
disaster* the .raudulent .inancial reportin" and subse6uent collapse o. $nron* Tyco* and
9orldcom* and the !2207!221 collapse o. .inancial industries destroyed public trust and
con.idence in the corporate world* and a..ected the bottom7line per.ormance o. numerous
companies because their beha,ior and .inancial reportin" could not be trusted.
%ri,en by this pla"ue o. en,ironmental mishaps* .raud* and corporate scandals o,er the
past three decades* the business world has embraced the notion o. responsibility beyond
mere .inancial per.ormance. The corporate sustainability mo,ement is now termed
Corporate Social Cesponsibility :CSC; and it attempts to apply sustainability to "uide the
beha,ior o. business with respect to both society and the en,ironment as well as its
responsibility to stocholders. In this new model corporations ,alue their success not
solely based on its .inancial bottom7line* but also on their en,ironmental and social
This shi.t in corporate attitudes .rom purely pro.it7main" operations to sustainable
or"ani8ations is nothin" short o. startlin". The economist* Milton Friedman* .amously
said in 11+!* <Few trends could so thorou"hly undermine the .oundations o. our .ree
enterprise society as the acceptance o. a social responsibility other than to mae as much
money .or their stocholders as possible.>
In !222* Intel dramatically stepped up its support .or education pro"rams and now ,alues
its annual support .or education pro"rams supportin" math* science and technolo"y at
F122 million* a combination o. cash "rants* e6uipment and ser,ices. Standard Chartered*
a ?.K.7based international ban with /)*222 employees operatin" in /2 countries recently
announced a F!2 million "lobal initiati,e* Seeing Is (elie$ing* which aims to pro,ide eye
care to poor urban areas around the "lobe. Standard Chartered also has committed to
main" F)22 million a,ailable .or micro.inance loans in de,elopin" countriesL to educate
a million people about AIUGAI%S o,er three yearsL and to operate a pro"ram called .ets
for &ife in A.rica* which is worin" to curb the spread o. malaria. Vero4 uses paper in a
way that is en,ironmentally responsible and has partnered with the @ature Conser,ancy*
"i,in" the conser,ation or"ani8ation F1 million and the help o. their researchers to create
better .orest mana"ement practices. %ru"7maer 9yeth is main" e..orts to mae li.e7
sa,in" ,accines more accessible to the worldOs poor.
Starbucs Corporation pro,ides a "ood e4ample o. an or"ani8ation that has embraced
CSC. In their !221 CSC Ceport they state-
'ur commitment to bein" a deeply responsible company contributin" positi,ely
to our communities and en,ironment is so important to Starbucs that itDs one o.
the si4 "uidin" principles o. our mission statement. 9e wor to"ether on a daily
basis with partners :employees;* suppliers* .armers and others to help create a
more sustainable approach to hi"h76uality production* to help build
stron"er local communities* to minimi8e our en,ironmental .ootprint* to create a
"reat worplace* to promote di,ersity and to be responsi,e to our customersD
health and wellness needs.
This statement is indicati,e o. the comprehensi,e approach that companies applyin" the
CSC .ramewor tae when approachin" their responsibilities beyond .inancial
per.ormance. They ha,e thorou"hly e4amined their supply chain to ensure that
throu"hout the entire process* the .armers* worers* and communities with whom they
deal are treated .airly and 5ustly and that the en,ironmental responsibility is a ey aspect
o. their approach. Companies en"a"ed in the CSC .ramewor accrue si"ni.icant bene.its
such as a better brand identity* lower le,els o. re"ulatory scrutiny* reduced liability* a
better reputation amon" prospecti,e employees* and a .ar "reater probability o. "ainin" a
Wlicense to operateD in communities where they propose to establish operations.
All o. these social and en,ironmental e..orts by ma5or corporations mar a si"ni.icant
departure .rom the traditional model o. doin" business and point to a trend toward
incorporatin" sustainability thinin" in business. The result o. this new approach to
measurin" success it sometimes re.erred to as triple bottom line per.ormance. Common
CSC policies include-
Adoption o. internal controls re.orm in the wae o. $nron and other accountin"
Commitment to di,ersity in hirin" employees and barrin" discriminationL
Mana"ement teams that ,iew employees as assets rather than costsL
Ai"h per.ormance worplaces that inte"rate the ,iews o. line employees into
decision7main" processesL
Adoption o. operatin" policies that e4ceed compliance with social and
en,ironmental lawsL
Ad,anced resource producti,ity* .ocused on the use o. natural resources in a more
producti,e* e..icient and pro.itable .ashion :such as recycled content and product
recyclin";L and
Tain" responsibility .or conditions under which "oods are produced directly or
by contract employees domestically or abroad.
9hen analy8in" companies* the ?nited @ations $n,ironment Pro"ram Financial
Initiati,e ased one o. the worldOs lar"est law .irms to research whether institutional
in,estors such as pension .unds and insurance companies are le"ally permitted to
inte"rate en,ironmental* social and "o,ernance issues into their in,estment decision7
main" and ownership practices. The resultin" report* released in 'ctober !22)*
concluded that in,estors were not only permitted to but also sometimes re6uired to tae
such .actors into account. The report concluded that* MInte"ratin" en,ironment* social and
"o,ernance considerations into an in,estment analysis so as to more reliably predict
.inancial per.ormance is clearly permissible and is ar"uably re6uired in all
'ne o. the outcomes o. the CSC mo,ement has been new approaches to how companies
report on their triple bottom line per.ormance. Most prominent amon" the ,arious
reportin" .ormats is the "lobal )eporting Initiati$e which pro,ides "uidelines .or CSC
reportin" by a wide ,ariety o. public and pri,ate sector or"ani8ations. Sustainability
reports based on the (CI .ramewor can be used to benchmar or"ani8ational
per.ormance with respect to laws* norms* codes* per.ormance standards and ,oluntary
initiati,esL demonstrate or"ani8ational commitment to sustainable de,elopmentL and
compare or"ani8ational per.ormance o,er time. (CI promotes and de,elops this
standardi8ed approach to reportin" to stimulate demand .or sustainability in.ormation H
which will reportin" or"ani8ations and those who use report in.ormation alie.
',er 1*)22 or"ani8ations .rom +2 countries use the (CI .ramewor to report on their
triple bottom line per.ormance. Companies as di,erse as Uolswa"en and %ell Computer
use the (CI .or their sustainability usin" sector speci.ic adaptations o. the (CI.
CSC has been critici8ed by some as a .orm o. W"reenwashD whereby companies adopt this
.ramewor as a strate"y primarily to impro,e their public relations. The operations and
products o. some companies* .or e4ample* chemical companies* oil companies* weapons
manu.acturers* and tobacco companies* to name but a .ew* seem to be incon"ruent with
CSC and sustainability. Some critics ar"ue that CSC is simply a means o. allowin"
companies to reduce their social and en,ironmental impacts ,oluntarily when what is
truly needed are stron" "o,ernment inter,ention and re"ulation. The .inancial collapses
o. !22071 are perhaps indicati,e o. what can occur when the hand o. "o,ernment is
remo,ed and the interests o. society at lar"e are not addressed. 'n the other hand* some
CSC proponents are optimistic that the widespread adoption o. this .ramewor will
"enerally impro,e the well7bein" o. society and instill a culture o. responsibility in
corporate boardrooms.
As noted earlier* the classic* Brundtland Ceport de.inition o. sustainable de,elopment is
<Jde,elopmentK that meets the needs o. the present without compromisin" the ability o.
.uture "enerations to meet their own needs.> Indeed this de.inition proposes a no,el
ethical concept that .rames the ri"hts o. both present and .uture peoples* 5u4taposes the
ri"hts o. .uture ,ersus present "enerations* and su""est that e,eryoneDs needs should be
.ul.illed be.ore the wants o. some are addressed. $,en as issues o. both
inter"enerational and intra"enerational 5ustice are raised by this de.inition* some clear
6uandaries arise. For e4ample* how is it possible to address the needs o. .uture peoples
when the needs o. the ,ast ma5ority o. the worldDs present population are not bein" metE
9hat e4actly are the WneedsD that must be metE Chapters ) and + .urther de,elop this
There is also the 6uestion o. whether .uture "enerations can be said to ha,e ri"hts. M.P.
(oldin" addressed this problem in11/! when he su""ested that a moral community can
be or"ani8ed only in one o. two ways* by an e4plicit contract between its members or by
a social arran"ement in which each member bene.its .rom the e..orts o. other members.
9ith respect to .uture "enerations neither an e4plicit contract nor social arran"ement is
possible and thus ri"hts cannot be attributed to .uture "enerations as a result o. a contract
or social arran"ement.
Alternati,ely* i. .uture "enerations shared the same interests or
social ideals as present peoples* then it could be ar"ued that they ha,e ri"hts e6ual to
ours. (oldin" ar"ued that* due to technolo"ical chan"es and other .actors it is not
possible to now the condition o. .uture "enerations and their conception o. li.e and
,alues. Around the same time .rame as (oldin"Ds musin"s about ri"hts o. .uture
"enerations* 9alter 9a"ner :11/1; su""ested that i. we reco"ni8ed the ri"hts o. .uture
"enerations* then we would e4perience a "reater de"ree o. sel.7actuali8ation and well7
Another lens throu"h which to ,iew the issue o. .uture "enerations is that our ancestors
ha,e "reatly bene.ited us and that we ha,e a similar obli"ation to the .uture. The
Japanese concept o. On is close to that o. obli"ation. On re6uires that one mae past
payment to oneDs ancestors by "i,in" e6ually "ood or better conditions or thin"s to
posterity. Future persons may be thou"ht o. pro4ies .or past "enerations to whom present
people owe debts. These debts are repaid by pro,idin" as much or more to .uture
"enerations as our ancestors did .or us.
In addition to the positi,e bene.its that must be passed on to .uture "enerations* harm.ul
conse6uences must not be passed on. Many o. the present dayDs technolo"ies are liely
pose ominous threats to .uture "enerations- "enetic en"ineerin"* nanotechnolo"y*
chemicals* antibiotics* pesticides* nuclear reactors and their .uel cycles* to name but a
.ew. The resources we tae* the products we mae* and the resultin" waste streams pose
enormous challen"es .or .uture "enerations. Conse6uently i. sustainability su""ests an
obli"ation to the well7bein" o. .uture "enerations* how to deal with technolo"y
de,elopment and application must be issues o. "reat concern.
Sustainability is a meta7concept that has been applied in the creation o. .ramewors* such
as the @atural Step* that are desi"ned to be applied to real situations to "uide citi8ens*
or"ani8ations* "o,ernment* and corporations onto a path where both present and .uture
"enerations can ha,e the potential .or a "ood 6uality o. li.e. Althou"h it could ha,e been
merely a passin" .ad* sustainability has pro,en its stayin" power o,er the past two
decades by becomin" a part o. the common ,ernacular rather than the ,ocabulary o.
specialists. @ational sustainability policy is not uncommon and commercial enterprises
are adoptin" the Corporate Social Cesponsibility .ramewor at an acceleratin" pace. At
its core* sustainability is about ethics because it calls on present people to not only
consider the condition o. the current impo,erished population* but also the potential
condition o. .uture populations who are the mercy o. our production and consumption
patterns. Clearly we are at a si"ni.icant .or in the road* with the conse6uences o.
climate chan"e and resource depletion on the hori8on. The 6uestion o. our responsibility
to the .uture looms lar"e and it is an ethical responsibility that should be addressed and
better understood. In e..ect sustainability .orces us to .ace the conse6uences o. our
beha,ior in a manner unlie any other concept. And as a result* de,elopin" an
understandin" o. the ethical underpinnin"s o. sustainability is .undamental to applyin" it
as a solution .or the many problems that are bein" .aced or will be .aced* by present and
.uture peoples.
Costan8a* C.* dOAr"e* C.* de (root* C.* Farber* S.* (rasso* M.* Aannon* B.* Limbur"* K.*
@aeem* S.* 'O@eill* C.* Paruelo* J.* Casin* C.(.* Sutton* P. X ,an den Belt* M. 111/.
<The ,alue o. the worldOs ecosystem ser,ices and natural capital> .ature* #0/* pp. !)#7
%awe* @eil K. and Kenneth L. Cyan. !22#. < The Faulty Three7Le""ed7Stool Model o.
Sustainable %e,elopment*> Conser$ation (iology* 1/:);* 'ctober* pp. 1&)071&+2
Friedman* Milton. 11+!. Capitalism and Freedom* Chica"o- ?ni,ersity o. Chica"o
(oldin"* M. P. 11/!. <'bli"ations to .uture "enerations*> The Monist! )+:&;
(ordon* %a,id C. !22). <Indicators o. Po,erty X Aun"er*> E*pert "roup Meeting on
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(ordon* C.B.* M. Bertram* and T.$. (raedel. !22+. <Metal stocs and sustainability*>
Proceedings of the .ational 2cademy of Sciences* 12#:);* !+ January* pp. 1!2171!1&.
Kirby* John* Phil 'D Kee.e* and Lloyd Timberlae* $ds. 111). The Earthscan )eader in
Sustainable e$elopment* London- $arthscan Publications Ltd.
Lan"ston* Crai"* $d. 111). Sustainable Practices% ES and the Construction Industry*
Sydney- $n,iroboo Publishin".
Our Common Future* 110/. The 9orld Council on $conomic %e,elopment. '4.ord-
'4.ord ?ni,ersity Press.
Pearce* %a,id Anil Marandya and $dward Barbier. $ds. 1101.
(lueprint for a "reen Economy% 2 )eport. London- $arthscan Publications Ltd.
Prins* (wyn and Ste,e Cayner. !22/. <Time to ditch Kyoto*> .ature* &&1:!);* 'ctober*
pp. 1/#71/).
Securing The Future - The /+ "o$ernment Sustainable e$elopment Strategy. 111).
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Sharachchandra LNlN. 1111. <Sustainable %e,elopment- A Critical Ce,iew>* 1orld
e$elopment 11:+;* pp. +2/7+!1
Shrader7Frechettte* K.S. 1101. En$ironmental Ethics* Paci.ic (ro,e* CA- The Bo4wooed
State of the 1orld 8::;% Inno$ations for a Sustainable Economy! The 9orld 9atch
Institute* 9ashin"ton* %C.
2 Sustainable Future in Our ,ands < 2 "uide to the E/5s Sustainable e$elopment
Strategy. !22/. The $uropean Commission* Brussels. A,ailable at
?pham* Paul. !222. <An assessment o. The @atural Step theory o. sustainabilityD>
#ournal of Cleaner Production* 0* pp. &&)7&)&.
Uesilind* P.* and Alstair S. (unn. 1110. Engineering! Ethics and the En$ironment.
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Uitouse* P.M.* J. Lubchenco* A.A. Mooney* J. Melillo. 111/. <Auman domination o.
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9a"ner* 9alter C. 11/1. <Future morality*> The Futurist* ):);.
Securing the Future is the March !22) update to the ?KDs sustainable de,elopment strate"y ori"inally
.ormulated in 1111. The ?KDs strate"y is based on .our priorities- sustainable production and consumption*
climate chan"e* natural resource protection and sustainable communities with a .ocus on addressin"
en,ironmental ine6ualities. The strate"y also pro,ides a set o. indicators to be used in measurin" pro"ress
toward achie,in" the commitments laid out in the strate"y.
The $?s sustainable de,elopment strate"y was .irst .ormulated in !221. In !22) this policy was re,ised
and is now re.erred to as the )enewed E/ Sustainable e$elopment Strategy. An o,er,iew o. this strate"y
can be .ound in the !22/ publication* 2 Sustainable Future in Our ,ands - 2 "uide to the E/5s
Sustainable e$elopment Strategy. The se,en challen"es to sustainability described in the $? Sustainable
%e,elopment Strate"y include climate chan"e* sustainable transport* consumption and production* natural
resources* public health* social inclusion* and "lobal po,erty.
The main actor in the ?S "reen buildin" mo,ement is the ?S (reen Buildin" Council which de,eloped a
buildin" ratin" system now as L$$% :Leadership in $ner"y and $n,ironmental %esi"n; which is now
bein" used to assess the desi"n and construction o. se,eral thousand buildin"s in the ?S. L$$% is also
bein" adapted .or use in other countries and ,ariants o. it are appearin" in countries around the world. See"bc.or" .or in.ormation about the ?S(BC and www.the"bi.or" .or in.ormation about a second
buildin" assessment system* (reen (lobes* de,eloped by The (reen Buildin" Initiati,e.
The Brundtland Ceport :110/; was published by the 9orld Council on $conomic %e,elopment :9C$%;
under the title Our Common Future. The report is named a.ter (ro Aarlem Brundtland* then Prime
Minister o. @orway and chair o. the Brundtland Commission which .our years a.ter its establishment
produced the .inal report that pro,ided the classic de.inition o. sustainable de,elopment.
Carryin" capacity is a term used to describe the ma4imum population that a "i,en area o. land* or the
$arth as a whole* can support. Uisit the Carryin" Capacity @etwor at www.carryin"capacity.or" .or
more insi"hts into this concept .
%a,id PearceDs "allery o. de.initions .or sustainable de,elopment can be .ound in (lueprint for a "reen
Economy :1101; which he co7edited with Anil Marandya and $dward Barbier.
This list o. de.initions .or sustainability was compiled by the @ational Par Ser,ice and can be .ound at
From Sharachchandra LNlN 1111.
In.ormation about population and consumption is .rom the 9orld 9atch InstituteDs State o. the 9orld
reports and the Sierra Club.
From the American Association .or the Ad,ancement o. Science :AAAS; online Atlas o. Population and
$n,ironment at atlas.aaas.or"Ginde4.phpEpartZ!
In.ormation on consumption le,els is .rom the American Association .or the Ad,ancement o. Science
:AAAS; and can be .ound at atlas.aaas.or"Ginde4.phpEpartZ!
The Fourth Assessment Ceport o. the IPCC :!22/; can be .ound at
From C.B. (ordon* M. Bertram* and T.$. (raedel !22+.
From <Materials Prices %ictate Creati,e $n"ineerin"*> in the !+ May !22+ edition o. Engineeringtalk* an
online publication at www.en"ineerin"tal.comGnewsGla"Gla"12!.html
See <(lobal $n,ironmental Problems- Implications .or ?.S. Policy*> 9atson Institute .or International
Studies* Brown ?ni,ersity :January !22#;* a,ailable at
$4cerpted .rom <The Loss o. Biodi,ersity and Its @e"ati,e $..ects on Auman Aealth*> on the website o.
the Students .or $n,ironmental Awareness in Medicine* seam"lobal.comGlosso.biodi,ersity.html
From the <State o. the 9orld Fisheries and A6uaculture Ceport !22+*> Food X A"riculture 'r"ani8ation
o. the ?nited @ations. A,ailable at"GdocrepG221GA2+11eGA2+11e22.htm
The website o. the ?nited @ations Con,ention to Combat %eserti.ication is at
A "roup o. Swedish non"o,ernmental or"ani8ations maintain a website promotin" nowled"e about the
e..ects o. acid rain at www.acidrain.or"
From Costan8a* C.* et al 111/
From Uitouse* P.M.* et al 111/
As cited in <Tropical habitats disappearin" .ast* ScienceAlert Australia X @ew [ealand* June !+* !220.
A,ailable at!220!+2+71/)+27!.html
From the ?.S. Census Bureau at www.census."o,GhhesGwwwGpo,ertyGthreshldGthresh2/.html
From (ordon* %a,id !22)
From the 9orld Ban website at
The @atural Step or"ani8ationDs ?.S. branch has a website at www.naturalstep.or"
From ?pham :!222;
The ,anno$er Principles% esign for Sustainability* is a,ailable at the Mc%onou"h and Partners website*
The ICSI%GI%SA Con.erence was held in San Francisco 'ctober 1/7!2* !22/. A lin to the e,ents o.
the con.erence can be .ound at www.idsa.or"GICSI%7I%SA2/Gcon"ressGinde4.asp
As described at the ?S %epartment o. $ner"y website at www.pnl."o,Gdoesustainabledesi"nG
The shortcomin"s o. the three7le""ed stool model are addressed in a paper by @eil K. %awe and Kenneth
L. Cyan :!22#; in Conser$ation (iology.
The .ailure o. the Kyoto Protocols is co,ered by (wyn Prins and Ste,e Cayner :!22/; in an article in
As stated in Friedman :11+!;.
The Starbuc Corporation CSC website with lins to their !22/ CSC Ceport is
The ?@$P report can be .ound at
In.ormation about the CSC reportin" re6uirements established by the (lobal Ceportin" Initiati,e can be
.ound at www."lobalreportin".or"
From (oldin" :11/!;
From 9a"ner :11/1;
From Shrader7Frechette :1101;
Sustainability is in part tied to the notion that humans need to li,e within the carryin"
capacity o. the planet* which ultimately means a slowin" o. population "rowth and
reducin" per capita consumption o. resources The ability o. the human population to both
"row and increase its per capita consumption is tied directly to technolo"y* because
without a"ricultural* ener"y* and medical technolo"ies* it would not be possible .or
humans to e4ceed the planetDs carryin" capacity. Thus* technolo"y can be considered to
be one o. the core issues .aced by or"ani8ations and indi,iduals intent on applyin"
sustainability to the resolution o. many o. the worldDs most di..icult and persistent
problems. And any e..ort to analy8e technolo"y .or the suitability o. its deployment
ine,itably encounters ethical dilemmas* many o. the lined to sustainability. As noted in
a report on ethical issues o. nanotechnolo"y* <Because technolo"y structures our
e4periences and shapes how we li,e* it has enormous ethical si"ni.icance.>
9hile technolo"y is certainly one o. the challen"es .aced by sustainability* it may
pro,ide at least some partial remedies to sol,in" resource and en,ironmental problems by
.indin" ways to reduce resource consumption* emissions* and wasteL de,elopin"
chemicals* materials* and processes that are en,ironmentally beni"nL linin" natureDs
processes to human needs and de,elopmentL and main" possible the shi.t .rom non7
renewable to renewable resources as the basis .or the economy. Conse6uently
technolo"y also pro,ides its own twin7horned dilemma or parado4* bein" both a
si"ni.icant concern as well as a potential source o. solutions .or many o. the problems
bein" addressed by sustainability.
An e4cellent e4ample o. technolo"y that .its ,ery well into the sustainability .ramewor
is biomimicry. %e.ined by its ori"inator* Janine Benyus* as <the conscious emulation o.
natureDs "enius*> biomimicry pro,ides an approach to creatin" an enormous ran"e o.
materials and processes .rom nature that can be adopted in the human sphere and which
ha,e the attributes o. bein" biode"radable* ori"inatin" .rom local resources* and bein"
less harm.ul to the en,ironment.
The power.ul adhesi,es secreted by mussels* the hard
ceramic coatin"s o. seashells* and the ability o. plants to con,ert sunli"ht to other ener"y
.orms ,ia photosynthesis are e4amples o. natural system materials and processes that are
e..ecti,e and beni"n and which ha,e application in the human sphere. The de,elopment
new "eneration o. adhesi,es b Biomimicry is nothin" more than understandin" and
adoptin" the results o. &.) billion years o. trial and error by nature that has resulted in
materials and processes that run o.. the sun* are made .rom local resources* and that
biode"rade into ,aluable nutrients .or nature.
Sustainability* ethics* and technolo"y are ti"htly connected because humans ha,e choices
as to which technolo"ies to de,elop and implement. A wide ran"e o. ethical issues* many
o. them connected to sustainability* ha,e emer"ed due to the de,elopment o. a ,ast array
o. chemicalsL the alteration o. the earthDs sur.ace* waters* and atmosphere by human
acti,itiesL and o. course* the de,elopment o. newer* Whi"hD technolo"ies such as
"enetically modi.ied or"anisms* robotics* nanotechnolo"y* antibiotics* and nuclear
ener"y* to name but a .ew. Sustainability pro,ides de,elopers o. technolo"y numerous
challen"es* .rom e,aluatin" their in,entions .or their impacts on present and .uture
humans and non7humans* to the redirection o. technolo"y to ends consistent with the
sustainability .ramewor. In the .ormer* the .undamental 6uestions posed by
sustainability mi"ht be o. the .orm- %o the bene.its .ar outwei"h any impacts on humans*
other species* and the en,ironment* both immediately and o,er the lon" termE In the
latter* the 6uestions posed mi"ht be- %oes the technolo"y ha,e a precedent in natureE Is
it harmlessE
%oes it support li.e and natural systemsE
In this chapter the issues o. technolo"y and their relationship to sustainability will be
addressed* and the ethical issues o. technolo"y will be e4plored in li"ht o. their
connection to sustainability. It is clear .rom recent history that new technolo"ies o.ten
"i,e rise to new* pre,iously unnown ethical dilemmas. Clonin"* in which an e4act copy
o. a biolo"ical or"anism can be made throu"h the manipulation o. %@A .ra"ments* is a
case in point. (lenn Mc(ee o. the Bioethics Center o. the ?ni,ersity o. Pennsyl,ania
noted that* be.ore clonin" is considered permissible medicine .or human in.ertility*
society needs to resol,e many 6uestions* includin"-
1. Is clonin" unnatural sel.7en"ineerin"E
!. 9ill .ailures* such as de.ormed o..sprin"* be acceptableE
#. 9ill clonin" lead to desi"ner babies who are denied an open .utureE
&. 9ho is socially responsible .or cloned humansE
). %o clones ha,e ri"hts and le"al protectionE
These are o. course the new* "eneral ethical issues that ha,e emer"ed as a conse6uence o.
the de,elopment o. clonin". It is ar"uable whether or not all o. these ethical issues can
also be considered to .all under the umbrella o. sustainability. The possible loss o.
"enetic di,ersity caused in part by clonin"* would be o. interest in an ethics o.
sustainability. Clonin" does ha,e the potential to impact the 6uality o. li.e o. humans
and non7humans and in this sense all o. these 6uestions are appropriately addressed by
ethics centered on sustainability. 'n the other hand* 6uestions o. absolute moral ri"ht or
wron"* perhaps based on the Bible or ]uDran* may .all outside the realm o. an ethics o.
sustainability. For e4ample* some would ar"ue that clonin" is immoral on reli"ious
"rounds because (od* not man* is the author o. all li.e* and that li.e be"ins in the womb
at conception* not in a petri dish. In "eneral the new ethical 6uestions posed by the most
si"ni.icant new technolo"ies will be posed with the aim o. addressin" them in later
chapters usin" sustainability based ethical ar"uments.
Althou"h technolo"y* science* and en"ineerin" are related and o.ten used
interchan"eably* there are distinct and important di..erences worth notin" be.ore .ocusin"
on technolo"y itsel.. Science can be de.ined as the in,esti"ation o. phenomena that
humans obser,e in the natural world by usin" a .ormal approach nown as the scientific
method* to elaborate laws and principles that are uni,ersally applicable. KeplerDs
obser,ations o. planetary motion and his disco,ery o. the laws o. this motion are an
e4ample o. what would classically be described as science. Engineering is the
application o. these laws and principles* disco,ered throu"h scienti.ic methods* to
produce processes and tools* thus e4ploitin" science .or human needs. The de,elopment
o. the airplane win" was based in part on the application o. BernoulliDs principle which
described how li.t could be "enerated by air passin" o,er sur.aces where the air ,elocity
under the sur.ace could be induced to be "reater than that on top o. the sur.ace* thus
creatin" a pressure di..erence. Technology is the combination o. science and en"ineerin"
to produce the arti.acts o. human society* the computers* automobiles* airplanes* stainless
steel* and polymers that are the marers o. human society. In short* technolo"y is the
ultimate outcome o. science and en"ineerin". Interlaced with science and en"ineerin"*
technolo"y can be considered a problem7sol,in" process in which the desi"ner applies
science and en"ineerin" to mo,e .rom problem to solution. The iPhone and iPod are
e4amples where desi"ners applied science and en"ineerin" to sol,e the problem o. how
to create small de,ices to store* communicate* and display in.ormation* a weddin" o.
physics and creati,e desi"n.
And as is the case with sustainability itsel.* technolo"y has many de.initions which are
worth re,iewin" to "et a sense o. what e4actly is bein" addressed when technolo"y is
bein" mentioned. The .ollowin" are a samplin" o. de.initions o. technolo"y-
The process by which humans modi.y nature to meet their needs and wants.
-.ational )esearch Council
The range of practical, utilitarian endeavors undertaken by society to prov
ide its members
with those things perceived to be necessary
-Robert Thayer
The practical application o. nowled"e* especially in a particular area :automobile .uel7
sa,in" technolo"y;L a manner o. accomplishin" a tas especially usin" technical
processes* methods* or nowled"e :in.ormation stora"e technolo"y;L the speciali8ed
aspects o. a particular .ield o. endea,or :educational technolo"y;.
- Merriam-1ebster Online ictionary
An o.ten ased 6uestion is- what counts as technolo"yE It turns out that on closer
e4amination* there are a wide ran"e o. possible WclassesD o. technolo"y-
1. Technolo"y as ob5ects- the physical arti.acts such as cell phones and re.ri"erators
!. Technolo"y as nowled"e- the now7how o. scientists* en"ineers* and desi"ners
#. Technolo"y as acti,ities- the sills o. people such as machinists and computer
&. Technolo"y as process- .indin" solutions based on a problem
). Technolo"y as a social7technical system- the interaction o. people and arti.acts in
manu.acture and use.
Much o. the technolo"y that does and will underpin sustainability is based on science that
is still e,ol,in". A new .ield* sustainability science* is preparin" the .oundations .or
technolo"ical de,elopments that parallel the "eneral intent o. sustainability. Some o.
these endea,ors include wor on- :1; ecosystem resilience* :!; industrial ecolo"y* :#;
earth system comple4ity* :&; yield7enhancin"* land7sa,in" a"riculture* :); nature7society
interactions* :+; renewable ener"y systems and :/; biomimicry* to name but a .ew.
B,ief histo,y of technolo+y
The technolo"y people obser,e seems to be o. rather recent ori"in and indeed much o.
the technolo"y we do notice e,ol,ed in the last century. $4amples are computers*
airplanes* electronic communications o. e,ery type :tele,ision* radio* cellphones;*
nuclear power* plastics* electric power "rids* superhi"hways* nanotechnolo"y*
biotechnolo"y* "enetically modi.ied or"anisms* robotics* and in.ormation technolo"y.
Aowe,er* each o. these technolo"ies is based on other prior technolo"ies that pro,ided
the .oundation .or the contemporary technolo"ies that continually e,ol,e to support our
contemporary li.e styles. Technolo"y can be said to date bac o,er !.) million years
when the .irst e,idence o. toolmain"* the 'lduwan tools o. the late7Paleolithic period*
appeared to aid in butcherin" dead animals. In the 1
millennium B.C. the ability to
e4tract copper and use it emer"ed. It was also in this millennium that a"riculture emer"ed
as a technolo"y that enabled humans to subsist as other than hunter7"atherers. The
wheel appeared .or the .irst time in the )
millennium B.C.* bron8e around ##22 B.C.*
and iron around 1)22 B.C. The $"yptians in,ented the ramp which enabled the
construction o. the pyramids and the sail which allowed the a"e o. e4ploration to be"in.
At the same time* the ancient Chinese were in,entin" the pump* "unpowder* matches* the
ma"netic compass and the iron plou"h. The Comans* considered the "reatest en"ineers
o. the time* de,eloped roads* a6ueducts* domes* harbors and reser,oirs* the boo* "lass
blowin"* and concrete.
In Medie,al $urope :)22 A% to 1&)2 A%;* the windmill* cloc* pointed arch and cannon
were in,ented. The Cenaissance :startin" in about 1&)2 A%; e4perienced the many
in,entions o. Leonardo %aUinci* Johann (utenber"Ds mo,eable type presses* impro,ed
na,i"ation tools and ships* the pocet watch* and .lush toilets. %urin" the same time
.rame the Incas and Mayans de,eloped potatoes* corn* the calendar and reshaped the
landscape. Technolo"ical de,elopments accelerated in the 1/
century with Isaac
@ewtonDs disco,ery o. calculus and the in,ention o. the submarine* telescope* steam
turbine* addin" machine* and air pump. The 10
century saw the replacement o. human
labor by machines and the steam en"ine which re,olutioni8ed manu.acturin" and
transportation was in,ented by Thomas @ewcomen. The 11
century e4perienced the
in,ention o. useable electricity* steel* and petroleum products* the "rowth o. railways and
steam ships* and the de,elopment o. .aster and wider means o. communication. %urin"
this century* the steam locomoti,e* reaper* sewin" machine* re.ri"erator* tele"raph*
photo"raphy* bicycle* plastics* typewriter* phono"raph* automobile* diesel en"ine*
,acuum cleaner* and re,ol,er all made their appearances.
As enormous as the ad,ances o. the 11
century were* the pace o. technolo"y really
e4ploded in the !2
century as automobiles* airplanes* computers* cell phones* wireless
technolo"y* "enetic en"ineerin"* the internet* nuclear technolo"y* biotechnolo"y*
nanotechnolo"y* space tra,el* and a host o. other technolo"ies appeared. The
de,elopment o. biolo"ical* chemical* and nuclear weapons o. mass destruction also
occurred alon" with aircra.t and missiles. Based on the pattern o. the past it is probable
that the pace o. technolo"y will continue to accelerate e,en more. In the !1
century we
ha,e already seen the emer"ence o. the iPod and iPhone and a wide ran"e o. other
compact in.ormation display* stora"e and communication de,ices. The hybrid
automobile* translucent concrete* the 9ii* 3ouTube* and countless other products and
processes ha,e already emer"ed in this decade.
In short* the pattern is that* o,er human history* the pace o. technolo"ical de,elopment
has accelerated. It is probable that this pace will continue to increase* the result bein"
e,en more products* processes* and ser,ices* some desi"ned to impro,e 6uality o. li.e*
others that may support national policy and military operations. At present society is
.aced with numerous ethical issues connected to technolo"y* .rom desi"ner babies that
can be produced by %@A manipulation* to autonomous robots that can cause harm i.
control o. them is lost. Cesol,in" these ethical dilemmas is important to society and also
to the application o. the sustainability .ramewor.
Patte,ns of Technolo+y Diffusion
The di..usion o. technolo"y is o.ten described as .ollowin" an S7cur,e pattern in which
initial pro"ress in the de,elopment o. the technolo"y is slow and then once a critical mass
is reached* the technolo"y .lourishes until it is matures and has saturated the maret*
e,entually to be replaced by an e,en newer and better approach. This pattern* i. plotted
in a "raph o. time ,ersus maret penetration* would loo lie the letter <S>. The S7cur,e
was .irst proposed by $,erett Co"ers 11+! in his boo* <The %i..usion o. Inno,ation.>
In 110+ Cichard Foster* at the time a business consultant with McKinsey and Company in
@ew 3or City* applied the S7cur,e to research and de,elopment :CX%;.
Foster used
the S7cur,e as a de,ice .or helpin" CX% mana"ers understand the point in time when it
was critical to de,elop new technolo"ies and in,est in more CX% because the old
technolo"y would soon be producin" diminishin" returns. By plottin" the S7cur,es .or a
.amily o. technolo"ies* it is possible to see the "eneral pattern and timin" o. technolo"y
chan"e. For e4ample* the S7cur,es .or remo,able computer stora"e de,ices would
indicate the shi.t .rom the lar"e ) ^ inch .loppy diss to # M inch diss* then to C%s*
%U%s and now 5ump dri,es.
The S7cur,e can also help mana"ers understand the slow
pace o. technolo"y de,elopment and the relati,ely lon" la" time between scienti.ic
disco,ery and the appearance o. applications .or that technolo"y. Li"ht emittin" diodes
:L$%; which are one o. the latest li"htin" technolo"ies are rapidly replacin" compact
.luorescent li"hts* which in turn ha,e been replacin" incandescent li"hts. The red and
"reen L$%Ds which are .amiliar .rom computers and other electronic de,ices were
in,ented in 11+! by @ic Aolonya and the white ,ersion was de,eloped in 111#.
Conse6uently it too almost )2 years .rom the in,ention o. the L$% to the de,elopment
o. li"htin" technolo"y that could e4ploit this lon" lastin"* low ener"y de,ice at an
acceptable cost. The len"th o. this cycle is instructi,e* especially in this case to the
li"htin" industry* because it indicates the lon" "estation period .or emer"in" technolo"ies
and the time re6uired to mo,e a technolo"y .rom laboratory to .actory. The S7cur,es .or
remo,able computer stora"e de,ices indicate a much more rapid pace o. de,elopment
and conse6uently companies need to create new technolo"ies at a .ar .aster pace than* .or
e4ample* the li"htin" industry.
Jumpin" .rom one technolo"y or one S7cur,e to another is the ma5or problem .acin"
many industries. (et it ri"ht and the company sustains its competiti,e ad,anta"e. (et it
wron" and the company can end up in banruptcy. The ?.S. automobile industry clearly
had it wron" in decidin" to mo,e to e,er lar"er ,ans* S?UDs and Aum,eeDs in the 1112Ds
and .irst decade o. the !1
century. Japanese automaers were better able to read and
understand the situation and 5ump the S7cur,e .rom con,entional automobiles to new
technolo"ies such as hybrid automobiles. The problem with main" this 5ump can be
simply the way that companies do business. Auman and .inancial resources o.ten .low
to the di,ision o. the company sellin" the most products and not to the di,isions
de,elopin" new products* clearly a short7si"hted approach. As is the case with much o.
American industry* optimi8in" current pro.its taes precedent o,er optimi8in" lon"7term
9ith respect to sustainability* the S7cur,e is pertinent in that new technolo"ies
supportin" sustainability will ha,e to be de,eloped to replace technolo"ies that run
counter to the core ,alues o. sustainability. In particular* inherently sa.e technolo"ies
based on renewable resources* reuse and recyclin"* closin" materials loops* mimicin"
nature* restoration o. natural systems* low ener"y consumption* preser,ation o.
biodi,ersity* and re,ersin" climate chan"e ha,e to be introduced into the technolo"y
de,elopment cycles. @ot all technolo"ies will possess these attributes and conse6uently
humanind must also decide on the le,els o. ris that are appropriate and perhaps e,en
ethical. In this latter cate"ory are decisions to use nuclear power instead o. coal power.
There is a distinct ad,anta"e in miti"atin" climate chan"e by main" this shi.t but there
may be conse6uences .or .ar .uture "enerations who must deal with the impacts o.
current consumption in the .orm o. hi"hly radioacti,e nuclear waste.
The Technolo+y Pa,a)o01 2uality of Life fo, P,esent -s3 Futu,e $ene,ations
Technolo"y is clearly a two7ed"ed sword* pro,idin" opportunities to shi.t on a more
sustainable path* while at the same time presentin" serious challen"es to the entire
concept o. sustainability. As a result technolo"y presents se,eral parado4es .or
1. Technolo"y is both at the root cause o. the problems which the sustainability
.ramewor was desi"ned to address and also the potential source o. solutions. An
e4ample o. a ma5or technolo"y challen"e is that* o. the /22 new chemicals introduced
each year in the ?.S.* .ew are tested .or their to4icity and the burden is on the
"o,ernment and society to pro,e any o. them are harm.ul. In the $uropean ?nion the
re,erse is true and companies de,elopin" new chemicals are obli"ated to pro,e they are
sa.e prior to their deployment. 'n the positi,e side o. technolo"y* the de,elopment o.
wind turbines* photo,oltaics* and plant7based ethanol are pro,idin" the ability to shi.t
.rom non7renewable ener"y sources such as coal* petroleum* and natural "as to ener"y
systems based on the sun.
!. It can enable a "ood 6uality o. li.e .or present "enerations while at the same time
threaten the 6uality o. li.e .or .uture "enerations. As humans ha,e e,ol,ed* each
"eneration has sou"ht to ma4imi8e its 6uality o. li.e without re"ard .or its decisions on
.uture "enerations.
Indeed the impacts o. technolo"ical de,elopments ha,e o.ten been
unnown and the de.ault beha,ior has been to assume the ris without a .ull
understandin" o. the conse6uences. The contemporary contro,ersy o,er "enetically
modi.ied or"anisms :(M's; is a case in point. Corn that can produce its own
insecticide* BT corn* pro,ides .armers with a simple .i4 in dealin" with pests. Farmers
o.ten de,astatin" crop losses* especially in de,elopin" countries where insecticides
are e4pensi,e. Aowe,er the lon" term conse6uence o. BT7resistant insects that can
cause e,en more dama"e .or .uture "enerations is i"nored. Similar e4amples can be
.ound in the de,elopment o. chemicals* nuclear ener"y* nanotechnolo"y* clonin"* and
%eterminin" how to cope with technolo"ical de,elopment and its deployment is not an
easy matter. Charles Lindber"h had perhaps as sound a ,iew o. the role o. technolo"y in
society as anybody. Ae had a .ascination with technolo"y and his association with the
de,elopment o. the airplane has made him a metaphor .or technolo"y "rowth in the !2
century. Ais euphoria at bein" able to be able to .ly solo across the Atlantic in 11!/ in
the most technolo"ically ad,anced aircra.t e,er de,eloped was tempered by the death and
destruction o. 9orld 9ar II* lar"ely a result o. the continued e,olution o. the Spirit of St.
&ouis. Ais pro.ession and its associated technolo"y had made ,ulnerable many more
population centers and permitted the deli,ery o. nuclear weapons to end the war. Cather
than despairin" o,er the per,erse twists that had turned the technolo"y he admired into a
ma5or ,ector .or destruction and re5ectin" it* he came to the conclusion that technolo"y
was a 6uestion o. balance. Althou"h a technolo"ist at heart* Lindber"h also lo,ed nature
and he reco"ni8ed that a balance was needed between spirit and nature and the world o.
technolo"y. As Lindber"h himsel. stated it- <I lo,ed the .arm* with its wooded ri,er and
cree bans* its tilla"e and horses. I was .ascinated by the laboratoryDs ma"ic- the
intan"ible power .ound in electri.ied wires* throu"h which one could see the unseeable.
Instincti,ely I was drawn to the .arm* intellectually to the laboratory.>
In the end he
concluded that science was a means to re,eal the worin"s o. the di,ine* re,ealin" both
the cosmic and microscopic rules "o,ernin" the worin"s o. the uni,erse.
Technolo+ical O(ti*is* -e,sus Technolo+ical Pessi*is*
People "enerally ha,e one o. two opposin" ,iews when thinin" about technolo"y* and
their perception o. technolo"y dictates the le,els o. ris they are willin" to accept. So7
called technolo"ical optimists ha,e the point o. ,iew that any problem has a technical
solution* that "i,en the resources and with minimal "o,ernment re"ulation* scientists and
en"ineers will .ind a solution. They su""est that in ey areas such as .ood production*
en,ironmental 6uality* and ener"y* technolo"y will sustain 6uality o. li.e e,en as human
population increases unabated. In this school o. thou"ht* runnin" out o. oil is not a cause
.or concern because a yet as unidenti.ied source o. ener"y will be .ound. Indeed climate
chan"e* caused in part by the depletion o. oil* can also be resol,ed by technolo"ical .i4es*
.or e4ample the carbon dio4ide can be e4tracted .rom the atmosphere and stored in
ca,erns or dies can be built that will pre,ent widespread .loodin" due to risin" sea
le,els. Al,in To..ler* author o. The Third 1a$e and Future Shock and a poster child .or
technolo"ical optimism* posited the notion that technolo"ical de,elopments ha,e led to a
se6uence o. so7called Wwa,esD o,er the centuries.
The First 9a,e was a"rarian society
in which .armin" replaced hunter7"ather. The Second 9a,e was industrial society* .rom
the start o. the Industrial $,olution in the 1/
century throu"h the mid7!2
To..ler re.erred to the Third 9a,e as the post7industrial era or In.ormation A"e. Ae was
con.ident that technolo"y would increase wealth with a better li.e .or all bein" the result.
Another technolo"ical optimist was Al,in 9einber" who in,ented the phrase*
technolo"ical .i4.
Ae proposed nuclear ener"y as the substitute .or rapidly depletin"
.ossil .uels and as a source o. cheap ener"y .or de,elopin" countries* to include usin" it
to con,ert seawater into potable water. In "eneral* technolo"ical optimists .a,or the
status 6uo* they do not support chan"e that would reduce consumption* 5ust more
technolo"y to miti"ate the impacts o. consumption. They are liely to .a,or end o.
pipeline solutions rather than chan"in" the .undamental processes. For e4ample* their
.ocus would be on con,ertin" the waste .rom manu.acturin" into use.ul products instead
o. chan"in" the manu.acturin" process to eliminate waste.
Accordin" to ?ni,ersity o. Michi"an Law pro.essor James Krier* technolo"ical optimists
tend to delude humanity by predictin" the continual emer"ence o. technolo"ical
breathrou"hs at e,er7increasin" rates. As a result technolo"y can increase pollution and
permit the human population* at least .or the short term* to e4ceed planetary carryin"
Technolo"ical pessimists include such notables as the population biolo"ist Paul $hrlich
who wrote The Population (omb in 11+0 in which he predicted the world would
e4perience widespread .amine in the 11/2s. Ais remedy .or counterin" this then loomin"
catastrophic situation was population control. $hrlich also "ained notoriety .or a bet he
made with Julian Simon* a technolo"ical optimist* in 1102. Simon su""ested that i.
$hrlichDs population predictions were correct* the price o. commodities would rise o,er
time due to enormous demand .or increasin"ly scarce resources. Simon belie,ed in
human in"enuity and technolo"y* and he bet $hrlich that .or any baset o. .i,e
commodities selected by $hrlich* the total price would .all by 1112. $hrlich too the bet
and selected tin* tun"sten* copper* nicel and chrome as the commodities and purchased
F!22 worth o. each* a total o. F1*222. I. the price rose* Simon would owe $hrlich the
increased ,alue o. the commodities. I. the price .ell* $hrlich would owe Simon the
decrease in ,alue. In 1112 $hrlich wrote Simon a chec .or F)/+* the price o. all .i,e
metals had .allen. $hrlich did underestimate human in"enuity and not only did
commodity prices .all* the number o. .amines and their death toll .ell steadily durin" the
!) year period a.ter the boo was written* and with a )2R increase in world population.
At about the same time as the publication o. The Population (omb* the Club or Come
report* &imits to "rowth was published in 11/! as an e4ploration o. the conse6uences o.
e4ponential "rowth amon" .i,e ,ariables- world population* industriali8ation* pollution*
.ood production and resource depletion.
Althou"h not intended to predict .uture
resource scenarios* it did pro,ide ammunition .or its critics by indicatin" scenarios .or oil
depletion* amon" other resource issues. For oil it could be interpreted that depletion
would occur between #1 and )2 years .rom the time o. the report* that is* as early as
111!. The wild card that was i"nored by the boo was technolo"y and how it could be
used to both e4tend e4istin" resources as well as de,elop alternati,e resources.
It would seem that both technolo"ical optimists and their pessimistic counterparts ha,e it
wron"* that the truth lies somewhere between these e4tremes. $hrlich lost the bet with
Simon* indicatin" that at least .or the short term* human in"enuity could trump resource
problems. Aowe,er* the lon" term .uture is impossible to predict* but it is clear the $arth
is a .inite planet with .inite resources and at some point in time* i. population and
consumption continue to "row* collapse will occur. By usin" a reductio ad absurdum
ar"ument* i. one were to assume the current annual population "rowth rate o. about 1./R
were to continue inde.initely* there would be a human standin" in e,ery s6uare meter o.
the $arth within .i,e centuries. Clearly this is impossible* population cannot "row to this
e4tent. Similarly consumption per capita is also "rowin" at about 1./R annually and the
combination o. population "rowth and consumption would consume the entire planet in
the same si4 century time .rame. $ither population or consumption but probably both
need to be limited to permit the sustainability .ramewor* which sees to meet the needs
o. both present and .uture "enerations* to achie,e the ends .or which it was desi"ned.
%eployin" harm.ul* consumpti,e* waste.ul technolo"ies pose ethical challen"es that need
to be addressed with sustainability oriented ethical principles that ensure the results o.
technolo"y de,elopment are not deployed should they ,iolate the intent o. the
sustainability concept.
Sustainability is ine4tricably lined to technolo"y because the sustainability .ramewor is
.re6uently applied to situations that in,ol,e technolo"y. Climate chan"e has been
de.ined as bein" due to anthropo"enic e..ects* that is* it can be traced to human beha,ior*
and more speci.ically* to human beha,ior permitted by the technolo"ies we ha,e
de,eloped. Power plants and automobiles are technolo"ies that contribute directly to
climate chan"e by burnin" oil7deri,ed .uels and coal which produce carbon dio4ide as
by7products. These technolo"ies combined with technolo"ies that enhance the e4traction
o. petroleum and coal ha,e resulted in humans contributin" enormous 6uantities o.
carbon dio4ide into the atmosphere. The human population o. +.) billion annually
produces about !./ billion tons o. carbon dio4ide ,ia respiration but produces almost a
.actor o. 12 more carbon dio4ide :!1.# billion tons; annually by burnin" coal and oil. At
the same time that technolo"y is bein" identi.ied as a root cause o. climate chan"e* there
is the prospect that renewable ener"y technolo"ies and carbon stora"e or se6uestration.
$4amples are solar photo,oltaics and bio.uels that "enerate ener"y in a carbon neutral
manner. Another set o. technolo"ies under de,elopment are aimed at se6uestration by
separatin" the carbon dio4ide .rom .ossil .uel and storin" it in "eolo"ical .ormations such
as oil and "as reser,oirs and unmineable coal seams. $,en more no,el technolo"ies such
as "enetic manipulation o. trees to allow them to uptae more carbon dio4ide and
ad,anced membranes to assist in carbon dio4ide separation are bein" proposed. The
problem is that these are so7called <end7o.7pipeline> approaches that rather than chan"in"
societyDs approach to ener"y "eneration* simply attempt to dispose o. the conse6uences
in the least ob5ectionable and least costly manner. The interplay o. technolo"y and
sustainability is basically a4iomatic* they are ine4tricably coupled. Aumans
characteristically ha,e a di..icult time anticipatin" the outcomes o. de,elopin" speci.ic
technolo"ies and addressin" the conse6uences o. technolo"y. Technolo"y can be 6uite
comple4 and the ecolo"ical and human systems with which it interacts are e,en more
comple4. In addition to the issue o. both positi,e and ne"ati,e interactions o.
sustainability and technolo"y* human beha,ior plays a role* with technolo"ical optimism
,yin" with technolo"ical pessimism as the dominant .orce in mo,in" .orward.
Conse4uences of Technolo+y
@ew technolo"ies ha,e conse6uences* some o. them nown* others that are suspected*
and many that are unnown or unanticipated. In "eneral technolo"ical conse6uences can
be cate"ori8ed as 2nticipated or /nanticipated. Anticipated conse6uences can be :1;
intended and desiredL :!; not desired but common or probableL or :#; not desired and
improbable. Similarly unanticipated conse6uences can be :1; desirableL or :!;
undesirable. The de,elopment o. hybrid automobiles brin"s with it the anticipated*
intended and desirable outcomes o. reducin" the need .or petroleum* reducin" air
pollution and reducin" carbon emissions into the atmosphere. An anticipated* undesired
but probable outcome could be more automobiles on the road and more accidents
because hybrid cars will allow more miles to be dri,en. An anticipated* undesirable and
improbable outcome would be si"ni.icant issues connected with disposal o. ,ast
6uantities o. batteries needed by hybrid cars. The unanticipated conse6uences o.
technolo"y are o. course the wild card* by de.inition they occur une4pectedly. It is true
that unanticipated but desirable conse6uences can occur. There ha,e been se,eral
pleasant outcomes .rom the %@A se6uencin" o. the human "enome* .or e4ample* a richer
understandin" o. how we are all related to one another. It has also opened the doors to
relati,ely easy "enetic testin" .or predisposition to breast cancer* li,er disorders* and
many other diseases. In contrast this same technolo"y can result in unanticipated and
undesirable outcomes* .or e4ample* cherry picin" o. patients by health insurance
companies as they reduce their ris by re5ectin" people with a propensity to certain health
The reason that the conse6uences o. technolo"y* both "ood and bad* are o.ten not well
understood is that technolo"ies ha,e .eatures that mae it di..icult to comprehend their
.ull e..ects. %ietrich %orner su""ested that there are .our classes o. these .eatures that
contribute to the problem o. "raspin" the conse6uences o. technolo"y- :1; comple4ity*
:!; dynamics* :#; intransparence* and :&; i"norance and mistaen hypotheses.
Comple*ity addresses the many parts o. a system and the wide ran"e o. interconnections*
many o. which are not ob,ious and may be unnown. For e4ample* ecosystems are
e4tremely comple4 and only a small .raction o. the enormous number o. ecosystem
relationships are nown. Conse6uently* when ecosystems are disturbed by human
acti,ities* the e4tent o. the dama"e may be unnown because the interconnections are not
nown. Cobert ?lanowic8* the theoretical ecolo"ist and philosopher* upon reali8in" the
comple4ity o. ecosystems* abandoned a reductionist approach and instead de,eloped
approaches* such as ascendancy* that tried to understand ecosystems as a whole.
Ascendency is a 6uantitati,e attribute o. an ecosystem* de.ined as a .unction o. the
ecosystemOs .ood networ and is intended to capture in a sin"le inde4 the resilience o. an
ecosystem to disturbance by ,irtue o. its combined or"ani8ation and si8e. Similar
comple4ity can be .ound in ,irtually e,ery technolo"y and it presents a serious challen"e
to society in assessin" the deployment o. technolo"y. Comple4ity has e,ol,ed into a
theory o. its own baced up by new mathematical and computer modelin" techni6ues
desi"ned to assist scientists in understandin" hi"hly comple4 phenomena such as weather
ynamics describes the property o. continuous and sometimes spontaneous chan"e that
taes place in systems that o.ten cannot be .ully described and comprehended. The
mo,ement o. in.ormation across the internet* the .low o. electricity throu"h the "rid* and
the beha,ior o. hi"h7de.inition tele,isions all e4hibit dynamic beha,ior. The dynamics
o. a system increase* o.ten e4ponentially* as the number o. actors in the system increases.
For e4ample* the dynamics o. tra..ic on an interstate hi"hway increases as the number o.
dri,ers increases* each dri,er with their own dri,in" style* beha,ior* attitudes* and state
o. mind.
The .act that many o. the components o. a system cannot be seen is the property called
intransparence. The more comple4 a system is* the "reater its de"ree o. intransparence.
$cosystems* the economic system* and the internet are systems that e4hibit a hi"h le,el o.
Sometimes humans simply "et it wron" and the resultin" model is badly .lawed due to
ignorance and mistaken hypotheses. The economic collapse o. !2207!221 can be at least
in part attributed to the belie. that the economy and the demand .or housin" would
continue to "row unabated and that hi"hly speculati,e hed"e .unds and .inancial
instruments based on the "rowth in demand .or housin" would pro,ide hu"e returns to
the .inancial institutions that created them. The hypothesis that the ris o. these
instruments was mana"eable turned out to be .alse and the collapse o. bans* insurance
companies* stoc broera"es* and other .inancial institutions ensued.
9hen 5ud"in" technolo"ies* society is .aced with di..icult choices. The technolo"y
de,eloper is not the best person to as whether or not there is a reasonable le,el o. ris
associated with the technolo"y because their 5ud"ment* as the in,entor* may be clouded.
3et because in,entor best understand technolo"y* society must o.ten turn to them to
determine the liely outcomes. Cemedyin" this situation so that the conse6uences o.
technolo"y are better understood is crucial. Fran Kni"ht addressed this issue by
su""estin" .our ways that society could decrease the uncertainty and unintended
conse6uence o. technolo"y- :1; increasin" nowled"e* :!; combinin" uncertainties
throu"h lar"e7scale or"ani8ation* :#; increasin" control o. the situation* and :&; slowin"
the march o. pro"ress.
Increasin" nowled"e by additional research* studies* and independent e,aluations should
pro,ide a better understandin" o. conse6uences. Aowe,er there is no per.ect nowled"e
and any e..ort to "ain additional insi"hts will ine,itably run into time and cost
constraints. Combinin" uncertainties throu"h lar"e7scale or"ani8ation re.ers to the
potential .or pro,idin" some type o. insurance that will help protect society due to
catastrophic conse6uences. This is plausible to some de"ree because i. there are
potentially hi"h riss* the cost o. deployin" the technolo"y could be prohibiti,e and
e..ecti,ely bloc its implementation. (o,ernment can increase its control o.
technolo"ies by .actorin" in probable costs to society by imposin" ta4es that shi.t the
burden to the producers and e..ecti,ely reducin" the rate o. uptae. Finally the rate o.
chan"e can be slowed to allow more time to e..ecti,ely study and understand the
situation. In its e4treme .orm this could tae the .orm o. a moratorium that would .ree8e
de,elopment until the ris could be ade6uately studied or understood. Immediately a.ter
the clonin" o. the sheep %olly was announced in 111+* President Clinton announced a
moratorium on clonin" until more was understood about the implications o. this
Technolo+y Ris5 Assess*ent. Acce(tance an) ana+e*ent
Uirtually e,ery technolo"y is accompanied by some .orm o. ris and the assessment o.
the ris is essential .or "o,ernment and society to determine i. the technolo"y is suitable
.or deployment. The trans.ormations o. matter and ener"y that occur as a result o. the
application o. science and en"ineerin"* althou"h intended to humans bein"s* can
ha,e a wide ran"e o. conse6uences with ne"ati,e impacts* some o. which in .act dama"e
what humans in .act ,alue* .or e4ample their health. 'ccasionally a technolo"y will ha,e
clearly undesirable conse6uences* .or e4ample pesticides such as %%T that had pro.ound
impacts on natural systems and human health 7 these should be clearly a,oided. $,en
thou"h %%T is a problematic chemical* it did result in wipin" out malaria in the ?.S. and
bannin" it could result in decimated populations in less de,eloped countries. Most o.ten
technolo"y is a tradeo.. between bene.its and costs each o. which may be technical*
social* economic* andGor en,ironmental. Cis assessment and the resultin" decision to
implement or shel,e a technolo"y represent the intersection o. an ethics o. sustainability
with technolo"y. 9ei"hin" short7term* contemporary a"ainst the wel.are o.
.uture people is characteristic o. this type o. ethical decision as would be decisions that wealthier people at the e4pense o. ,ulnerable populations. Certainly the
assessment o. ris must be based in science and research* but much o. the assessment will
be statistical and the interpretation o. the probability and intensity o. impact maes it
e4tremely di..icult to 5ud"e the ris. For e4ample* pressuri8ed water reactors :P9Cs;*
the most common ,ariety o. nuclear power plant in the ?.S.* ha,e a ,ery low probability
o. a serious accident. A 11/) report by the ?.S. @uclear Ce"ulatory Commission :@CC;
put the probability o. a worst case accident with core meltdown and the .ailure o.
containment at 1 chance in billion or about 1 in 12 million .or 122 operatin" nuclear
Four years a.ter the @CC report* the Three Mile Island P9C in Pennsyl,ania
su..ered a core meltdown* callin" into 6uestion the low probabilities cited in the report.
The Chernobyl disaster o. 110+ resulted in a plume o. radiation that spread around the
world and there is still a 1/ mile radius e4clusion 8one around the reactor site.
(reenpeace maintains that o,er !22*222 deaths resulted .rom the accident and o,er &*222
cases o. thyroid cancer ha,e been attributed to the accident in the ?raine* Belarus* and
Cussia. The CMBK reactors at Chernobyl did ha,e serious desi"n .laws that are not
present in contemporary P9Cs. 3et "o,ernment* and by e4tension* society* ha,e opted
.or the bene.its o. nuclear power in spite o. the ris. Still lar"ely i"nored is the e,er
"rowin" ,olume o. waste .rom the nuclear .ission process which is stored on site at
nuclear power plants because the "o,ernment* a.ter o,er )2 years o. .utile attempts* has
yet to mae a decision as to the lon" term stora"e strate"y .or this waste.
Presumin" the conse6uences o. a technolo"y ha,e been assessed* the result will be a
ran"e o. nown outcomes .rom its deployment* some desirable and some undesirable.
The probability is that there are also a number o. unnown conse6uences* some o. which
may also be undesirable. The undesirable outcomes are those that are o. concern to
society and despite the potential .or ne"ati,e results o. a technolo"y* the ma5ority o.
staeholders may decide to permit its adoption. Cis is the probability o. a ne"ati,e
conse6uence causin" widespread dama"e or turnin" into a disaster. 9hen society
"ambles that a technolo"y will ha,e a .a,orable outcome* it is decidin" the ris is
acceptable. Technolo"y is o. course not the only source o. ris. 9here people li,e* their
li.estyles* where they wor* how they tra,el* what they consume* and the waste they
"enerate all ha,e ris associated with them. @atural disasters* terrorism* and the weather
all ha,e riss associated with them. But ris associated with technolo"y is a special class
o. ris because* unlie the ris .rom natural disasters* ris .rom technolo"y is a,oidable i.
society decides the ris is too "reat. Additionally the potential widespread impacts o.
technolo"y can be widespread* e,en "lobal* and there can be a si"ni.icant amount o.
uncertainty. (enetically modi.ied corn seeds can de,elopin" countries because
o. the possibility o. reduced reliance on pesticides and herbicides* and reduced water and
ener"y re6uirements. Aowe,er the potential ris is enormous because .ewer strains o.
corn are bein" planted* pests and weeds are liely to adapt to the "enetically en"ineerin"
strate"y* resultin" in WsuperpestsD and Wsuperweeds*D and the .armer becomes dependent
on .ewer sources o. seed* all o. which are patented. Additionally "enetically modi.ied
crops cross7pollinate with natural crops* with the result that the natural crops may
e..ecti,ely disappear. The impacts on the lar"er planetary ecosystem are totally
unnown. A possible unnown ne"ati,e ris that has been speculated but not pro,en is
the e..ect o. "enetically modi.ied corn on bene.icial insects* .or e4ample* butter.lies. A
study by Cornell ?ni,ersity showed that a "ene .or a bacterial to4in inserted into corn
pro,ed poisonous to monarch lar,ae that ate the lea,es o. those plants. Similarly
soybeans that had been modi.ied with a "ene .rom the Bra8il nut tri""ered aller"ic
reactions in people who were aller"ic to nuts. In spite o. these riss* the bene.its o. more
robust crops with hi"her yield are resultin" in increased sales o. "enetically modi.ied
seeds each year. Staeholders may on their perception o. ris. Acceptance o.
"enetically modi.ied or"anisms :(M's; is more widely accepted in the ?.S. than in
$urope* Korea* and Japan with /)R o. ?.S. corn now bein" "enetically modi.ied
The process o. mo,in" .rom reco"ni8in" ris to acceptin" it is a comple4 path because it
in,ol,es a process o. main" and 5usti.yin" a 5ud"ment about the tolerability or
acceptability o. a "i,en ris. Tolerable means that the technolo"y is worth pursuin" due
to its bene.its while acceptable implies that the riss ha,e been reduced to the lowest
possible le,el. The acceptance o. ris is the most di..icult and contro,ersial step in
deployin" technolo"ies. Cis associated with (M's .or many countries is considered to
be tolerable because .or them* the bene.its .ar outwei"h the costs as they percei,e them.
@uclear power is certainly risy to present and .uture "enerations due to potential
accidents and the need .or lon"7term stora"e o. waste .rom spent uranium .uel rods. The
ris o. an accident has certainly been minimi8ed and there.ore as a technolo"y its
deployment is almost uni,ersally permitted.
'nce the ris has been assessed and accepted* ris mana"ement is needed to ensure that
the ris o. harm does not increase and that unintended ne"ati,e conse6uences are
detected and handled. Climate chan"e is an unanticipated ne"ati,e conse6uence o. .ossil
.uel dri,en power "eneration and the international community is stru""lin" to mana"e a
wide ,ariety o. options proposed to deal with this ,ery serious "lobal problem. Seed
bans ha,e been established to preser,e the "enetic material o. .ood crops and other
species in the e,ent o. catastrophic e,ents such as natural disasters and war* as well as to
ha,e them a,ailable should the now pre,alent "enetically modi.ied seeds pro,e to be
Alte,nati-e. A((,o(,iate an) Sustainable Technolo+y
'ne approach to mana"in" technolo"y ris is to allow those that are inherently people
and en,ironmentally .riendly to ha,e an ad,anta"e in their deployment. Throu"h the use
o. re"ulation* .ees* ta4es* or incenti,es* society can e4ercise control o,er which
technolo"ies are permitted to enter the maretplace* permittin" only those that are ,ery
low ris to be implemented. Two cate"ories o. technolo"ies that are o.ten described as
ha,in" these attributes are alternati$e technology and appropriate technology.
Alternati,e technolo"y re.ers to those types o. technolo"ies that are inherently .riendly
to the en,ironment. Technolo"ies that mimic nature or that rely on natural processes are
o.ten labeled as alternati,e technolo"ies. Technolo"ies that use resources sparin"ly*
.oster recyclin"* use renewable and local resources* and limit the use o. .ossil .uels are
e4amples o. alternati,e technolo"ies. Compostin"* solar hot water heatin"* anaerobic
di"estions* bio.uels* and wind ener"y "enerators are e4amples o. technolo"ies that would
.it this description. The term was .irst used by Peter Aarper .rom the Centre .or
Alternati,e Technolo"y in 9ales in the 11/2s and is still commonly used as label to
describe technolo"ies that are relati,ely beni"n.
Appropriate technolo"y includes the concept o. alternati,e technolo"y but in addition to
considerin" the en,ironmental attributes o. a technolo"y* also considers its ethical*
cultural* social* and economic aspects. It can to technolo"ies that are either the most
e..ecti,e .or addressin" problems in de,elopin" countries or that are socially and
en,ironmentally responsible in industrial countries. In the conte4t o. de,elopin"
countries* it o.ten re.ers to the simplest type o. technolo"y that can be used to accomplish
a "i,en end* with low capital cost bein" an ob5ecti,e. This is in contrast to the comple4
and o.ten capital intensi,e technolo"ies pre,alent in the industrial world. Appropriate
technolo"y should not be con.used with low technolo"y. Solar photo,oltaic panels that
are used to power ni"httime li"htin" systems in rural India in support o. microeconomic
,entures would be considered appropriate. Compact .luorescent bulbs and L$% li"hts
can also be considered to be appropriate technolo"y because they use minimal ener"y* are
durable* and pro,ide a substitute .or otherwise dan"erous and unhealthy li"htin" systems.
Food production systems that in,ol,e intensi,e "ardenin"* hydroponics* no7till .armin"*
permaculture* and drip irri"ation and that rely on simple tools such as scythes would .it
the description o. appropriate technolo"y. Amory Lo,ins* $.F. Schumacher* and
Bucminster Fuller are considered to be amon" the ori"inators o. this concept* alon" with
others .rom around the world* particularly in India where the con,er"ence o.
microbanin" and appropriate technolo"y is impro,in" the 6uality o. li.e o. otherwise
destitute ,illa"es. Mahatma (andhi is o.ten associated with the emer"ence o. the
appropriate technolo"y mo,ement.
$ach new technolo"y brin"s with it new and o.ten surprisin" dilemmas* e,en the
possibility o. humans eliminatin" themsel,es due to a less than .ull comprehension o. the
potential impacts o. technolo"y. @ew technolo"ies are emer"in" at an accelerated pace*
compoundin" the problem o. tryin" to cope with the e..ects o. more mature technolo"ies.
Bill Joy noted this problem in !222 in a well7now article in 1ired ma"a8ine in which he
addressed some o. the potentially enormous problems .acin" humanind as the result o.
robotics* nanotechnolo"y* and "enetic en"ineerin".
In the end he su""ested that the
only answer to the dan"ers posed by technolo"y was not to de,elop them at all* that the
only answer is to limit the pursuit o. certain types o. nowled"e. Ae re.erred to this as
relin=uishment* and noted that it would re6uire a sort o. Aippocratic 'ath .or scientists
and en"ineers in which they swear alle"iance to a stron" code o. ethics whose core ,alue
is to do no harm. The ethical dilemmas posed by so7called (@C :"enetics* nano and
robotics; technolo"ies* alon" with se,eral newer issues are discussed in the .ollowin"
Biotechnolo+y an) $enetic En+inee,in+
Biotechnolo"y is a term that co,ers a comple4 array o. technolo"ies such as clonin" and
"enetic en"ineerin". In "eneral* biotechnolo"y is technolo"y based on biolo"y*
especially when used in a"riculture* .ood science* and medicine. It is the use o. li,in"
or"anisms or their products to mae or modi.y a substance and biotech processes ran"e
.rom simple to hyper7comple4 technolo"ies. An e4ample o. simple biotechnolo"y in
action is a beer brewery where hops and malts are heated and then combined with yeast
that trans.orms the in"redients into an alcoholic be,era"e. The other end o. the
biotechnolo"y spectrum is "enetic en"ineerin"* a laboratory techni6ue used by scientists
to chan"e the %@A o. li,in" or"anism* also re.erred to as recombinant %@A techni6ues.
And althou"h "enetic en"ineerin" is 5ust one o. se,eral biotechnolo"ies* because o. the
enormous potential .or new crops and enhanced species* not to mention the .uture
possibility o. so7called Wdesi"ner children*D "enetic en"ineerin" is 6uicly dominatin" the
biotechnolo"y sphere.
Biotechnolo"y is laced with such a wide ,ariety o. ethical issues that a separate branch o.
ethics nown as bioethics has e,ol,ed to .ocus speci.ically on the myriad issues that ha,e
emer"ed as human understandin" o. "enetics* biolo"y* and chemistry ha,e increased o,er
time. The power to read and modi.y "enetic structures alone brin"s myriad potential
problems to li"ht. It is liely* .or e4ample* that parents o. the not too distant .uture will
be able to create desi"ner babies whose traits are selected .rom a menu. In addition to the
.undamental moral problem o. humans playin" with the code o. li.e* there are the
problems o. .uture "enerations comprised o. indi,iduals who* rather than e,ol,in" and
emer"in" as a conse6uence o. random e,ents* are instead the result o. deliberate
manipulation. The result can be that human di,ersity will This has already
occurred in a"riculture where corn ,arieties dwindled .rom se,eral thousand natural
species to under 12 ma5or "enetically en"ineered species. The desi"n o. corn seeds by
a"ro7business "iants such as Monsanto ultimately results in a loss o. both crop di,ersity
and biodi,ersity* and results in a weaenin" o. the resistance o. the .ood supply to pests
and weather. The same thinin" can be e4tended to the desi"n o. human babies H
inter.erence with "enetic codes may ha,e short term to the parents who obtain
e4actly the baby they wanted but o,er time results in a less di,erse human race.
(enetic en"ineerin" is a ma5or biotechnolo"y endea,or which taes "enes and se"ments
o. %@A .rom one species and puts them into other species. (enetic en"ineerin" pro,ides
the techni6ues needed to remo,e* modi.y* or add "enes to a %@A molecule in order to
chan"e the in.ormation it contains. The result is the alteration o. the "enetic material o.
cells or or"anisms in order to mae them capable o. main" new substances or
per.ormin" new .unctions. Supporters o. this technolo"y claim it can lead to more
abundant .ood supplies* ine4pensi,e medicines* and cures .or currently untreatable
diseases. Its detractors su""est that it would lead to pla"ues and diseases which may be
catastrophic or other en,ironmental disasters. The potential downside is especially
dauntin" because new li.e .orms whose beha,ior and conse6uences would be lar"ely
unnown may ha,e been introduced either accidentally or deliberately into the biosphere.
(enetic en"ineerin" o. a"ricultural products* to produce "enetically modi.ied :(M; crops
brin"s with it se,eral ethical challen"es. First* is the possibility o. creatin" so7called
WFranen7.oodsD that will threaten the en,ironment. They may also be harm.ul to human
health* .or e4ample* aller"ic reactions. For e4ample* splicin" peanut "enes into other
plant %@A to produce an enhanced species has already been shown to a..ect people with
peanut aller"ies. The modi.ied bacterial "enes o. (M crops allow them to mae their
own pesticides which may result in the death o. harmless insects such as monarch
butter.lies. Amory and L. Aunter Lo,ins articulated the problem with (M or"anisms in
an article published in !222-
<Traditional a"ronomy trans.ers "enes between plants whose inship lets them
interbreed. The new botany mechanically trans.ers "enes between or"anisms that
can ne,er mate naturally- An anti.ree8e "ene .rom a .ish becomes part o. a
strawberry. Such patchwor* done by people whoO,e seldom studied e,olutionary
biolo"y and ecolo"y* uses so7called M"enetic en"ineerin"M 7 a double misnomer. It
mo,es "enes but is not about "enetics. M$n"ineerin"M implies understandin" o. the
causal mechanisms that lin actions to e..ects* but nobody understands the
mechanisms by which "enes* interactin" with each other and the en,ironment*
e4press traits. Trans"enic manipulation inserts .orei"n "enes into random
locations in a plantOs %@A to see what happens. ThatOs not en"ineerin"L itOs the
industriali8ation o. li.e by people with a narrow understandin" o. it. The results*
too* are more worrisome than those o. mere mechanical tinerin"* because unlie
mechanical contri,ances* "enetically modi.ied or"anisms reproduce* "enes
spread* and mistaes literally tae on a li.e o. their own. Aerbicide7resistance
"enes may escape to mae Msuperweeds.M Insecticide7main" "enes may ill
beyond their intended tar"ets. Both these problems ha,e already occurredL their
ecolo"ical e..ects are not yet nown. Amon" other recent unpleasant surprises*
spliced "enes seem unusually liely to spread to other or"anisms. Canola pollen
can wa.t spliced "enes more than a mile* and common crops can hybridi8e with
completely unrelated weeds. (ene7spliced Bt insecticide in corn pollen ills
monarch butter.liesL that insecticide* unlie its natural .orebear* can build up in
soilL and corn borersO resistance to it is apparently a dominant trait* so planned
anti7resistance procedures wonOt wor.
It could "et worse. %i,ision into species seems to be natureOs way o. eepin"
patho"ens in a bo4 where they beha,e properly :they learn that itOs a bad strate"y
to ill your host;. Trans"enics may let patho"ens ,ault the species barrier and
enter new realms where they ha,e no idea how to beha,e. ItOs so hard to eradicate
an unwanted wild "ene that weO,e intentionally done it only once 7 with the
smallpo4 ,irus.>
'n the other side o. the debate* proponents o. (M crops say they do not need to be
labeled because they are not di..erent in any important way .rom their natural
counterparts. I. the Lo,insD are correct* the claims o. the proponents cannot be belie,ed.
And althou"h the ris to society may be "reat* this technolo"y is already bein" deployed
and probably causin" ne"ati,e impacts. Aerein lies one o. the "reat ethical 6uandaries
that an ethics o. sustainability must help resol,e.
A second ethical issue .rom (M crops concerns attempts to encoura"e poor .armers in
de,elopin" countries to "row (M crops. Corporations such as Monsanto and @o,artis
own patents on these altered plants and the .armers usin" them must buy new seeds each
year at premium prices rather than reusin" seeds .rom the pre,ious yearDs crop as they
ha,e traditionally done. Maretin" (M seeds to de,elopin" countries increases the
pro.its .or multinational companies while not addressin" the po,erty and ine6uality that
are the real roots o. world hun"er. Biotechnolo"y proponents claim that (M crops
the worldDs best chance to end or "reatly reduce hun"er and malnutrition* pointin" to* .or
e4ample* <"olden rice*> a "enetically en"ineered ,ariety desi"ned to pro,ide e4tra
,itamin A* thus pre,entin" blindness caused by a de.iciency o. this ,itamin* that is
widespread amon" the poor in de,elopin" countries.
An additional problem with "enetic en"ineerin" may be une6ual access to some
bene.icial therapies* with the rich able to .rom "ene treatments .or diseases while
the poor lan"uish without such treatments* much less con,entional dru"s. (ene therapy
in which manu.actured ,iruses can deli,er repairs to somatic cells with "enetic de.ects* is
main" pro"ress in correctin" "enetic diseases in .ully "rown humans* a remarable
Based on past history it seems doubt.ul that e,eryone will ha,e access to the
bene.its o. this technolo"y.
Venotransplantation is another biotechnolo"y that allows animal or"ans to be
transplanted into humans to help the medical community deal with the shorta"e o. human
or"ans a,ailable .or transplant. In addition to the immunolo"ical issues* there are sa.ety
concerns .or whole populations* due to the possibility o. in.ection o. an or"an recipient
by an animal ,irus* and animal ri"hts issues* that result in ethical debate o,er the topic o.
4enotransplantation. As a result* there are also many re"ulatory hurdles to o,ercome*
be.ore 4enotransplantation becomes e,eryday practice. The A1@1 swine .lu outbrea o.
!221 is a "rim reminder that when "enes cross species boundaries* the result can be
dan"erous and the conse6uences se,ere.
The American physicist Cichard Feynman is credited with the notion o. manipulatin"
indi,idual atoms and molecules to mae desi"ner molecules in a speech he made at a
meetin" o. the American Physical Society at Caltech on %ecember !1* 11)1. Ae
described a process o. creatin" tools that could manu.acture e,er smaller ,ersions o.
themsel,es* ultimately reachin" the si8e o. indi,idual molecules and atoms that could be
rearran"ed by the smallest set o. tools. The term nanotechnology was .irst used by
Pro.essor @orio Tani"uchi in 11/& in which he de.ined it as processin" sin"le atoms or
molecules .or some end purpose such as creatin" new materials. $ric %re4ler
contributed the .irst popular ,olume on nanotechnolo"y in 110+ with his writin" o.
Engine of Creation% The Coming Era of .anotechnology. The theoretical became the
practical in the mid71102Ds with the de,elopment o. tools such as the Scannin" Tunnelin"
Microscope :STM; which contributed to the obser,ation and actual manipulation o.
matter at the atomic scale.
Lie biotechnolo"y* nanotechnolo"y encompasses a wide ran"e o. technolo"ies and
processes. It can be de.ined as the branch o. en"ineerin" that deals with thin"s smaller
than 122 nanometers* about 1G122*222
the thicness o. a human hair. At this scale the
materials bein" manipulated are indi,idual molecules* the basic buildin" blocs o. the
material world. The materials and de,ices bein" created are also at this tiny scale.
Fundamentally new compounds can be created. For e4ample* carbon in its pure state
e4ists in two .orms- diamonds and "raphite* the latter bein" the stu.. o. pencil lead. By
rearran"in" the carbon atoms into a no,el structure* a new materials* carbon nanotubes
can be created that are thirty times stron"er than steel but that ha,e only one7si4th its
wei"ht. Carbon nanotubes were one o. the .irst practical results o. nanotechnolo"y and
they are ubi6uitous in e,eryday products such as tennis rac6uets* aircra.t win"s* and
bicycle .rames. Materials at nanoscale demonstrate properties that do not e4ist at lar"er
scale. 'ne property is that materials at smaller scale are more reacti,e than at lar"er
scale. Copper* an opa6ue material* becomes translucent at nanoscale. Similarly a solid
material such as "old becomes a li6uid and a stable material such as aluminum becomes
combustible. The result is an enormous potential .or truly new and impro,ed products.
@ew sunscreens made o. restructured titanium dio4ide pro,ide ?U protection without the
pasty loo o. pre,ious sunscreens. MooreDs law which predicts that the speed o.
microprocessors will double e,ery !& months is now dri,en by nanotechnolo"y which
can shrin components to the scale needed to maintain this technolo"ical tra5ectory. The
result is the appearance o. nanotechnolo"y in ,irtually e,ery consumer electronic de,ice*
.rom MP# players* to cell phones* di"ital cameras* ,ideo "ame consoles* and o. course*
computers. @anotechnolo"y can include the ability to de,ise sel.7replicatin" machines*
robots* and computers that are molecular si8ed* nano7deli,ery systems .or dru"s* and
6uantum and molecular computin" 7 the ne4t "eneration o. computation. Accordin" to
Pro.essor Mar 9elland o. the Cambrid"e @anoscale Science Laboratory the results o.
nanotechnolo"y will e4tend much .urther. > In .i,e yearsO time* batteries that only last
three days will be lau"hable and in 12 yearsO time* the way medical testin" is done now
will be considered crude. To say that in .i,e years* an iPod will ha,e 12 times its current
stora"e capacity will be conser,ati,e. In the not7so7distant .uture* a terabit o. data 7
e6ui,alent to 12 hours o. .ine 6uality uncompressed ,ideo 7 will be stored on an area the
si8e o. a posta"e stamp.>
As is the case with other technolo"ies* nanotechnolo"y has positi,e and ne"ati,e
potential. It promises better materials* impro,ed anti7cancer dru"s* more power.ul
computers* better detectors .or anthra4* and more e..icient solar cells. Aowe,er* in spite
o. the promise o. contributin" to a better 6uality o. li.e* the riss o. nanotechnolo"y*
althou"h suspected to be non7tri,ial* are ,irtually unnown. Little e..ort has been
e4pended on characteri8in" the riss o. nanotechnolo"y .or humans or other species. The
small si8e o. nanoparticles means that when inhaled* they can penetrate into tissues* the
bloodstream* and cells .ar more e..iciently and 6uicly than .or typical airborne
particulates. There is the potential .or them to end up in the en,ironment* soil* .ood* and
many other places that can a..ect health and li.e. A .undamental issue such as how to
measure e4posure to nanoparticles is still unnown. The process o. determinin" the ris
.or chemicals is .airly well established and in,ol,es measurin" the e..ects o. e4posure to
a "i,en chemical. $4posure to chemicals is based on the e..ects on or"anisms o. a
speci.ic mass or WdoseD o. the chemical .or a "i,en duration. Based on the dose7time
scenario* the health e..ects o. a "i,en chemical can be determined. Typically cancer*
muta"enic e..ects* and pulmonary e..ects are determined .or chemicals thou"ht to ha,e
ha8ardous potential. For nanoparticles it may be that sur.ace area* not mass* is a better
measurement o. e4posure and the e..ects o. e4posure. Aowe,er at present* no accepted
method o. determinin" the health impacts o. nanoparticles has been de,eloped and
accepted. Conse6uently there is no accepted methodolo"y .or assessin" the impacts o.
nanoparticles on human health* as well as their impacts on other li.e .orms. The
nanometer si8e o. these particles means that they can contribute to the mutation o. %@A*
directly impactin" the e,olution o. li,in" or"anisms. These are serious issues and
problems that remain ne"lected in spite the rapid deployment o. nanotech products. In
the "lobal maret* manu.actured "oods that incorporate nanotechnolo"y are e4pected to
increase in ,alue .rom F1)2 billion in !220 to F!.+ trillion in !21&.
Clearly the manu.acturin" o. de,ices at molecular scale can be tedious and e4pensi,e so
the notion o. sel.7replicatin" molecular de,ices has been proposed in which the desired
molecules mae copies o. themsel,es .rom local resources. Sel.7replication is not in and
o. itsel. no,el H nature is .ull o. e4amples o. sel.7replication. $4tendin" this to molecules
as a "eneral property is the no,el aspect o. this .orm o. sel.7replication. There is ample
concern o,er the potential conse6uences o. sel.7replicatin" and nano7scale materials and
de,ices. Se,eral conse6uences o. sel.7replicatin" de,ices ha,e been proposed with
catchy names lie the W"rey "ooD and the W"reen "ooD problems. $ric %re4ler coined the
term "rey "oo in his boo* Engines of Creation* to describe how the sel.7replicatin"
attribute could "o awry and lead to potentially catastrophic conse6uences i. the ability o.
nanostructures to mae copies o. themsel,es could not be turned o... The conse6uence
would be the consumption o. all matter on earth as the sel.7replicatin" nanorobots turn all
matter into copies o. themsel,es.
Tain" the notion o. out7o.7 control replication into the world o. biolo"y where new li.e
.orms are created ,ia nanotechnolo"y approaches* a hypothetical outcome could be the
W"reen "ooD problem in which the new li.e .orms dominate and destroy other .orms o.
li.e. This is an on"oin" synthesis o. biotechnolo"y and nanotechnolo"y in which the
techni6ues o. nanotechnolo"y are allowin" the rearran"ement o. li.e associated
molecules. The "reen "oo problem becomes especially interestin" when describin" how
human researchers can manipulate %@A . An e4cellent description o. biolo"ical
nanotechnolo"y was produce by the $TC (roup which they call <(od .or %ummies.> In
this short synopsis o. pro"ress in %@A manipulation* they noted that may scientists now
belie,e that it is now possible to-
Cra.t synthetic %@A .rom the blueprint pro,ided by a natural or"anism.
?se the synthetic %@A to create uni6ue li,in" or"anisms.
Construct new arti.icial amino acids that can be built into uni6ue proteins.
Add a letter to %@A :there are now A* C* T* and ( and <F> could be added.
<9rite> %@A code in much the same way pro"rammers write so.twarme.
?se %@A to build nano7machines capable o. e4ponential sel.7assembly.
%esi"n e4ponentially sel.7assemblin" nanomachines that can become motors*
pistons* twee8ers and so on* .or manu.acturin" processes.
$TC reported that researchers at Stony Broo7@ew 3or synthesi8ed the /*)22 letters o.
the polio,irus "enome usin" published in.ormation and o.. the shel.* commercially
a,ailable %@A material. Clearly there appears to be the potential to combine ,iruses
with catalysts and protein molecules to allow the ,irus to be assembled. Thus the <(od
.or %ummies> title as humans now ha,e the apparent power to de,elop li.e .orms.
In addition to the impacts nanotechnolo"y is ha,in" on biotechnolo"y* it is also ha,in"
pro.ound impacts elsewhere- in.ormation technolo"y* computer science* robotics and
co"niti,e science* to name but a .ew.
So dan"erous are the possible outcomes .rom nanotechnolo"y that the Pro5ect .or
$mer"in" @anotechnolo"ies :P$@; was .ormed as a result o. a collaboration o. the
9oodrow 9ilson International Center .or Scholars and the Pew Charitable to identi.y
"aps in nowled"e about nanotechnolo"ies and to close them. In A P$@ report dated
!221* the social and ethical issues o. nanotechnolo"y were laid out to illuminate the .ull
ran"e o. issues that society could .ace as a conse6uence o. deployin" nanotechnolo"ies.
The report or"ani8ed the social and ethical issues into a typolo"y consistin" o. :1; social
conte4t issues* :!; contested moral issues* :#; technocultural issues* :&; .orm o. li.e
issues* and :); trans.ormational issues. ?nder the cate"ory o. technocultural issues* some
that are appropriate to discussions o. an ethical screen .or nanotechnolo"y are the
A tendency to .a,or technolo"ical .i4es o,er comprehensi,e solutions
A tendency to treat problematic e..ects rather than address their underlyin" causes
Techno7hubris* or o,er7estimation o. our ability to predict and control technolo"y
:particularly in comple4 systems;
Techno7determinism* or o,erstatement o. the e4tent to which technolo"y dri,es
Techno7optimism* or o,er7con.idence in the ine,itable "oodness o. technolo"y
and its capacity to sol,e social and en,ironmental problems
Alienation .rom nature* that is* detrimental technolo"ical mediation .or
interactions and relationships between people and nature
Robotics. Co*(ute,s. an) Info,*ation Technolo+y
As technolo"ies* robotics* computers* and in.ormation technolo"y are all ti"htly
interwo,en. All three are dependent on microprocessors and pro"rammin" and unlie
biotechnolo"y and nanotechnolo"y* the outcomes o. these technolo"ies* with some
e4ceptions* are ti"htly controlled by humans throu"h the so.tware they create. Se,eral
new .ields o. ethics ha,e emer"ed to address the wide ,ariety o. ethical problems that
ha,e emer"ed as a conse6uence o. these technolo"ies* amon" them roboethics* computer
ethics* and in.ormation ethics. Althou"h these .ields are under the control o. humans
throu"h the pro"rams they write* the potential .or autonomous action by computers and
robots puts the decision in the hands o. the de,ice. And in some cases the computers and
robots are desi"ned to learn and adapt* a process that can ha,e unintended conse6uences
because o. pro"rammin" comple4ity and the unpredictable outcomes when machines .ace
unanticipated situations. This section will .ocus on robotics because they are a .usion o.
computers* machines* and in.ormation stora"e and manipulation.
The ethical issues o. robotics were .irst raised by Isaac Asimo, and John Campbell in
11&2 when they .ormulated the Laws o. Cobotics. At the time o. the .ormulation o. these
Laws* robots did not e4ist* and computers were also se,eral years away .rom reali8ation.
Asimo, had "rown weary o. the stories o. Franenstein and other similar monsters* a plot
that always re,ol,ed the creation and destruction o. the biolo"ical robot by its creator.
As a youn" man in the 11!2Ds he wrote stories about machine robots created by
en"ineers* not as he put it* Wblasphemers.D The Laws o. Cobotics were created to address
the potential .or robots to harm people and .irst appeared in his .ourth short story about
robots* <Cunaround.>
Interestin"ly* the absence o. computer technolo"y did not deter
Asimo,* he re.erred to the intelli"ent architecture o. the robot as <platinum iridium
positronic brains.> Ae modi.ied the Laws in 110) by addin" the [eroth Law which
ensured that humanity had hi"her priority .or protection than indi,idual humans. The
complete 110) ,ersion o. the Laws o. Cobotics are as .ollows-
[eroth Law- A robot may not in5ure humanity* or* throu"h inaction* allow humanity to
come to harm.
First Law- A robot may not in5ure a human bein"* or* throu"h inaction* allow a human
bein" to come to harm.
Second Law- A robot must obey orders "i,en it by human bein"s* e4cept where such
orders would con.lict with the First Law.
Third Law- A robot must protect its own e4istence as lon" as such protection does not
con.lict with the First or Second Law.
Cybor"s* also .ound in science .iction stories* are potential .uture ,ariants o. robots*
either machine7enhanced humans or biolo"ically enhanced machines. The increasin"
sophistication and use o. arti.icial limbs* heart pacemaers* and other de,ices could
potentially result in cybor"s. Indeed some science .iction writers speculate it is the .ate
o. the human race to become cybor"s* particularly as it attempts to e4tend its li.etime*
increase its speed and stren"th* and to increase its percei,ed 6uality o. li.e. There is a
lon" history o. dru"7use* enhancement* and sur"ery .or these and other purposes and
there appears to be no barrier .or to the inclusion o. machinery as part o. the up"rade
It should be noted that the audience .or roboethics should not be the robot and the
arti.icial ethics represented by the Laws o. Cobotics* but the human ethics o. the robotsD
desi"ners* manu.acturers and users. 'ne o. the staeholders in the world o. robotics is the
military and there are concerns about the possible use o. military robots a"ainst some
populations and problems connected with biorobotics* implantations and human
au"mentation. It is absolutely clear that without a deep rootin" o. roboethics in society*
the premises .or the implementation o. an arti.icial ethics in the robotsD control systems
will be missin". Some other ethical issues that are emer"in" out o. the .ield o. robotics*
many o. which are also common to computer and in.ormation technolo"y* are-
%ual use technolo"y :e,ery technolo"y can be used and misused;L
Anthropomorphi8ation o. the machinesL
Aumani8ation o. the humanGmachine relationship :co"niti,e and a..ecti,e bonds
toward machines;L
Technolo"y addictionL
%i"ital %i,ide* a socio7technolo"ical "ap :per a"es* social layer* per world areas;L
Fair access to technolo"ical resourcesL
$..ects o. technolo"y on the "lobal distribution o. wealth and powerL
$n,ironmental impact o. technolo"y.
The de,elopment o. military robots brin"s with it an e,en wider ran"e o. dilemmas*
especially with the deployment o. autonomous robots that are desi"ned to mae decisions
and destroy the enemy. This becomes e,en more complicated in todayDs war.are
en,ironment with the close pro4imity o. ci,ilians to military units and o.ten the lac o.
uni.orms or other distin"uishin" marin"s that di..erentiate military .orces .rom the
ci,ilian population. The use o. Predator drones and smart bombs by American .orces in
A."hanistan has caused considerable contro,ersy due to the lar"e number o. ci,ilian
casualties and collateral dama"e. It should be noted that neither o. these two technolo"ies
are .ully autonomous* they are both under direct human control. 'ne o. the ethical issues
posed .or .uture autonomous military robots is the potential that they may re.use orders
based on their desi"n. For e4ample* a commander orders a robot to attac a house nown
to contain insur"ents but the robot is e6uipped with ad,anced sensors that can see
throu"h the walls. I. the robot detects children inside the buildin" and re.uses the order
because it is pro"rammed with a Cule o. $n"a"ement that instructs it to minimi8e ci,ilian
casualties* what has priority* the direct order o. the commander or the pro"rammed
instructions "i,en to the robotE And i. robots can re.use an order* does this mean that
soldiers can also re.use a similar orderE %ilemmas lie this abound when it comes to
addressin" the deployment o. autonomous military robots. 9hat ratio o. ci,ilian to
military casualties are permitted in an operationE 9hat i. a hi"h ,alue combatant is
detected* what is the ma4imum number o. ci,ilian deaths that are permittedE
%iscriminatin" between acti,e and wounded combatants could be another challen"e .or a
robot roamin" the battle.ield. Can a robotDs controls be o,erridden in the e,ent a robot
re.uses an order based on its built7in rulesE There is also the issue o. proli.eration. 'nce
the ?.S. deploys autonomous military robots that pro,ide a competiti,e ed"e* other
countries will desi"n and deploy their own ,ersions and the arms ba8aar would ha,e yet
another product to sell. Finally there is the 6uestion o. the inherent ,alue o. a robot. At
what point does the robot ha,e ri"htsE The notion o. so7called Kantian robots that are
autonomous* moral a"ents with an ability to learn* dramatically increases the scope o.
problematic 6uestions that ha,e to be answered.
Coboethics* as it is emer"in"* addresses three distinct issues- :1; Aow humans mi"ht act
act ethically throu"h or with robotsL :!; Aow to desi"n robots to act ethically ad whether
robots could actually be truly ethical a"entsL and :#; The ethical relationships between
humans and robots. Ce"ardin" the third issue there are se,eral 6uestions- Is it ethical to
create arti.icial moral a"entsE It is unethical not to pro,ide sophisticated robots with
ethical reasonin" capabilityE Is it ethical to create robotic soliders* police* or nursesE Aow
should robots treat people and how should people treat robotsE Should robots ha,e
The 6uestion o. moral a"ency .or robots is also another issue that must be considered.
John Sullins :!22+; stated that to determine the moral or ethical status o. a robot* three
6uestions should be posed- Is the robot si"ni.icantly autonomousE Is the robotDs beha,ior
intentionalE Is the robot in a position o. responsibilityE A robot nurse* .or e4ample* that
is entrusted with the care o. a human patient* can be pro"rammed to be autonomous and
to dispense dru"s or tae other actions consistent with its instructions. The robot nurse
meets all three criteria .or a moral a"ent- it is autonomous* acts intentionally* and is in a
position o. responsibility and can there.ore be considered a human a"ent. Accordin" to
the three criteria .or moral a"ency* the robot nurse is a moral a"ent. Aowe,er it is
ar"uable that the robot nurse is a true moral a"ent* rather it is simulatin" moral beha,ior.
Cobotic technolo"y is e,ol,in" rapidly* with e,er impro,in" capabilities* and already
pro,idin" humans with dilemmas on when and how and where to deploy them. An ethics
o. sustainability would also address the resources consumed to mae robots* the resultin"
waste* the impacts o. the processes used to manu.acture the numerous hi"h technolo"y
components such as computers* dri,es* and actuators that comprise the robot. Cobots are
replacin" the human wor.orce in many .actories H is this consistent with the
sustainability .rameworE The broad impacts o. robotics and the many serious
implications they hold .or a .air allocation o. technolo"y and resources mae addressin"
the implications o. this particular technolo"y particularly important because its
deployment is on"oin"* with .ew policy outcomes.
%e,elopment and implementation o. technolo"y almost always results in ethical
dilemmas. Some o. the ethical issues are .airly strai"ht.orward and are simply a ,ariant
o. a"e7old problems. The internet and email* .or e4ample* ha,e opened up a PandoraDs
bo4 o. in.ormation security and con.identiality problems. Althou"h serious* these are not
actually new ethical issues* the technolo"y simply multiplies the opportunity .or
problems. 'ther technolo"y issues are strictly about ri"ht and wron"* classic ethical
issues. For e4ample* the decision o. a ?nion Carbide subsidiary to build a pesticide plant
in a densely populated area around Bhopal* India pro,ed to be disastrous when the plant
e4ploded in 110&* with !2*222 deaths* 122*222 in5uries* and ) million people a..ected
directly or indirectly by this tra"edy. The ?nion Carbide plant was concei,ed with the
intent o. supportin" IndiaDs (reen Ce,olution* a plan to dramatically increase IndiaDs
a"ricultural output throu"h the use o. technolo"ies such as pesticides.
The Bhopal disaster has many ethical dimensions and ser,es to illustrate the need .or
ethical principles that can cope with decision main" about technolo"y implementation.
'ne ethical dimension is the 6uestion o. producin" chemicals whose to4icity is not .ully
understood. The Bhopal plant was producin" carbaryl* a hi"hly to4ic and dan"erous
pesticide* with e6ually dan"erous in"redients such as the hi"hly reacti,e chemical methyl
isocyanate :MIC;. Carbaryl* .or e4ample* is listed by the ?.S. $PA as a liely human
carcino"en* and the .ull ran"e o. its to4icity has ne,er been determined and it is ille"al in
the ?.K. The .ull ran"e o. the to4icity o. carbaryl is still unnown and it continues to be
used in the ?.S. and elsewhere. A second ethical dimension o. this catastrophe was the
location o. the plant in a dense urban en,ironment which meant that the e4plosion
produced numerous immediate casualties H o,er &*222 people died in their sleep the ni"ht
o. the e4plosion. Bhopal itsel. was a city o. 122*222 people at the time o. the incident.
And in a classic case o. en,ironmental in5ustice* the people who died were .rom the
nearby shantytowns o. Jayapraash @a"ar* Ka8i Camp* Chola Kenchi* and the Cailway
Colony so it was the poor who su..ered the brunt o. the e,ent. A .inal ethical dimension
o. this disaster was the lac o. in.ormation and transparency. It too at least two hours to
sound the alarm a.ter the worers detected the MIC lea* and by that time o,er &2 tons
had leaed out and spread throu"h the air in an 0 ilometer lon" plume that had .ormed
and spread out o,er the city.
'. these three ethical dimensions* the location o. the plant and the lac o. noti.ication are
.amiliar and could be reasoned throu"h by applyin" commonly accepted ethical
principles. The 6uestion o. producin" chemicals whose impacts are unnown can be
better answered by applyin" a ran"e o. ethical principles that are able to cope with the
comple4ities o. the sustainability .ramewor which has social* economic* and
en,ironmental aspects. These ethical principles .orm the basis .or an ethics o.
sustainability and include the Precautionary Principle* amon" others* that can assist in
.ramin" the issue and de,elopin" suitable solutions* and that can cope with ris and its
rami.ications. The Precautionary Principle will be discussed at len"th in Chapter ).
Some o. the ethical 6uestions that must be considered when a technolo"y has been
de,eloped and considered .or deployment can be summari8ed as .ollows-
?nder what conditions is the deployment acceptableE
At what point in the de,elopment o. the technolo"y is an increase in deployment
Aow does society wei"h the associated riss a"ainst the possible bene.itsE
Are there cases where a particular technolo"y itsel. should be considered
unacceptable e,en thou"h it has potential .or compensation as well as
The de,elopment o. "eneral ethical principles that support the sustainability .ramewor is
,ital to its utili8ation. The issue o. obli"ation to present and .uture "enerations* and to
other species* as well as issues o. .air distribution o. resources and technolo"y* must all
be answered .or this .ramewor to be success.ully applied to sol,e many o. our
contemporary problems.
Technolo"y pro,ides the capability .or humans to ,iolate the carryin" capacity o. the
planet while simultaneously increasin" 6uality o. li.e and decreasin" po,erty. It is
probable* based on a .inite planet with .inite resources* that this is liely a short term
phenomenon .rau"ht with potentially disastrous conse6uences .or .uture "enerations. At
present the planet is headed* in a near out o. control .ashion to a .uture o. hi"her "lobal
temperatures* risin" sea le,els* and alteration o. rain patterns* .ood distribution and
wholesale shi.ts in ecolo"ical systems. Layered on top o. this are the technolo"ies
themsel,es and the ran"e o. their conse6uences* .rom the "rey and "reen "oo problems o.
nanotechnolo"y to the destruction o. species throu"h "enetic en"ineerin". I. indeed there
is an obli"ation to .uture "enerations as well as to the present poor o. $arth* then
technolo"y is a ma5or actor that needs to be e4amined and used in a manner that will
produce mani.est bene.its and minimi8e ne"ati,e outcomes. Clearly ethics is central to
the issues o. technolo"y de,elopment and deployment* and an ethics o. sustainability that
can help technolo"y de,elopers* policymaers* and technolo"y consumers mae sound
decisions re"ardin" technolo"y would be o. enormous to the sustainability
Asaro* Peter M. !22+. <9hat Should 9e 9ant .rom a Cobot $thicE*> International
)e$iew of Information Ethics* Uol +* a,ailable online at
Asimo,* Isaac. 11&!. <Cunaround*> ori"inally published in 11&! and included in the
11+0 collection o. the authorDs short stories in I! )obot* published by (ra.ton Boos*
Asthana* Pra,een. 111&. <Jumpin" the Technolo"y S7Cur,e*> IEEE Spectrum* June.
Beni"er* James. 110+. The Control )e$olution% Technological and Economic Origins of
the Information Society* Cambrid"e- Aar,ard ?ni,ersity Press.
Benyus* Janine. 111/. (iomimicy% Inno$ation Inspired by .ature* @ew 3or- 9illiam
Capurro* Ca.ael* et al. $ds. !22+. <$thics in Cobotics*> International )e$iew of
Information Ethics* Uol +* a,ailable online at www.i7r7i7e.netGinhaltG22+G22+Y.ull.pd.
Clar* 9illiam C. and @ancy M. %icson. !22#. <Sustainability Science- The $mer"in"
Cesearch Pro"ram*> Proceedings of the .ational 2cademy of Sciences* 122:1&;* July* pp.
%orner* %ietrich. 1101. The &ogic of Failure% 1hy Things "o 1rong and ,ow 1e Can
Make Them )ight* @ew 3or- Metropolitan Boos.
%re4ler* K. $ric. 110+. Engines of Creation% The Coming 2ge of .anotechnology* @ew
3or- Anchor Boos.
%re4ler* K. $ric. 111!. .anosystems% Molecular Machinery! Manufacturing! and
Computation* @ew 3or- 9iley Interscience.
$hrlich* Paul. 11+1. The Population (omb* @ew 3or- Sierra Club Publishers.
$TC. !22#. <@anotech ?n"lued- Is the (reyG(reen (oo Brouhaha the IndustryDs Second
BlunderE> Communi=ue* $TC (roup* Issue _02* JulyGAu"ust. A,ailable .or download at
Foster* Cichard @. 110+. The 2ttacker5s 2d$antage* 'ran"e,ille* 'ntario- Summit Boos
Joy* Bill. !222. <9hy the .uture doesnDt need us> 1ired* Issue 0.2&* April.
Lo,ins* Amory B. and L. Aunter Lo,ins. !222. <A Tale o. Two Botanies*> 1ired* Issue
0.2&* April.
Kni"ht* Fran. 11!1. )isk! /ncertainty! and Profit* Boston- Aou"hton7Mi..lin Company.
Koepsell* %a,id. !22/. <The $thics o. (enetic $n"ineerin"*> a position paper .rom the
Center .or In6uiry* ' o. Public Policy* Au"ust. %ownloadable at"enetic7en"ineerin"7ethicsY!.pd.
Meadows* %onella A.* %ennis L. Meadows* Jor"en Canders* and 9illiam 9. Behrens III. 11/!.
The &imits to "rowth. @ew 3or- ?ni,erse Boos.
Pearson* (re" and A. Thomas 3oun"* $ds. !22!. Technically Speaking* Committee on
Technolo"ical Literacy* @ational Academy o. $n"ineerin"* @ational Cesearch Council*
9ashin"ton* %.C. %ownloadable at the website o. the @ational Academies Press at
Co"ers* $,erett. 11+&. iffusion of Inno$ations* (lencoe- Free Press.
Sandler* Conald. !221. .anotechnology% The Social and Ethical Issues* Pro5ect on
$mer"in" @anotechnolo"ies* 9oodrow 9ilson Center .or International Scholars* P$@
1+* January. A,ailable .or download at
Thayer, Robert. 1994. Gray World, Green Heart, ew !ork" #ohn $iley %
&ons, 'nc.
To(er, )lvin. 19*+. The Third Wave. ew !ork" ,orrow.
$)&--14++. 19./. The Reactor Safety Study. The 0.&. uclear Regulatory
9einber"* Al,in M. 11++. MCan Technolo"y Ceplace Social $n"ineerin"EM (ulletin of
the 2tomic Scientists !!:1!;* %ecember* pp. &70.
From .anotechnology% The Social and Ethical Issues by Conald Sandler :!221;
In her boo* (imomicry* Janine Benyus :111+; described a whole ran"e o. technolo"ies that could
by emulatin" o. copyin" nature.
The word <harmless>as used in this chapter means it is non7to4ic to nature and is not a threat to health.
From <Primer on $thics and Bioen"ineerin"> by (lenn Mc(ee online at
From <Technically Speain"*> a report by the @ational Cesearch Council :@CC;* the "oal o. which was to
in.orm the "eneral public about the issues o. technolo"y and how to di..erentiate science .rom technolo"y.
The report was edited by (re" Pearson and A. Thomas 3oun".
As described by Cobert Thayer in "rey 1orld! "reen ,eart :111&;.
$4cerpted and adapted .rom Merriam79ebster online at http-GG www.merriam7
From the website o. Learnin" Ali,e website at
From <Sustainability Science- The $mer"in" Cesearch Pro"ram> by 9illiam C. Clar and @ancy M.
%icson :!22#;
iffusion of Inno$ations by $,erett Co"ers :11+&;.
The S7cur,e was .irst described by Cichard @. Foster :11/2; in The 2ttacker5s 2d$antage.
From <Jumpin" the Technolo"y S7Cur,e> by Pra,een Asthana :111);.
The Iro6uois Indians and se,eral other nati,e peoples are an e4ception. The (reat Law o. the Iro6uois
states MIn e,ery deliberation* we must consider the impact on the se,enth "eneration... e,en i. it re6uires
ha,in" sin as thic as the bar o. a pine.M
From The Control )e$olution% Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society by James
Beni"er :110+; and as cited in an online paper by Tim Aealy at
From The Third 1a$e by Al,in To..ler :1102;.
From <Can Technolo"y Ceplace Social $n"ineerin"> by Al,in M. 9einber" :11+2;. Althou"h a
technolo"ical optimist* 9einber" did note that technolo"y and social en"ineerin" should be used to"ether.*
that technolo"y that i"nores social reality will not wor.
Limits to (rowth :11/!; was authored by %onella Meadows* %ennis Meadows* Jor"en Canders* and
9illiam 9. Behrens III. A !2 year update with the same title and based on the ori"inal material was
written by the authors in 111#. A .ollow7up with the title &imits to "rowth% The >: 9ear /pdate* was
written by the authors :less Behrens; in !22&.
From The &ogic of Failure% 1hy Things "o 1rong and ,ow 1e Can Make Them )ight by %ietrich
%orner :1101;. As described by Tim Aealy as indicated in @ote 1.
From )isk! /ncertainty! and Profit by Fran 9ri"ht :11!1; and as described by Tim Aealy as indicated
in @ote 1.
The @uclear Ce"ulatory Commission report on reactor sa.ety is commonly re.erred to as the Casmussen
Ceport* a.ter the chair o. the committee* @orman Casmussen* pro.essor at Massachusetts Institute o.
Technolo"y. The committee started its wor in 11/! and issued its .inal report in 11/).
Bill Joy wrote <9hy the .uture doesnDt need us> in the April !222 issue o. 1ired.
From <A Tale o. Two Botanies> by Amory and Aunter Lo,ins :April !222; in 1ired.
From <$thics o. (enetic $n"ineerin"> at www.enotes.comGethics7"enetic7article
From <The $thics o. (enetic $n"ineerin"> by %a,id Koepsell :!22/;.
From BBC @ew online at!2+0).stm
From the website o. The Pro5ect on $mer"in" @anotechnolo"ies at www.nanotechpro5ect.or"
From <@anotech ?n7(ooed^ Is the (reyG(reen (oo Brouhaha the IndustryDs Second BlunderE $TC
(roup Communi6ue _02* !22#
The short story <Cunaround> can be .ound in I! )obot* a collection o. short stories by Asimo, :11+2;.
An e4cellent e4amination o. the Laws o. Cobotics by Co"er Clare can be .ound at"erclare.comGS'SGAsimo,.html_Laws11&2
From <$thics in Cobotics> :!22+; .rom the International )e$iew of Information Ethics.
From <9hat Should 9e 9ant .rom A Cobot $thicE> by Peter Asaro :!22+; in the International )e$iew
of Information Ethics.
$thics can be de.ined as re.lection on the nature and de.inition o. <the "ood.> As a
scholarly pursuit* philosophical and reli"ious ethics e4amine the ori"ins* priorities*
emphases* and practical implications o. ,arious "oods. The "oods that orient and de.ine
ethical systems ,ary widely amon" di..erent cultures* reli"ions* and indi,iduals. People
,alue di..erent 6ualities and thin"s* most ob,iously* but they also ,alue their "oods in
di..erent ways* in di..erent relations to each other* .or di..erent reasons* and to di..erent
ends. These di..erences are ,ery rele,ant to sustainability* an undertain" which cannot
be understood simply as a practical or technical one. $..orts to create more sustainable
practices* or"ani8ations* and societies are rooted in an o,erarchin" set o. ,alues that can
be identi.ied and analy8ed. Sustainability* in other words* cannot be understood or
achie,ed without care.ul attention to its ethical dimensions. This is one o. the main
premises o. this boo* and it is a theme which this chapter elaborates with the resources
and perspecti,es pro,ided by philosophical and reli"ious traditions o. ethical thinin".
$thical concerns are implicit in the term sustainability* as sustainability means tain" into
account not 5ust utility* the use.ulness o. somethin"* but also moral ,alues and "oals. The
ethical aspects o. sustainability o.ten remain implicit* howe,er* as most analyses .ocus on
economic* social* en,ironmental* and technical issues. This boo maes the ethical
dimensions o. sustainability e4plicit* so that they H and the lar"er problem o. achie,in"
"reater sustainability in scienti.ic* technolo"ical* and social endea,ors H can be
understood* clari.ied* and e,aluated more e..ecti,ely and constructi,ely. This chapter
contributes to this "oal by introducin" and e4aminin" how di..erent ways o. thinin"
about ethics* both philosophical and reli"ious* can help people sort throu"h some o. these
comple4 issues and mae more sustainable choices.
9hen 6uestions o. ,alues are raised* a host o. au4iliary issues .ollow* some o. which are
especially rele,ant .or thinin" about sustainability. First* and most "enerally* which
speci.ic ethical concerns :social* economic and en,ironmental; enter into discussions o.
sustainabilityE 9hich ethical traditions and models ha,e shaped contemporary thinin"
about the ethics o. sustainabilityE Aow are ethical concerns incorporated into sustainable
decision7main"E 9hat are the most important theoretical and philosophical dimensions
o. an ethic o. sustainabilityE And last* how are the distincti,e elements o. sustainability H
economic* en,ironmental* and social H incorporated into an ethic o. sustainabilityE These
6uestions or"ani8e the discussion in this chapter* which has three o,erarchin" tass.
First* it discusses the ways that sustainability is related to and relies upon established
philosophical and reli"ious traditions o. ethical thou"ht. Second* it clari.ies the ways that
ethical decision7main" must enter into thinin" about sustainability. Third* it outlines
some o. the most important characteristics and principles o. an ethic o. sustainability. In
other words* this chapter both e4plains how sustainability is an ethical enterprise and
e4amines the most appropriate ways that enterprise mi"ht be understood and enacted.
These discussions hi"hli"ht and clari.y 6uestions that are important .or pro.essionals and
scientists* as well as policymaers* non7"o,ernmental or"ani8ations* and ordinary
citi8ens who see a more sustainable society.
9hile ethics* in "eneral* e4plores problems o. "ood and e,il* there e4ist countless ways
to speci.y what this means* accordin" to di,erse interests and perspecti,es. For many
philosophers* ethics is about indi,idual conduct or character* and thus de.ined by
6uestions such as <Aow shall I li,eE> or <9hat does it mean to be a "ood personE> For
others* ethics re.ers to uni,ersal ,alues and thus poses 6uestions such as <9hat is the
(oodE> or <9hat rules can ri"htly apply to all moral actors or a"entsE> Still other
ethicists .ocus on the process o. moral decision7main"* the characteristics o. a "ood
society* or the relationship between human "oodness and the di,ine* amon" many other
issues. These di..erin" approaches depend in part on ,aryin" .oundational assumptions
about* .or e4ample* whether "oodness stems .rom a transcendent power such as (od or
whether the source o. ,alue is nature* human conscience* or reason. A .urther source o.
di,er"ence is the 6uestion o. whether it is possible to identi.y a uni,ersal* absolute "ood
or i.* to the contrary* ,alues are ine,itably sub5ecti,e or relati,e in nature. %i..erences in
ethical .ramewors also emer"e .rom di,er"ent attitudes toward rationality* emotion* and
science* amon" other matters. 9hat unites di..erent schools o. ethics is a con,iction that
it is both possible and worthwhile to identi.y "ood* or at least better* ways o. actin" and
bein" in the world. :$thics in this sense is identical to <morality*> althou"h some
scholars distin"uish between ethics as an academic area and morality as personal or
cultural codes o. conduct. The two terms are used interchan"eably in this boo.;
Reli+ious Ethical T,a)itions
Probably the earliest* and still the most pre,alent* way o. thinin" about ,alues is
reli"ious. Celi"ion in,ol,es ritual* symbol* community li.e* institutions* doctrines* and
many other .actors* but moral ,alues are a central aspect o. reli"ious identity .or both
indi,iduals and "roups. Throu"h reli"ion* people thin about what it means to be a "ood
person and what a "ood society would entailL they .ind resources* support* and "uidance
in their e..orts to li,e up to these ,alues and to impro,e their communities. Many
discussions o. sustainability do not to reli"ion e4plicitly but rather de.ine the
problems o. sustainability only in relation to technical* economic* or otherwise secular
concerns. This is an un.ortunate omission* not because sustainability is inherently
reli"ious* but because so many people in the world thin about ,alues H includin" the
social* economic* and en,ironmental ,alues that help de.ine sustainability H in reli"ious
terms. In this chapter* there.ore* both reli"ious and secular ethical traditions are
discussed in relation to the ethical dimensions o. sustainability.
Celi"ious ,alues in the modern 9est are predominantly in.ormed by biblical traditions.
Aebrew and Christian scriptures are comple4 and ,aried- their component boos were
written o,er many centuries* by di..erent people with di..erent "oals in ,astly di..erent
cultural and historical settin"s. Biblical scholars emphasi8e the presence o. di,ersity and
the importance o. conte4t in any e..ort to understand the ethical :or other; dimensions o.
scriptures. Still* it is possible to identi.y some common concerns in Aebrew and
Christian scriptures that ha,e particular bearin" on contemporary discussions o. ethics
and sustainability. Most important is the biblical emphasis on social 5ustice. Aebrew
prophets such as Amos* Jeremiah* and Isaiah repeatedly and stridently call on their
contemporaries to care .or the least well o..* symboli8ed by widows* orphans* and
re.u"ees H cate"ories o. people who were especially ,ulnerable in ancient Middle $astern
societies and are amon" those who remain ,ulnerable today. In relation to these "roups*
and in wider social interactions* some important ethical "uidelines include hospitality*
protection o. the wea .rom the stron"* .or"i,eness o. debts* and prohibitions on usury.
Christian scriptures :commonly re.erred to as the @ew Testament; continue these
emphases* addin" JesusD particular concerns with social "roups on the mar"ins o.
mainstream society* such as lepers. For both Aebrew and Christian scriptures*
indi,iduals and societies are 5ud"ed in lar"e part based on how they treat the poor* the
sic* and the outcast.
The biblical emphasis on social 5ustice rests* in part* on a social ,iew o. human nature-
people are related to and dependent upon one another and thus responsible .or one
anotherDs well7bein". To i"nore those in need* to belie,e onesel. apart .rom the webs o.
common li.e* is to court di,ine 5ud"ment :as the Jewish prophets insisted; and ultimately
threaten oneDs own eternal .ate :accordin" to the Christian "ospels;. Both Jewish and
Christian ethics insist on 5ust distributions o. social "oods* especially to needy "roups.
For this tradition* a "ood society is one in which no one .alls throu"h the cracs* well7o..
people tae care o. those in need* and cries .or help are answered promptly* "enerously*
and without rampant sel.7interest.
@on7human nature does not play an especially important role in these scriptural ethics* at
least in the dominant historical interpretations* althou"h contemporary en,ironmental
ethicists and theolo"ians hi"hli"ht issues such as the importance o. a"riculture and <the
land> .or biblical societies and the inclusion o. animals and other aspects o. the natural
world in ,isions o. di,ine .ul.illment :.or e4ample* the Jubilee 3ear;. Perhaps the most
important biblical principle with re"ard to non7human nature is the recurrin" in5unction to
be "ood stewards o. the land and non7human animals. A ste8a,)shi( ethic be"ins with
the premise that (od has created the natural world .or the o. all people. Aumans
are not the owners o. this world* but rather are caretaers who ha,e both special
responsibilities and some special pri,ile"es with re"ard to created "oods. Stewardship is
intended as both a social ethic* to ensure that all people ha,e their 5ust share o. created
"oods* and an en,ironmental ethic that helps to preser,e (odDs creation.
The emphases on social 5ustice and care .or the least well o.. continue in some
contemporary 9estern reli"ious traditions* most notably Coman Catholic social thou"ht.
This is clear in the ?.S. Catholic BishopsD 110+ pastoral letter on the economy.
In their
pastoral letter* the bishops assert that economic decisions and institutions should be
5ud"ed on whether they protect or undermine <the di"nity o. the human person.> This
di"nity* they add* <can be reali8ed and protected only in community.> People are social
bein"s* and their most important "oods re6uire collecti,e support and enactment* which
are the responsibility o. all people* o. all social "roups and classes. This responsibility
can be .ul.illed only with widespread participation in both the economic and political
processes* which must be e6uitable and open. Finally* the bishops assert that all
members o. society* and especially the most power.ul* ha,e a special obli"ation to <the
poor and miserable.> This obli"ation can be understood* in part* as the demand to .ul.ill
the basic human ri"hts o. all people to .ood* clothin"* shelter* and other economic and
material conditions .or human di"nity* as well as political and ci,il liberties. The
economic ,alues outlined in <$conomic Justice .or All> build on centuries o. Catholic
social thou"ht and are rea..irmed in Catholic statements today* not only in the ?.S. but
'ther 9estern reli"ious traditions are not as centrali8ed as the Catholic Church and thus
do not issue the same sort o. broadly authoritati,e statements on ,arious issues. It is not
as easy* there.ore* to identi.y widely shared themes in social and economic ethics.
Aowe,er* broad trends are e,ident in the statements o. more local institutions and
associations .rom a wide ran"e o. reli"ious "roups. Both non7Catholic Christian
denominations H Protestant* $astern 'rthodo4* and other H and ma5or Jewish and Muslim
or"ani8ations emphasi8e social 5ustice and care .or the poor and ,ulnerable as the ma5or
ethical principles that "uide their positions on concrete social problems. Serious
di..erences e4ist* certainly* on issues such as the role o. "o,ernment* the responsibility o.
indi,iduals and .amilies* the moral status o. capitalism and other economic systems* and
a ran"e o. other matters* includin" sustainability. Still* ma5or 9estern reli"ious traditions
lar"ely a"ree on the centrality o. 5ustice* e6uality* .airness* and charity as the most
important principles .or e,aluatin" speci.ic social decisions* institutions* and processes.
Increasin"ly* contemporary reli"ious thiners and leaders are tain" en,ironmental
concerns into account when discussin" social and economic ethics. A wide ran"e o.
reli"ious "roups ha,e issued statements on the en,ironment* some o. them ,ery "eneral*
such as Pope John Paul IIDs calls .or <ecolo"ical con,ersion> and his namin" o. Francis
o. Assisi as the <Patron Saint o. $colo"y.> 'ther reli"ious statements address speci.ic
problems* such as climate chan"e* a topic to which American $,an"elical Protestants
ha,e recently "i,en a "reat deal o. attention. For many Christian* Muslim* and Jewish
thiners* the "uidin" principle behind en,ironmental concern is the <inte"rity o.
creation*> or the notion that because (od created the natural world as well as humans*
nature has its own intrinsic ,alue and is not meant only to ser,e short7term human
interests. This has a "reat impact on the way many reli"ious persons and "roups approach
'. particular interest to many reli"ious leaders is the impact o. en,ironmental problems
on poor and minority populationsL en,ironmental concerns* in other words* are lined to
traditional .aith7based social and economic ,alues. This e..ort at inte"ration has entered
into some secular discussions o. sustainability* and particularly the e..ort to unite social*
economic* and en,ironmental concerns under the rubric o. en,ironmental 5ustice. For
reli"ious thiners* the emphasis on en,ironmental 5ustice* lie approaches to other
dimensions o. social 5ustice* rests upon a deeply social ,iew o. human nature. Accordin"
to this ,iew* people are connected to* dependent upon* and responsible to each other and
to the lar"er society* in direct contrast to the hi"hly indi,idualistic approach to human
nature that dominates mainstream secular understandin"s. In contrast to reli"ious
approaches* contemporary thinin" about sustainability rarely maes e4plicit its
de.inition o. human nature. 'ne contribution that reli"ious ethics mi"ht mae to the
ethics o. sustainability* then* could come in the .orm o. e4plicit re.lection on the
.oundational assumptions that underlie moral* political* and economic claims.
Secula, Philoso(hical Ethical T,a)itions
@ot all ethical traditions* o. course* are reli"ious in nature. Contemporary 9estern
culture* includin" its e..orts to become more sustainable* is stron"ly in.luenced by
philosophical ethics. The secular tradition in 9estern ethics be"ins with the classical
(ree thiners* especially Plato and Aristotle. Social ethics* and more speci.ically the
characteristics o. a "ood society* is the central moral problem .or these thiners. Plato
and Aristotle ased e4plicitly what the "ood li.e is .or humans and pro,ided answers that
continue to in.luence both scholarly and popular thinin" about ethics. Their re.lections
be"an with the notion that humans are social bein"s whose "ood is only .ul.illed in
community. Their wor does not display much interest in the issues that preoccupy many
popular discussions o. morality* but rather .ocuses on problems o. public ,irtue* ri"ht
relationships* and "ood leadership.
'ne o. the most important classical philosophical themes .or sustainability is 5ustice 77
one o. the most important ,irtues discussed by Aristotle. Justice in,ol,es "i,in" to each
his or her due* which implies a care.ul wei"hin" both o. what is possible and what is
deser,ed* as well as comparisons amon" di..erent rele,ant cases. For Aristotle* 5ustice is
both procedural H concerned with .airness in decision7main" and other social processes
H and substanti,e H concerned with the proper distribution o. actual "oods. Both inds o.
5ustice are central .or sustainability today since a sustainable society re6uires both 5ust
political institutions and mechanisms* on the one hand* and distribution o. necessary
"oods that a,oids e4tremes o. po,erty and social ine6uality on the other.
The most in.luential thiner in the 9estern ethical tradition is Immanuel Kant :1/!&7
102&;* the .ather o. )eontolo+ical ethics* which de.ines "ood practices as those that
identi.y and .ollow the correct rules or uphold correct duties :deontolo"y comes .rom the
(ree deon* meanin" duty;. For deontolo"ical ethics* the liely conse6uences o. actions
do not matter in moral decision7main"* and the actual conse6uences do not a..ect
e,aluations o. the moral worth o. an action. Cather* ethical 5ud"ments are based on the
moral actorDs intentions and adherence to duties or rules.
Kant insisted that human reason was competent to determine ethics* and that ethics
should be based and criti6ued on rational "rounds. Most .amously* Kant articulated his
ethical thesis in the .orm o. se,eral <cate"orical imperati,es*> moral statements that are
ob5ecti,ely and uni,ersally true because o. their intrinsic 6ualities :rather than because o.
their source or conse6uences;. The most .amous articulation o. KantDs cate"orical
imperati,e is to <Always act accordin" to that ma4im whose uni,ersality as a law you
can at the same time will.>
:To be ethical* in other words* an action must be able to be
made uni,ersal- i. it is not "ood .or all people to act in this way* it is not "ood .or a sin"le
actor to act in this way. 9hile there are countless criti6ues o. KantDs approach* his
emphases on rationality* consistency* and uni,ersality remain hi"hly in.luential in
9estern philosophical ethics.
Perhaps most notably* KantDs deontolo"ical model has stron"ly shaped theories about
ri"hts* one o. the most important concepts in modern political and social ethics. Ri+hts
are moral claims that certain cate"ories o. persons can mae on other persons who are* in
turn* duty bound to respect those claims. Theories o. ri"hts depend on KantDs insistence
that morality re6uires treatin" other persons as ends in themsel,es and ne,er simply as
means to other ends. In other words* Kant ar"ues that persons ha,e intrinsic ,alue that is
independent o. their instrumental use to others. The assertion o. intrinsic ,alue is
necessary to declarations o. human ri"hts* which assert that simply by ,irtue o. bein"
human* persons ha,e ri"hts to such thin"s as .reedom .rom torture or access to clean
water* .or e4ample. 'ther persons then ha,e the duty to abstain .rom torturin" or
pollutin" water :and perhaps* in some models* to protect others .rom bein" tortured;.
There are also reli"ious theories o. ri"hts* such as a Coman Catholic human ri"hts
approach that asserts that because (od created humans with intrinsic di"nity* all persons
ha,e the duty to respect and preser,e this di"nity throu"h the .ul.illment o. ri"hts claims.
Auman ri"hts models* both philosophical and reli"ious* are o.ten important .or the social*
economic* and also en,ironmental dimensions o. sustainability. Policies and pro5ects
aimin" .or sustainability can a..ect ,arious ri"hts* both those that are le"ally protected
and those that are claimed on other bases. Thinin" about ri"hts becomes especially
important .or conser,ation and de,elopment pro5ects concei,ed in one culture and
applied in another since di..erent societies understand and protect ri"hts di..erently. For
e4ample* this is particularly important .or 9esterners worin" on <sustainable
de,elopment> pro5ects in Asia* A.rica* Latin America* and @orth American indi"enous
communities. At the same time* it is important to remember that ri"hts is a thorou"hly
9estern philosophical concept* without parallels in many other cultures H so
de,elopment specialists mi"ht .ace the dilemma o. tryin" to protect the ri"hts o.
particular "roups while at the same time broadenin" their own understandin" o. ethics
beyond a .ocus on indi,idual ri"hts. For e4ample* the Buddhist concept o. the
interdependent sel. is centered on respect and ethics throu"h relationality* not on a
uni,ersal or pree4istin" ideal o. ri"hts :i.e. morality arises out o. relationships;
Ci"hts theories are also important in relation to the ethics o. human relations to non7
human animals. A number o. philosophers and acti,ists ha,e asserted that non7human
animals ha,e certain ri"hts* such as the minimum ri"ht to a,oid unnecessary su..erin"
and untimely death. These theories will be discussed in more detail in Chapter Se,en.
In addition to deontolo"ical ethics* which includes ri"hts theories* the other ma5or model
in 9estern philosophical ethics is conse4uentialist o, teleolo+ical ethics. In
conse6uentialist or teleolo"ical ethical systems* decisions about what to do and
subse6uent e,aluations o. the morality o. an action are based on the e4pected or actual
conse6uences o. a beha,ior :.rom the (ree telos* meanin" end;. 9hether or not a
person or action is "ood is based not on the intrinsic 6ualities o. a person or on the rules
he or she is .ollowin" but rather on the outcome o. particular actions. The most
prominent conse6uentialist model is Utilita,ianis** .irst articulated by $n"lish
philosophers Jeremy Bentham :1/&0710#!; and John Stuart Mill :102+710/#;. Bentham*
who is re"arded as the .ounder o. utilitarianism* claimed that the ultimate "oal o. ethics
should be to create the "reatest "ood .or the "reatest number o. people. For Bentham* the
"ood is happiness :nown as the <"reatest happiness principle*> which is .ocused on
pleasure;* and he de,ised a hedonistic or pleasure7based calculus to aid in determinin" i.
an action contributed positi,ely or ne"ati,ely to the o,erall "ood or happiness. Mill
populari8ed and e4panded upon BenthamDs utilitarianism while di,er"in" with his
mentor. Bentham claimed that all pleasures were on a relati,ely le,el plane based on
how well they contributed to oneDs happiness. Mill disa"reed with this basic hedonistic
.orm o. happiness and claimed that there were hi"her pleasures :intellectual; and lower
pleasures :sensual;* and that the hi"her pleasures should be what are ultimately promoted
o,er the lower pleasures. This led to MillDs e..ort to instill a moral education in the public
sphere that would teach people how to ,alue and promote the hi"her pleasures or "ood in
Classical utilitarianism "enerally claims that an actionDs utility is determined by whether
it produces more or harm to the o,erall "ood* includin" pain and pleasure :or
ne"ati,e and positi,e .eelin"s;. For utilitarianism* as .or all conse6uentialist ethics* ends
are more important than means* in contrast with deontolo"ical methods. As some ri"hts
theorists ha,e pointed out* this means that a ,ariety o. 6uestionable moral actions H
especially in,ol,in" minority "roups H could be 5usti.ied in relation to their positi,e
outcome .or ma5orities. As a result o. this dilemma* some ha,e promoted a .orm o. rule
utilitarianism or conse6uentialism* which uses the principles o. utilitarianism to
determine which rules should be .ollowed in order to promote the "reatest "ood. It is
similar to deontolo"y in determinin" rules* but is more .ocused on rules that create
certain outcomes rather than .ocusin" on the intrinsic ,alue o. the action itsel.. Uarious
.orms o. utilitarianism ha,e arisen in recent years* and each has its own conception o. the
"ood* pleasure* and happiness :which are all "enerally lumped under the cate"ory o.
A .inal si"ni.icant .orm o. utilitarianism is pre.erence utilitarianism* which claims that
oneDs best interest is based in the satis.action o. indi,idual7speci.ic pre.erences and
desires. This has most notably been championed by Peter Sin"er in relation to animals
throu"h the idea that ri"hts cannot be conceptuali8ed outside o. the satis.action o.
interests o. all species* not 5ust humans* which is mainly the minimi8ation o. su..erin".
Sin"erDs wor* buildin" on BenthamDs earlier interest in reducin" animal su..erin"* has
made utilitarianism an important resource .or ad,ocates o. animal wel.are.
Many approaches to sustainability implicitly* i. not e4plicitly* .ollow a utilitarian ethical
model. They aim to ma4imi8e selected "oods H social* economic* andGor en,ironmental H
.or the lar"est number o. indi,iduals or "roups without the need to speci.y philosophical
.oundations. ?tilitarianism is especially appealin" in culturally or reli"iously di,erse
settin"s where participants in en,ironmental or social pro5ects may ha,e di,erse .oundin"
principles while still a"reein" on speci.ic "oals. ?tilitarianism here may o,erlap with
(,a+*atis** a school o. philosophical ethics that ori"inated with the wor o. American
philosophers C. S. Peirce :10#17111&;* 9illiam James :10&!71112;* and John %ewey
:10)1711)!;. Pra"matists assert that nowled"e and meanin" emer"e .rom practical
e4perience and that* in re"ards to ethics* ,alue must be 5ud"ed by practical conse6uences
rather than intentions or relations to abstract "oods- it is stron"ly empiricist* meanin" that
it asserts that nowled"e* meanin"* and ,alues arise .rom practical actions and
e4perience. For many social and en,ironmental ethicists and thus .or people concerned
with sustainability* pra"matism is appealin" because it represents an e..ort to achie,e
concrete* positi,e results without the need to .ind consensus about abstract philosophical
issues in ad,ance :or e,er;.
'ne o. the most prominent philosophers o. sustainability* Bryan @orton* writes .rom a
pra"matist perspecti,e and ar"ues that people who see a more sustainable society must
5oin to"ether to .irst establish* and then achie,e* practical en,ironmental and social
impro,ements. @orton* lie other pra"matists* .inds many o. the more abstract
ar"uments in en,ironmental philosophy insi"ni.icant and sometimes destructi,e to these
lar"er "oals as they distract attention away .rom the ur"ent need .or tan"ible
results. Ae ur"es that di,erse en,ironmental "roups loo past their .oundational
di..erences toward practical "oals that are based on the best en,ironmental science and
mana"ement a,ailable* and that well7reasoned action is the best course in enactin"
chan"e and o,ercomin" these di..erences.
9hile both pra"matism and ?tilitarianism emphasi8e practical conse6uences as the
measure o. moral worth* they in their understandin" o. what de.ines the "ood and
how people can now it. Pra"matism re5ects e..orts to unco,er ultimate meanin"* truth*
or other philosophical .oundations .or ethics. It is thus more relati,ist than ?tilitarianism
since pra"matism re6uires no ob5ecti,e 5usti.ications .or moral beha,ior* while
?tilitarianism may insist that "oods such as the reduction o. pain and the ma4imi8ation o.
pleasant .eelin"s can be ,alued on ob5ecti,e bases. Ethical ,elati-is* asserts that moral
,alue must always be de.ined in li"ht o. a particular conte4t* which may include cultural*
historical* or indi,idual di..erences as well as the social* economic* and political relations
that create an understandin" o. "oodness in a particular situation. For e4ample* a
relati,ist could decide that somethin" is ri"ht .or a but wron" .or b. In contrast*
ob9ecti-is* in ethics asserts that 5ud"ments o. "ood and e,il rest on absolute
.oundations* which may be reli"ious* philosophical* or scienti.ic in ori"in.
The debate between ob5ecti,ism and relati,ism is important .or scientists and others
concerned with sustainability in se,eral ways. Most scientists share a commitment to the
pursuit o. what they understand to be ob5ecti,ely ,eri.iable truths* which may be
modi.ied when better e,idence is unco,ered but are still 5ud"ed accordin" to ob5ecti,e
standards. In contrast* some contemporary humanistic scholars* includin" some
philosophers and ethicists* ha,e adopted (ost*o)e,nist approaches. Postmodernism is
an umbrella term used .or a di,erse array o. scholarly approaches used predominantly in
the humanities and social sciences* althou"h it has ori"ins in late nineteenth century
criti6ues o. art and post79orld 9ar II criti6ues o. architecture :both critical o. modernist
trends;. In philosophy* postmodernists re5ect the con,iction that people can* throu"h the
use o. reason* attain ob5ecti,ely true nowled"e or identi.y absolute ,alues.
Conse6uently* some heated debates ha,e erupted o,er these 6uestions between scientists
and other scholars :especially in literary or cultural studies;.
The debate between relati,ism and ob5ecti,ism has implications .or sustainability in both
its social and en,ironmental dimensions. I. there is no ob5ecti,e standard by which to
5ud"e the health o. a natural ecosystem* .or e4ample* en,ironmentalists are not 5usti.ied
in re5ectin" some uses o. natural resources and pre.errin" others. Similarly* i. social and
political ,alues such as e6uality* democracy* or human ri"hts are always culturally
relati,e* there are no solid "rounds to identi.y some policies* institutions* or societies as
more or less ethical. 9hile these 6uestions ha,e been important in some related .ields*
such as en,ironmental philosophy* they ha,e not played a central role in scholarly
discussions o. sustainability* which H with their "eneral .ocus on identi.yin" and
achie,in" practical "oals H ha,e tended more toward a pre.erence .or pra"matist or
utilitarian ethical approaches.
9hile not e,ery aspect o. the history o. 9estern ethics is rele,ant .or sustainability* it is
impossible to understand what an ethic o. sustainability mi"ht loo lie without nowin"
how some o. the most important ethical theories ha,e emer"ed and which thiners ha,e
de.ined them* as well as what theoretical and practical issues ha,e di,ided the di..erent
approaches. That has been the aim o. this section H to pro,ide an o,er,iew o. some o.
the philosophical terms* thiners* and schools o. thou"ht that ha,e helped mae possible
and continue to help de.ine contemporary ethical discussions about sustainability.
Buildin" on this o,er,iew* we can now turn to issues that are more directly rele,ant .or
the ethics o. sustainability.
In order to clari.y some o. the speci.ic ethical .ields and approaches that are most directly
rele,ant .or the ethics o. sustainability* this discussion is or"ani8ed in relation to the three
<le"s> o. sustainability as o.ten de.ined- the social* the economic* and the en,ironmental.
Social 5ustice and economics are both addressed within the sub.ield o. social ethics*
which is concerned with the ways that a community or society :or e,en a nation; can be
or"ani8ed so as to achie,e common "oods that are not reducible to the sum o. personal
aims and interests. The other crucial dimension o. an ethic o. sustainability addresses not
merely human wel.are but also the "ood o. non7human nature* includin" ,alues such as
clean air and water* biodi,ersity* ecolo"ical inte"rity* and the wel.are o. non7human
animals. This chapter mainly addresses social ethics* includin" economic concerns* with
some re.erences as well to en,ironmental ethics. Speci.ic approaches in en,ironmental
ethics and related issues such as animal wel.are and ri"hts will be addressed in more
detail in Chapter Se,en.
In order to clari.y contemporary thinin" about the social and economic components o.
the ethics o. sustainability* this chapter pro,ides bac"round in.ormation about ethical
ideas* thiners* and terms in ma5or 9estern philosophical and reli"ious traditions.
9ithout attemptin" to sur,ey all o. ethics* it .ocuses on the in.ormation and ideas that
will be most help.ul .or people who see sustainability throu"h ethical decisions in
concrete settin"s.
Social ethics is a sub.ield in both philosophical and reli"ious ethics that is primarily
concerned with the ethical .oundations* dimensions* and conse6uences o. collecti,e
decisions* attitudes* and actions. It is social both because it loos primarily at decisions
and actions that are collecti,e rather than indi,idual and personal* and because it is
concerned with "oods that are collecti,ely de.ined and achie,ed. In contrast* more
personal or indi,idualistic ethical systems may be concerned with actions that do not
directly a..ect lar"er "roups o. people* such as personal choices about se4ual identity or
beha,ior. Certainly e,en the most apparently personal o. decisions ha,e lar"er
implications* i. only .or the people close to the indi,idual concerned. Further* e,en
intensely personal moral decisions are made in a lar"er social conte4t and on the basis o.
,alues and attitudes that are the result o. social learnin"* social e4periences* and social
relations. Thus the line between personal and social ethics is ne,er hard and .ast. Still* it
is possible to distin"uish between moral issues that are primarily personal and those that
ha,e immediate and una,oidable social implications. The latter is most rele,ant .or
sustainability* because it is a 6uality o. "roups* includin" local communities* institutions*
and entire societies. An ethic o. sustainability is* then* a particular sort o. social ethic.
9hile indi,idual decisions and actions may ha,e important rami.ications .or
sustainability* they do so because they contribute to H or detract .rom H e..orts to create
and maintain more sustainable collecti,es. In other words* the "oal o. sustainability is a
,ision not simply o. pri,ate but rather o. a common "ood.
Traditional topics o. concern to social ethicists include the morality o. war and peace* the
bene.its o. di..erent .orms o. "o,ernance* ci,il and human ri"hts* and the proper role and
treatment o. ,ulnerable social "roups* alon" with many other issues. Perhaps most
important* social ethics has addressed the relations between indi,iduals and lar"er
"roups* includin" the ri"hts and responsibilities o. the .ormer and the bene.icial as well
as oppressi,e potential o. the latter. This ethical analysis is conducted in li"ht o. social
"oods* which are de.ined di..erently in ,arious times and places but which* in the modern
9est* o.ten include 5ustice and .airness* e6uity and e6ual opportunity* concern .or
,ulnerable "roups* stability and security* and protection o. indi,idual liberties.
Today* social ethicists continue to re.lect on these lon"standin" 6uestions while also
e4pandin" the discussion to important contemporary issues* includin" many related to
science* medicine* and technolo"y. These topics recei,e attention .rom many di..erent
perspecti,es* o. course. 9hat distin"uishes their treatment by social ethicists is attention
to the ,alues that are e4plicitly or implicitly upheld in a "i,en position or practice and to
the moral conse6uences o. collecti,e decisions and actions. In relation to de,elopment
pro5ects* .or e4ample* social ethicists mi"ht as about the moral assumptions underlyin"
,arious position re"ardin" clonin"* about ethical issues raised in the actual procedure
itsel.* and about the moral conse6uences i. clonin" taes place. In each instance the
discussion addresses not only indi,idual ,alues and issues* but also social costs and
bene.its. Social ethicists may also be concerned with what ,ision o. a "ood society is
implied in or supported by a particular stance on clonin"* or which social "roups mi"ht or the most* or which collecti,ely7shared "oods mi"ht be ad,anced or
reduced. Similar analyses can be conducted on a wide ran"e o. other contemporary
issues- Aow should the traditional 5ust war re6uirement to minimi8e ci,ilian casualties
be modi.ied in li"ht o. new weapons technolo"ies that mae it impossible* o.ten* to a,oid
ci,ilian deathsE 9ho will and who will be harmed by a"ricultural inno,ations
such as "enetically modi.ied crops or new pesticidesE 9hat moral duties does a society
ha,e in relation to new immi"rant "roups* and ,ice7,ersaE The e4amples are endless* and
the important point is that social ethics raises and answers distincti,e 6uestions about
distincti,e concerns* sources* and criteria.
9hile the ethics o. sustainability uses many o. the same sources* approaches* and
thiners as other branches o. social ethics* sustainability raises new moral 6uestions.
Perhaps the most important o. these come in relation to the inte"ration o. social "oods
with economic and en,ironmental ,alues :the latter will be discussed in more detail in
Chapter Se,en.; 9e address econo*ic ethics here* howe,er* as a sub.ield o. social
ethics. $conomics by de.inition in,ol,es collecti,e decisions and processes. $,en
indi,idual .inancial decisions are made only in relation to and sub5ect to the in.luence o.
lar"er economic .orces. $conomic ethics is concerned with the moral .oundations*
characteristics* and conse6uences o. economic acti,ities and institutions. $conomic
ethics may loo at speci.ic business practices or industries or at broader issues such as the
moral ,alues* implicit or e4plicit* that under"ird economic policies and practices. 9hen
considerin" the ethical dimensions o. economic systems* institutions* and decisions* a
number o. si"ni.icant 6uestions related to sustainability must be taen into account. 'ne
6uestion concerns the de.inition o. economic "oals such as producti,ity* e..iciency* and
security. $..iciency* .or e4ample* is usually de.ined as the ma4imi8ation o. output in
relation to certain inputs* and is a primary "oal o. many economic practices* systems* and
institutions. The inputs at stae can ,ary* and dependin" on which ones are selected H
e.".* labor time* ener"y* or capital in,estment H 5ud"ments o. economic e..iciency will
Contemporary @orth American a"riculture pro,ides an illuminatin" e4ample o. the way
di..erin" economic approaches entail particular ethical conse6uences. A"riculture* lie
sustainability more "enerally* is o.ten assumed to be a practical* scienti.ic* and technical
undertain" rather than an ethical one. Any a"ricultural system* howe,er* in,ol,es
implicit or e4plicit e..orts to li,e accordin" to a particular de.inition o. the "ood in the
standards or rules that .armers and ranchers .ollow* the "oals they see* and the
constraints by which they abide. Main" e4plicit the ,alues that underlie an a"ricultural
system enables us to e,aluate a"riculture in relation to other ,alues that are important .or
sustainability. This process is necessary in order to identi.y and trans.orm unsustainable
practices. In other words* only i. we now what social and scienti.ic "oods are bein"
enacted can we 5ud"e their compatibility with the broader "oals in,ol,ed in
A ma5or ,alue in 9estern a"riculture* e..iciency* is de.ined as a minimi8ation o. human
labor H .ewer <man7hours> H in order to produce e,er lar"er har,ests. The dri,e to
reduce human labor has led to tremendous increases in the use o. ener"y* mainly .ossil
.uels* and to the establishment o. a particular type o. .arm. First* contemporary @orth
American .arms ha,e become ,ery lar"e* o.ten o,er !222 acres. Such .arms usually
"row one or at most a .ew crops or raise only one species o. animal. This reduction o.
di,ersity ma4imi8es e..iciency because you need .ewer types o. machines* but can create
additional challen"es* includin" the use o. lar"e amounts o. arti.icial .ertili8ers and
pesticides .or plant production* and lar"e amounts o. waste in animal production. These
.arms employ ,ery .ew people to wor ,ery lar"e areas and thus rely hea,ily on lar"e
tractors and other machines. All these trends H stemmin" in lar"e part .rom the dri,e .or
a particular ind o. e..iciency H ha,e led to a number o. secondary conse6uences. These
include the depopulation o. rural communities* the loss o. topsoil and biolo"ical
di,ersity* and the contamination o. soil* water* and air. A number o. obser,ers ha,e
critici8ed the social* en,ironmental* and economic conse6uences o. the industrial model
.or modern a"riculture while pointin" out that this ind o. .armin"* alon" with its e..ects*
has arisen not accidentally* but because o. a particular ,iew o. what ,alues to prioriti8e
and what "oals to see. It is possible to de.ine e..iciency in di..erent terms* .or e4ample*
in relation to the use o. ener"y. Aimin" .or that sort o. e..iciency mi"ht lead to smaller*
more di,erse* more labor7intensi,e .arms that ha,e much smaller carbon .ootprints H
.arms* in short* that succeed accordin" to economic ,alues that are not dominant in
9estern a"riculture today.
Another important and related ,alue .or modern a"riculture :and many other economic
undertain"s; is producti,ity* which also entails implicit ethical priorities and "enerates
conse6uences that are not always bene,olent. From the perspecti,e o. social 5ustice* the
dri,e .or producti,ity o.ten leads to pressure .or .ewer worers to create more "oods and
ser,ices* which can lead to hi"her unemployment rates and ine6uities between di..erent
le,els o. worers* as well as stress .or those doin" the wor. Further* en,ironmentalists
point out that the hi"h ,olume "oals o. producti,ity demand e,er7increasin" le,els o.
consumption* which consumes natural resources and produces more waste. Aowe,er*
producti,ity* lie e..iciency* can be de.ined in more than one way. Producti,ity mi"ht
mean meetin" peopleDs basic needs with a minimal e4penditure o. ener"y and labor.
Seein" this sort o. e..iciency would shi.t economic priorities away .rom continual
increases in production and consumption and toward the .ul.illment o. other "oals* such
as e6uitable distribution o. resources* "reater community solidarity* and increased leisure
These e4amples show how economic and social "oals are intertwined. %ecisions about
economic processes and institutions ine,itably .a,or one social "ood or another* which
can ultimately .a,or one social class o,er another. Sustainability in,ol,es social and
economic ,alues that are not priorities in contemporary ?.S. society :or many other
societies;. A"riculture* a"ain* pro,ides an illuminatin" e4ample. Lar"e7scale* .ossil .uel7
intensi,e industrial .arms rarely promote the social* economic* or en,ironmental ,alues
that are central to sustainability. ?nless those ,alues are made e4plicit* howe,er* it is
impossible to e,aluate concrete practices and institutions or to de,elop alternati,es.
Simply establishin" standards does not* o. course* necessarily lead to real li.e chan"es. It
may* howe,er* constitute a necessary step in the mo,ement toward more sustainable
.arms and ultimately toward more sustainable societies. In order to pursue these "oals*
pro.essionals* scientists* policy maers* and citi8ens need accurate in.ormation and the
analytical tools that can help them to clari.y the ethical dimensions o. sustainability and
e,aluate ,arious decisions* pro5ects* and in relation to those ,alues.
The third ind o. ethics is in,ol,ed in sustainability* en-i,on*ental ethics* can be
de.ined as philosophical re.lection on and ar"uments about the ,alue o. non7human
nature. $n,ironmental ethics may be concerned about entire ecosystems or re"ions or
with smaller units such as species* indi,idual non7human animals or plants* or landscape
.eatures such as mountains or .orests. ]uestions about the ,alue o. non7human nature
and its relations to other moral "oods ha,e predictably been important to philosophers*
theolo"ians* and naturalists .or centuries. $n,ironmental ethics in the 9est is shaped in
particular by the wor o. Aenry %a,id Thoreau* who ar"ued that human "oods cannot be
reali8ed in isolation .rom nonhuman nature* and John Muir* who celebrated the intrinsic
,alue o. nature :especially wilderness;. Aowe,er* the usual startin" point .or
en,ironmental ethics is identi.ied as the publication o. Aldo LeopoldDs boo 2 Sand
County 2lmanac* includin" his essay <The Land $thic*> in 11&1. Leopold ar"ued that
any ethic must rest upon the premise that <the indi,idual is a member o. a community o.
interdependent parts*> and that an en,ironmental or <land> ethic <simply enlar"es the
boundaries o. the community to include soils* waters* plants* and animals* or collecti,ely-
the land.>
Today en,ironmental ethics is a lar"e and di,erse .ield* with a number o.
sub.ields and approaches :includin" contemporary re,isions o. LeopoldDs land ethic;77
these will be discussed in more detail in Chapter Se,en o. this boo.
Aere the most important point to mae re"ards the relationship between en,ironmental
ethics and the ethics o. sustainability. This relationship is o.ten le.t ambi"uous* and
when it is speci.ied* it taes se,eral di..erent .orms. Sometimes <en,ironmental> is
treated as a synonym .or sustainability* in which case an ethic o. sustainability would be
,irtually identical to en,ironmental ethics. This is the case .or some en,ironmental
philosophers* includin" Bryan @orton* whose boo Searching for Sustainability is
subtitled <Interdisciplinary $ssays in the Philosophy o. Conser,ation Biolo"y.>
@ortonDs more recent boo* called simply Sustainability* is subtitled <A Philosophy o.
Adapti,e $cosystem Mana"ement.> For @orton* and .or a number o. other
en,ironmental philosophers* sustainability is .irst and .oremost about conser,ation o. and
attitudes and practices toward non7human nature.
Another ,iew would de.ine sustainability as a subset o. or speci.ic approach within
en,ironmental ethics. In this approach* an ethic o. sustainability would be identi.ied with
en,ironmental philosophies that emphasi8e social and economic issues* such as
en,ironmental 5ustice and human health issues. Some o. the more anth,o(ocent,ic
:human7centered; approaches in en,ironmental ethics thus mi"ht be understood as
<sustainability> ethics. 'ne e4ample o. this is the wor o. Ben Minteer* who ar"ues that
en,ironmental ethics should be identi.ied as a ind o. <ci,ic philosophy> that emphasi8es
<lon"7term human interests* such as a concern with the well7bein" o. .uture
Minteer re5ects nonanth,o(ocent,ic :ecocent,ic or biocent,ic; ethics*
which .ind intrinsic ,alue in non7human nature apart .rom its use.ulness to or
appreciation by humans. 9hile nonanthropocentric ethics o.ten .ocus on wilderness and
other aspects o. nature apart .rom human "oods* Minteer maes social* economic* and
political concerns central to en,ironmental ethics.
9hile both these approaches can be .ound in the literature on en,ironmental :and
sustainability; ethics* neither is ade6uate .or the "oals o. this boo. Aere it is most
accurate to understand en,ironmental ethics as one part or subset o. sustainability*
correspondin" to the en,ironment as one o. sustainabilityDs three ey dimensions. This
approach is e,ident in the or"ani8ation o. this chapter* in which social* economic* and
en,ironmental ethics are discussed as distincti,e sub.ields* all o. which contribute to the
inte"rati,e whole that constitutes an ethic o. sustainability. This e..ort at inte"ration is
one o. the most distincti,e* and sometimes most di..icult* aspects o. sustainability. The
attempt not only to include but to inte"rate social* economic* and en,ironmental ,alues
maes the ethics o. sustainability both especially challen"in" and especially promisin".
In its moral as well as practical dimensions* sustainability does not mean simply
accumulatin" a list o. di,er"ent "oals. Cather* it re6uires e..orts to .ind common "round
when possible and to ad5udicate between di..erent ,alues and "oals when necessary.
%i..erence does not necessarily mean incompatibility or competition* howe,er* and in
.act sustainability re5ects simplistic dualisms between social and en,ironmental "oods.
Thus a sustainable ethic is holistic* in theory* as it is "uided by a ,ision in which
social* economic* and en,ironmental ,alues not only coe4ist but* in many cases* rein.orce
each other.
In many concrete situations* howe,er* di..erent ethical concerns and "oals cannot be
inte"rated harmoniously* and choices must be made about which to prioriti8e. This is
perhaps especially true .or an ethic o. sustainability* which e4plicitly taes into account
distincti,e and sometimes con.lictin" "oals o. social 5ustice* economic e..iciency* and
en,ironmental inte"rity. In order to address con.licts and ambi"uities constructi,ely* it is
not enou"h simply to ha,e ethical principles or rules. A clear and well7considered
process o. ethical decision7main" is also re6uired in order to understand the issues at
stae* the options a,ailable* and the potential conse6uences o. ,arious decisions. In the
.inal sections o. this chapter some o. the most important aspects o. ethical decision7
main" are addressed in relation to problems o. sustainability.
$thical traditions* both reli"ious and secular* pro,ide tools .or thinin" about di..icult
issues in a complicated world. They are thus a ,ital element o. e..ecti,e and success.ul
decision7main" processes. This is especially important .or sustainability* which sees to
inte"rate di,erse and sometimes con.lictin" ethical and practical "oals. Sustainable
decision7main" in,ol,es a number o. .actors* many o. which are discussed in detail in
the ne4t chapter. In this chapter* we loo at the distincti,e contributions to that decision7
main" process that mi"ht come .rom ethics as a philosophical sub.ield.
$thics can help people identi.y the ,alues that are most important to them and analy8e
possible actions or outcomes in relation to these ,alues. Aowe,er* ethics is not simply
about applyin" pre7established rules to clear7cut situations. First o. all* multiple ,alues
are in,ol,ed in many decisions* and certainly in those that aim toward sustainability.
Thus the choice is ne,er 5ust between "ood or e,il but rather amon" ,arious "oods.
Further* the relationship amon" di..erent "oods is almost always comple4. Carely do
"enuine "oods stand in such star opposition to each other that the choice is a simple one
between* .or e4ample* 5obs or endan"ered species. Anyone who .rames complicated
decisions in such dualistic terms is usually obscurin" or i"norin" important pieces o. the
The issue o. how to .rame ethical problems in constructi,e and .ruit.ul ways is ,ital but
underappreciated H it is especially rele,ant .or problems o. sustainability* where popular
discourse o.ten de.ines problems as star choices between economic or en,ironmental
"oods. In such situations* one o. the most important tass o. ethics is asin" 6uestions
that help lead to "ood solutions. The philosopher Anthony 9eston notes that <i. we are
to .ind the best solutions to our ethical problems* we .irst need to .ind the best
Better .ramin" o. ethical issues maes it possible to a,oid obstacles that
.re6uently pre,ent people .rom arri,in" at solutions that ma4imi8e di,erse "oods. 'ne o.
the most common obstacles* in both popular and scholarly ethics* is the tendency to
concei,e o. decisions as dilemmas with only two mutually e4clusi,e and opposed
solutions. 9hen people stop thinin" in terms o. dualistic choices* they may en"a"e in
creati,e searches .or alternati,e solutions that do not re6uire the o. important
,alues. In searchin" .or sustainability it may be possible both to preser,e wildli.e habitat
and to increase economic security .or local residents* .or e4ample* by thinin" creati,ely
about de,elopin" more sustainable inds o. 5obs* adoptin" di..erent .armin" methods* or
protectin" land throu"h inno,ate means such as wildli.e corridors. Such e4pansi,e
solutions will not be possible* howe,er* i. decision maers understand economic and
en,ironmental "oods as mutually e4clusi,e and thus see their moral choices as between
two diametrically opposed alternati,es.
Another common obstacle to "ood ethical solutions is reacti,e thinin"* or what 9eston
calls <.ree8in".> In such cases* people simply try to cope with and adapt to a problem
a.ter it has de,eloped. Instead o. respondin" a.ter the .act* 9eston proposes that people
thin pre,entati,ely* asin" whether ethical problems can be chan"ed* made less serious*
or e,en eliminated.
This call .or proacti,e thinin" is especially rele,ant .or sustainable
plannin" and desi"n* endea,ors which can help to ma4imi8e both en,ironmental and
social "oods. Cather than cleanin" up a.ter people ha,e made bad choices* in other
words* an ethic o. sustainability can help mae "ood choices more a..ordable* attracti,e*
and con,enient.
Ma4imi8in" "oods is not always possible* o. course. In real li.e situations* people o.ten
.ace decisions about what "oods to prioriti8e* "i,en multiple ,alues and limited resources
with which to pursue them. $thical 6uestions arise* in other words* not when there is an
easy choice between a "ood solution and a bad one but rather when real ,alues con.lict
and it is not possible to preser,e them all to the e4tent desired. Such situations arise
.re6uently in the conte4t o. sustainability* which stri,es to incorporate a ran"e o. social*
economic* and en,ironmental ,alues in comple4 situations. @ot in.re6uently* .or
e4ample* en,ironmental ,alues such as the preser,ation o. wildli.e habitat con.lict with
social or economic "oals such as the production o. a lar"er .ood supply or low7cost
housin". In such situations* the "oal o. ethics is to help resol,e con.licts as
constructi,ely as possible. In such cases* the best decisions will be based on a number o.
.actors* includin" "ood nowled"e :scienti.ic* economic* and cultural;* an understandin"
o. the history o. the situation* accurate in.ormation about the liely outcomes o. ,arious
decisions* a care.ul wei"hin" o. the di..erent ,alues in,ol,ed* and e..orts to .rame the
problem in a way most liely to ma4imi8e as many important ,alues as possible. All
these .actors* in turn* will be .acilitated by wide participation by the di..erent indi,iduals
and "roups a..ected by the decision. %emocratic processes and open* .air political
institutions are not only "oods in themsel,es but also prere6uisites .or achie,in" a host o.
other "oods.
9hile no ethic :or ethicist; is per.ect* an ade6uate ethic o. sustainability must stri,e to
.ul.ill these conditions and principles. ?nderstandin" the history o. ethical thinin" and
contemporary discussions o. ethics can help decision maers understand the ,arious
options* the implications o. each* and the ways to balance or ma4imi8e the di,erse "oods
at stae. And e,en more basically* ethics can help us understand why sustainability is
both important and .easible* .or ordinary citi8ens as well as policy maers* scientists* and
other pro.essionals. These issues will be discussed in more detail in both Chapter Four*
on the process o. decision7main"* and Chapter @ine* on turnin" ethical decisions into
pro.essional practices.
9hile an ethic o. sustainability will ri"htly ,ary accordin" to culture* conte4t* and a host
o. other .actors* it is possible to outline some o. the ey .eatures that an ade6uate ethic o.
sustainability should possess to some de"ree.
First* it should be theoretically coherent. This means that the "roundin" assumptions* the
.orm o. ar"umentation* de.initions o. ey terms* and "oals should be consistent
throu"hout* and the use o. e,idence persuasi,e. Celated to this* an ade6uate ethic must
be both clear and consistent with re"ard to its philosophical .oundations about issues such
as the de.inition o. humanness* the source o. ,alue :transcendent* natural* or other;* and
the philosophical scope or aims o. the ethic itsel.. '. particular interest here is the
relation between nowled"e and moral claims. Philosophical 6uestions about nowled"e
are contained in the sub.ield o. e(iste*olo+y* which ass about the sources and nature o.
particular inds o. nowled"e. In relation to sustainability* scienti.ic and social
nowled"e is especially important. An ethic o. sustainability must also ha,e clear and
coherent interpretations o. ey .oundational issues. Further* since the "oal o.
sustainability is by de.inition oriented toward the .uture* an ethic o. sustainability must
tae into account the relations between present and .uture "enerations :both human and
In addition* an ethic o. sustainability* lie any social ethic* should address the 6uestion o.
ri"hts or interests. A deontolo"ical ethic is more liely to assert that people :and perhaps
non7human animals* plants* or places; ha,e ri"hts* while a ?tilitarian ethic speas o. the
interests that people or animals ha,e in* .or e4ample* a,oidin" pain or seein" pleasure.
In both cases* indi,iduals and "roups may incur duties or responsibilities in relation to the
ri"hts and interests o. others. A coherent ethic must be clear about the .oundational
"rounds .or assertin" the e4istence o. ri"hts or interests* the reasons .or speain" o. one
or the other* the particular ethical claims that will be met* and ways o. ad5udicatin"
between con.lictin" ri"hts or interests.
Finally* an ethic o. sustainability should be .easible or practical. The purpose o. an ethic
o. sustainability is to help "uide people in their e..orts to address real world problems and
to build more socially* en,ironmentally* and economically sustainable institutions*
practices* and societies. An ethic o. sustainability cannot succeed only in the realm o.
theory* because* as Kant .amously declared* ou"ht implies can.
Ethical P,inci(les
In addition to these "eneral characteristics* an ethic o. sustainability must address a
number o. speci.ic principles* which help .ill out the most important ,alues o.
sustainability in relation to social* economic* and en,ironmental concerns. 'b,iously*
not all ethics o. sustainability will be identical in relation to these issues. They will
de,elop di,er"ent positions on these issues* ran them in di..erent orders o. priority*
relate them to each other di..erently* and add additional points. Aowe,er* an ade6uate
and complete ethic o. sustainable must deal* in some way* with the .ollowin" principles.
From social ethics* the most important principles .or sustainability concern 5ustice and
obli"ations to .uture "enerations. Justice is a lon"standin" theme in 9estern social
ethics* perhaps its most distincti,e and de.inin" ,alue. In the .ichomachean Ethics*
Aristotle .amously de.ined 5ustice as a ,irtue* which* lie all the ,irtues o. classical (ree
philosophy* constituted a mean between two undesirable e4tremes. Justice is the mean
between two di..erent inds o. in5ustice- the in5ustice that taes too much and that which
taes too little. Buildin" on Aristotle* classical 9estern ethics has come to de.ine 5ustice
as ensurin" that each recei,es his or her due H neither too much nor too little. Aristotle
and subse6uent philosophers ha,e identi.ied se,eral speci.ic types o. 5ustice- procedural
:or .ormal; 5ustice77which entails .air processes in "o,ernance77criminal 5ustice* and other
social practices and institutions* includin" the allocation o. resources. P,oce)u,al
9ustice establishes rules and standards by which these decisions are made* which is
necessary to ensure both political democracy and the rule o. law. Standards o.
procedural 5ustice are crucial .or sustainability since a society cannot be sustainable*
many ar"ue* when it is characteri8ed by un5ust political systems* lac o. openness and
transparency* limited access to participation in decision7main"* and indi,idualistic rule H
all e,idence o. .ailures o. procedural 5ustice.
The two other important inds o. 5ustice .or sustainability are distributi,e and
substanti,e. Dist,ibuti-e 9ustice is concerned with the .air or correct distribution o.
"oods in a society. For an ethic o. sustainability* attention would ha,e to be paid not
only to social and political "oods such as housin"* health care* .ood* and political power*
but also to en,ironmental "oods such as clean air and water and perhaps access to
recreational or wilderness land. %istributi,e 5ustice* especially in relation to issues o.
international relations* is discussed more .ully in Chapter Si4.
9hile distributi,e 5ustice is concerned primarily with the relati$e allocation o. "oods*
substanti-e 9ustice re.ers to absolute 6uantities. 9hile distributi,e 5ustice mi"ht insist
that a small amount o. .ood be shared e6ually amon" star,in" people* .or e4ample* the
principle o. substanti,e 5ustice would see to pro,ide those people with an absolute
amount o. .ood ade6uate to their needs* not 5ust with a .air share o. an inade6uate
amount. Substanti,e 5ustice has traditionally been less important in 9estern liberal
philosophical and political traditions than .ormal and distributi,e 5ustice* but it enters into
many discussions o. sustainability. A society that distributes an inade6uate amount o.
.ood e6ually amon" all its members* .or e4ample* will not be sustainable* althou"h it may
be 5ust :throu"h distributi,e 5ustice;. A sustainable society must meet the principles o.
substanti,e 5ustice by ensurin" that peopleDs basic material and economic needs are met.
Another important social principle .or sustainability concerns obli"ations to .uture
"enerations. This concern with the .uture is not central to some .orms o. social ethics*
althou"h it is o.ten important in en,ironmental ethics. The inte"ration o. social and
en,ironmental concerns in relation to .uture "enerations is a distincti,e* perhaps e,en
de.inin"* .eature o. sustainability. Indeed* the term <sustain> itsel. su""ests an ability to
endure .or a lon" period o. time* and an ethic o. sustainability is concerned with the
,alues that must be embodied in a society that can last. For e4ample* a society mi"ht
e4haust its resources in a .ew "enerations while meetin" all the demands o. 5ustice H
procedural* distributi,e* and substanti,e. The obli"ation to lea,e .uture "enerations
ade6uate material resources may demand si"ni.icant restraint :e,en .rom .uture
"enerations;* 5ust as the obli"ation to lea,e them a .air* democratic society may re6uire
that "reat amounts o. time and ener"y be spent in political action to create and stabili8e
the practices* laws* and institutions that characteri8e such a society. 'bli"ations to .uture
"enerations are discussed in more detail in Chapter Fi,e.
In relation to economic ethics* the most important principle .or sustainability concerns
the re"ulation o. marets in order to address the true costs o. pollution and other social
and en,ironmental harms. This issue is sometimes summari8ed as the (ollute, (ays
(,inci(le* which Jas .irst de.ined in Chapter FourK states that the indi,iduals*
communities* or businesses that create pollution must pay .or the cost o. remo,in" it
rather than passin" the cost o. cleanin" up that pollution to consumers or to society
o,erall. The polluter pays principle* lie many o. the central tenets o. sustainability* does
not simply a "uideline .or a practical action but also represents important moral and
philosophical points- re6uirin" polluters H and others who dama"e natural systems H to
pay .or their actions su""ests that people should properly be held accountable .or the
harm they cause to commonly7held "oods* includin" non7human nature. The polluter
pays principle re.lects the ,alues o. lar"er ethical and political .ramewors nown as
<natural capitalism> and <.ull cost accountin".> 9hile these two models are not identical*
they both see to create a more sustainable society throu"h a .ree maret system. These
re,isions would reduce or eliminate <per,erse subsidies> that help mae en,ironmentally
or socially unhealthy products ine4pensi,e. Per,erse subsidies are especially widespread
in a"riculture* thou"h they e4ist in ener"y production and many other industries as well.
Full cost accountin" would not only cut per,erse subsidies but also would eliminate the
public .undin" o. clean7up .or pollutin" industries. 9ere businesses to lose per,erse
subsidies and pay their own clean up costs* they would no lon"er be able to certain
"oods .or low costs* includin" certain types o. produce "rown thousands o. miles .rom
where it is consumed* bee.* and "asoline* amon" others. 9hen unsustainable "oods
became e4pensi,e* maret principles would dictate that people would see out "oods that
are <truly> ine4pensi,e* because they do not ha,e pre,iously hidden costs. In a .ull cost
system* .or e4ample* people would .ind .ood .rom small local .arms much cheaper than
.ood that is mass7produced .ar away because .uel and other costs o. transportin" .ood
across country would no lon"er be subsidi8ed. $,entually* a society with .ull cost
accountin" will become more sustainable as unsustainable "oods become prohibiti,ely
e4pensi,e and .ade away.
Some economic principles rele,ant to an ethic o. sustainability "o .urther in their re,ision
o. the maret. The social mort"a"e is a Coman Catholic concept that asserts that all
property* re"ardless o. ownership* is part o. a di,ine creation that was intended by (od
.or the "ood o. all people. I. people use their pri,ate property only .or pri,ate*
without concern .or :or perhaps e,en to the detriment o.; the common "ood* the lar"er
society may call in the social mort"a"e. This principle was stated dramatically at the
Second Uatican Council* in its .inal document* "audium et Spes* in a discussion o. <the
common purpose o. created thin"s>- Because <(od intended the earth and all that it
contains .or the use o. e,ery human bein" and people*> the document asserts* all people
ha,e a ri"ht to <a share o. earthly "oods su..icient .or onesel. and oneOs .amily belon"s to
e,eryone.> This means* .irst* that people are obli"ed to help the poor and needy and*
.urther* that i. such help is not .orthcomin"* and i. a person is in e4treme necessity* <he
has the ri"ht to tae .rom the riches o. others what he himsel. needs.>
The notion o. a
social mort"a"e places a much more se,ere constraint upon the maret and pri,ate
property than does the notion o. .ull cost accountin".
A number o. principles .rom en,ironmental ethics must also be taen into account in an
ethic o. sustainability. Most "enerally* sustainability hi"hli"hts principles that inte"rate
concern .or both human wel.are and natural systems. 'ther aspects o. en,ironmental
ethics* includin" concern .or wilderness and discussions o. the intrinsic ,alue o.
ecosystems or natural or"anisms* recei,e less attention in relation to sustainability. 'ne
o. the most important en,ironmental principles .or sustainability is the (,ecautiona,y
(,inci(le* Jde.ined in Chapter FourK. The precautionary principle was .ormulated to
address scienti.ic and technolo"ical pro5ects that may ha,e e..ects on en,ironmental and
public health. In its simplest and most "eneral .orm* the precautionary principle states
that in the absence o. a stron" scienti.ic consensus that an action or policy will not cause
harm to human health or the en,ironment* caution should be used in implementin" that
action or policy. Strict adherence to the precautionary principle would pre,ent the use o.
pesticides whose wider ecolo"ical e..ects are not understood* .or e4ample. It mi"ht also
restrict dama"in" use o. certain resources or landscapes H such as minin" or "ra8in" H i.
there is no certainty that the dama"e can be re,ersed.
The precautionary principle places the burden o. responsibility on those who would act
rather than on those who must* a.ter the .act* .rom or attempt to re,erse harm done
by new or unpro,en scienti.ic procedures. Lie the polluter pays principle* it re.lects
lar"er ethical claims. It assumes that pro"ress or inno,ation is not an absolute ,alueL that
indi,iduals and or"ani8ations are responsible .or the possible* not 5ust liely* e..ects o.
their actions. The precautionary principle also re.lects a particular understandin" o. the
relationship between nowled"e and morality* as it identi.ies as immoral actions
that are taen without .ull nowled"e o. their possible outcomes. The precautionary
principle has been widely a..irmed by en,ironmental "roups and is central to
sustainability* as Chapter Fi,e discusses in more detail.
Celated to the precautionary principle is the ,e-e,sibility (,inci(le* J.irst de.ined in
chapter FourK* accordin" to which scientists or policymaers should not proceed on a
potentially harm.ul course unless its conse6uences can be re,ersed. People should not
mae decisions* other words* that cannot be undone by .uture "enerations. A primary
e4ample o. an irre,ersible action is the e4tinction o. species. A"ain* this principle
re.lects lar"er ethical claims- that people owe obli"ations to .uture "enerations :and
perhaps to non7human nature; and that immediate desires or interests should not be
satis.ied at the e4pense o. the interests o. .uture "enerations.
As central tenets o. sustainability* the polluter pays* re,ersibility* and precautionary
principles all assert that those who are responsible .or implementin" technolo"ies must be
prepared to address the possible conse6uences o. their implementation. They also re6uire
decision7maers to consider as many di..erent options as possible be.ore actin" and to
consider as .ully as possible not 5ust the liely but also the possible outcomes o. those
actions. They assume* .urther* that scientists* policy maers* and other citi8ens must
consider both .uture human "enerations and non7human nature as part o. their
deliberation. Indi,idual human interests* e,en the collecti,e interests o. a particular
"roup or "eneration* are not absoluteL they are si"ni.icantly limited by obli"ations to
other people* includin" those not yet born* and e,en to non7human nature. As speci.ic
statements o. some o. the ma5or ,alues o. sustainability* then* these principles add
concreteness to some o. the more "eneral "uidelines .or ethical decision7main" outlined
earlier in this chapter.
A distincti,e aspect o. sustainability is the attempt to inte"rate a di,erse set o. ethical
principles and "oals in both theory and practice. Sustainability is not simply a patchwor
o. disparate ,alues but an inte"rated system in which the parts wor to"ether to rein.orce
each other. In the case o. potential con.licts between* .or e4ample* en,ironmental and
social principles* an ethic o. sustainability should not simply choose one or the other but
rather should attempt to ma4imi8e both ,alues to the e4tent possible. This may re6uire
considerin" a wider ran"e o. options than usual* includin" some that mi"ht not normally
seem desirable or .easible. It may re6uire en"a"in" in dialo"ue and reachin"
compromises with indi,iduals or "roups that are not oneDs usual con,ersation partners.
Implementin" the ,alues o. sustainability mi"ht e,en demand considerable o.
other interests* both pri,ate and collecti,e. In this delicate and di..icult tas* established
traditions o. ethical thinin" in,aluable resources and insi"ht. They can help to
identi.y the ,alues at stae and clari.y the nowled"e and assumptions that under"ird and
5usti.y these ,alues. 'n a practical le,el* ethics pro,ides tools that can help people
seein" sustainability to ad5udicate con.licts* set priorities* and see consensus or
compromise. The aim o. this chapter has been to pro,ide in.ormation and ideas that can
aid in these tass* and also to set the sta"e .or the more detailed discussions that .ollow.
@orton* Bryan. !22!. Searching for Sustainability% Interdisciplinary Essays in the
Philosophy of Conser$ation (iology. Cambrid"e- Cambrid"e ?ni,ersity Press.
Leopold* Aldo. 11&1. 2 Sand County 2lmanac. '4.ord ?ni,ersity Press.
Minteer* Ben. !22+. The &andscape of )eform% Ci$ic Pragmatism and En$ironmental
Thought in 2merica. Cambrid"e- MIT Press.
Mid"ley* Mary. 1111. Can5t 1e Make Moral #udgments? @ew 3or- St. MartinDs
9eston* Anthony. 111/. 2 Practical Companion to Ethics. '4.ord- '4.ord ?ni,ersity
<$conomic Justice .or All> :http-GGwww.os5spm.or"GeconomicY5usticeY.orYall.asp4
Kant* Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals* trans. L. 9. Bec* &#/. :@ot sure why this 5umps to
Leopold 11&1* !#1.
@orton* !22!.
Minteer !22+* 11&.
9eston 111/* !17#2.
9eston 111/* #1.
Abbott 11++* no. +1.
Most o. the people that we ha,e a moral responsibility to care about are not yet born. 3et it is
precisely these people who will be the bene.iciaries H perhaps the chie. bene.iciaries 77 o. an
ethics o. sustainability. That is the proposal this chapter ass you to consider.
There are nearly se,en billion human bein"s currently li,in" on this earth. Assumin" that no
massi,e catastrophes occur* howe,er* the ,ast ma5ority o. people the planet will e,er ha,e
nown are yet to arri,e. They will be our descendants H our children* "randchildren* "reat
"randchildren and their pro"eny. Indeed* more people will be born in the li.etimes o. the
youn"er readers o. this te4t H two billion more 77 than currently inhabit the earth.
The decisions we mae and the actions we tae today will a..ect the li,es and li,elihoods o.
these billions o. .uture human bein"s. $,ery disco,ery we mae and e,ery inno,ation we
produce is a "i.t we bestow on .uture "enerations. 'ur learnin"* moral and social de,elopment*
economic prosperity* and technolo"ical pro"ress pro,ide our le"acy to them. But we not only
pro,ide bene.its 77 we also bestow burdens. $,ery non7renewable natural resource that we
consume lea,es less .or them. $,ery pound o. carbon dio4ide that we emit into the atmosphere
contributes to the warmin" o. a planet they will inherit. $,ery species we cause to "o e4tinct they
will ne,er now* e4cept as a loss. I. we wei"h the moral si"ni.icance o. an action by the
number o. people it potentially a..ects* then the impact o. our actions on .uture "enerations ou"ht
to be o. paramount concern. This is the realm o. inter"enerational 5ustice* and it sits at the core
o. any ethics o. sustainability.
It is easy to acnowled"e our responsibility to .uture "enerations. In practice* howe,er* it is the
present that typically claims our attention. Former Uice7President Al (ore* who produced the
academy7award winnin" .ilm* 2n Incon$enient Truth! and won the @obel Peace Pri8e* obser,ed
that we deplete the earthDs natural resources and li,e unsustainable li,es because Mthe .uture
whispers while the present shouts.M
A sustainability .ramewor attempts to "i,e e6ual ,oice to
the .uture. It prompts us to consider the burdens we thrust upon our pro"eny as well as the
bene.its we bestow upon them. 9hile li,in" sustainably re6uires plannin" and precaution* it
does not entail paralysis. An ethics o. sustainability promotes carin" about tomorrow* but actin"
At the heart o. most ethical traditions lies a preoccupation with how moral concern is e4tended in
social space. The indi,idual is held responsible to care not only .or his or her own interests* but
also to consider the wel.are o. .amily* o. nei"hbors* o. .ellow townspeople or citi8ens* and
perhaps o. humanity at lar"e. Immanuel KantOs cate"orical imperati,e* which we addressed in
Chapter #* states that the rules or a4ioms "uidin" oneOs actions must be uni,ersali8able. That is
to say* these rules o. practice must remain consistent and applicable when e4tended across an
inde.initely wide population. Jeremy BenthamOs utilitarian ethics* thou"h traditionally opposed
to KantOs duty7based reasonin"* also assesses action accordin" to its capacity to be e4tended in
social space. 9ith BenthamOs utilitarian calculus* howe,er* the "reatest happiness o. the "reatest
number o. people 77 rather than doin" oneDs duty .or its own sae 77 constitutes the "uidin"
principle. In turn* the ethic o. the (olden Cule* ,ariations o. which are .ound within most
reli"ious and moral traditions* simply states that we should treat our nei"hbors the same way that
we oursel,es would want to be treated by them. Aere* a"ain* concern is e4tended beyond the sel.
to lar"er populations in social space.
9hile the predominant concern .or most ethical traditions has been the e4tension o. moral
concern across social space* a parallel 77 i. historically less salient 77 concern has been the
e4tension o. moral concern across time. Justice is o.ten thou"ht to entail a .air distribution o.
resources between members o. a particular "eneration with duty* utility* or a "olden rule
determinin" how these resources ou"ht to be allocated. This mi"ht be thou"ht o. as
intra+ene,ational 9ustice. By contrast* and as an e4tension o. this* inter+ene,ational 9ustice is
concerned with the .air distribution o. resources between "enerations.
Uirtually all ethicists insist that a personDs moral worth should not depend upon chance. 9e
would thin it wron"* .or instance* to pri,ile"e people who were born with blond hair while
punishin" those born with blac* brown* or red hair. The date o. oneDs birth is e6ually a matter
o. chance. The day* month* year* decade* or e,en century in which a particular indi,idual is
born mi"ht be considered as morally irrele,ant as the color o. his or her hair. It .ollows that any
.orm o. 5ustice that we deem appropriate between the members o. one "eneration mi"ht also be
applicable between members o. di..erent "enerations. More speci.ically* the li.e prospects o.
members o. .uture "enerations* "i,en their e6ual moral worth* should not be worsened by us
without some morally de.ensible reason. It is not at all clear that main" oursel,es better o..
today is morally de.ensible i. these actions worsen the prospects o. .uture "enerations. From
this perspecti,e* inter"enerational 5ustice is simply a lo"ical e4tension o. intra"enerational
5ustice- i. the prospects o. our descendents are worsened by our actions* we bear the burden o.
proo. .or 5usti.yin" these actions. It is incumbent upon us to e4plain why we choose not to
e4tend across time the same principles* ri"hts* and responsibilities that we deem appropriate to
e4tend across space.
John Cawls employs this sort o. reasonin" in main" the case .or inter"enerational 5ustice.
$mployin" a Kantian .ramewor* Cawls .amously su""ests that 5ustice entails main" decisions
and tain" actions .rom an <o,i+inal (osition> where one .inds onesel. behind a <-eil of
From behind this ,eil* we do not now whether we are blac7sinned or white7
sinned* tall or short* healthy or ill* employed or unemployed* power.ul or wea* rich or poor*
(erman or Chinese or Aaitian. ?naware o. our class position and social status* our race* reli"ion
and nationality* our abilities* predispositions* and propensities* we would not desi"n principles o.
5ustice that .a,ored a particular social or personal condition. @ot nowin" what position in
society 77 or on the planet 77 we occupied* we would establish principles o. 5ustice that were as
.air as possible to e,eryone.
Behind the ,eil o. i"norance* we would also be i"norant o. our date o. birth. 9e mi"ht* .or
instance* ha,e been born .i.ty years a"o* or only arri,e in the world ne4t century. It .ollows that
we would desi"n an ethics that was e6uitable to both current and .uture "enerations. In adherin"
to the principles o. 5ustice* Cawls writes* <we are not allowed to treat "enerations di..erently
solely on the "rounds that they are earlier or later in time.>
In order .or the ethical rules or
a4ioms "uidin" our actions to be truly uni,ersali8able* they must be acceptable to .uture as well
as e4istin" "enerations.
Lea,in" ethics aside .or the moment* we mi"ht note that the de,elopment o. a concern .or .uture
"enerations is not at all surprisin" .rom a biolo"ical point o. ,iew. And "i,en that we depend on
our descendents to carry .orward our "enetic material* it is not surprisin" that we concern
oursel,es with their wel.are. %espite the most calculatin"* sel.7ser,in" e..orts* our physical
bodies will disinte"rate within a .ew score years. Aence indi,iduals pursue a "enetic .orm o.
immortality by way o. the costly and o.ten dan"erous business o. bearin" and rearin" o..sprin".
In this li"ht* seein" an e4tended li.e .or our "enes throu"h children is a per.ectly reasonable
thin" to do. 9hen women ris their li,es to "i,e birth* and when parents mae economic or other
sacri.ices .or their children* they are* in some sense* pursuin" their own "enetic sel.7interest. The
American poet John Trumball :1/)2710#1; .amously doubted whether we owed anythin" to
posterity* rhetorically asin" M9hat has posterity done .or usEM Biolo"ically speain"* o. course*
posterity does a "reat deal .or us. It allows us to li,e on beyond our .our7score years. Posterity
"i,es us a .orm o. immortality.
To spea o. pro"eny pro,idin" immortality .or our "enes is rather inaccurate. ?nless we clone
oursel,es* our speci.ic "enes will not li,e .ore,er* re"ardless o. how many children*
"randchildren* and "reat7"randchildren we ha,e. A child bears only hal. o. his or her motherDs
"enes and hal. o. his or her .atherDs "enes. A "randchild carries .orward only one76uarter o.
each "randparentDs "enes* and a "reat7"randchild only an ei"hth. As "enes disperse o,er the
"enerations* the biolo"ically7based bond to posterity weaens in "eometric pro"ression. The
"enes that we share with the "reat "randchildren o. the "reat "randchildren o. our "reat
"randchildren will be only ne"li"ibly more numerous than those we share today with complete
stran"ers li,in" on the other side o. the "lobe. By ha,in" pro"eny* we may lea,e our mar on
.uture "enerations* but it becomes a ,ery blurry mar.
'. course* concern .or the wel.are o. .uture "enerations is not limited to concern .or oneDs
o..sprin". Cachel Carson* the eminent en,ironmental writer who brou"ht the dan"ers o. pesticide
use to national attention in the 11+2s* hi"hli"hted our responsibilities .or .uture "enerations.
Lie all prophets* she was much ,ili.ied by the powers that be* both within and beyond the
chemical industry. A particularly ,oci.erous critic 6uestioned the moti,es .or her action. 9hy
was Carson so concerned .or the lon"7term e..ects o. pesticide use* he 6ueried. A.ter all* she
was a spinster and had no children.
The critic missed the point- concern .or .uture "enerations is
a moral commitment that "oes beyond the carin" .or o..sprin". CarsonDs concern .or the .uture
o. humanity was not based on her lo,e .or a particular child or "randchild and the need to protect
his or her prospects. CarsonDs sense o. obli"ation to .uture "enerations* ultimately* was an
ethical commitment that went beyond ith and in.
9hile an e4panded time hori8on is central to an ethics o. sustainability* looin" to the .uture has
a lon" and ,enerable history that .ar predates contemporary sustainability concerns. $dmund
Bure* the conser,ati,e 10
century British political thiner and parliamentarian* maintained that
the state was <a partnership not only between those who are li,in"* but between those who are
li,in"* those who are dead* and those who are to be born.M
(i,en this partnership* Bure ar"ued
that current "enerations ou"ht to be mind.ul o. <what is due to their posterity> and must* abo,e
all* re.rain .rom wastin" their inheritance. 9e ha,e no ri"ht* Bure insisted* to pass on to .uture
"enerations a <ruin> rather than a <habitation.>
In America* and with a ,ery practical bent* the .oundin" .athers also ,oiced their sense o.
obli"ation to .uture "enerations. Thomas Paine insisted that .uture "enerations ou"ht not be
saddled with the repercussions o. .ormer "enerationsD choices. Both (eor"e 9ashin"ton and
Thomas Je..erson maintained that each "eneration must pay its own debts and that the .ailure to
do so burdened posterity with depri,ation and the threat o. war.
$arly national en,ironmental laws and policies were e4plicitly "rounded in ethical obli"ations
that spanned "enerations. In the ?nited States* .or e4ample* the landmar @ational
$n,ironmental Policy Act o. 11+1 issued the mandate to <Ful.ill the responsibilities o. each
"eneration as trustee o. the en,ironment .or succeedin" "enerations.>
This inter"enerational
ethics became a cornerstone .or en,ironmental thou"ht and action. 'ne o. the .irst o..icial
lina"es o. inter"enerational ethics to the lan"ua"e o. sustainability appeared in 110/. The
9orld Commission on $n,ironment and %e,elopment :aa the Brundtland Commission;
.amously de.ined de,elopment as sustainable when it <meets the needs o. the present without
compromisin" the ability o. .uture "enerations to meet their own needs.>
9hile ar"uin" .or
economic de,elopment to impro,e the li,es o. the worldDs poor* the reportDs authors also wanted
to ensure that current economic "rowth did not cause en,ironmental dama"e that would burden
.uture "enerations with diminished prospects. Current "enerations* the Brundtland Commission
maintained* did not ha,e the ri"ht to economically while .uture "enerations were saddled
with the cost o. ecolo"ical reparations.
The 9orld Commission aptly titled its 110/ report* Our Common Future. The title re.lects two
important .acts. First* we li,e at a time o. "lobal interdependence* and these interdependencies
are liely to "row. Aowe,er separated and independent the li,es o. nations and peoples may
ha,e been in the past* the .uture will be one o. entwined .ates. In a shrinin" world increasin"ly
connected throu"h "lobal marets* media* en,ironmental challen"es* and intersectin" cultures*
the .uture will be a common one. Second* the destiny o. this planet and the human species is a
responsibility shared by all. Since our actions and interactions will create a common .uture* we
ha,e a moral responsibility to shape this .uture in ways that con.orm to common principles and
In 111/* a decade a.ter Our Common Future .irst appeared* the (eneral Con.erence o. the
?nited @ations $ducational* Scienti.ic and Cultural 'r"ani8ation :?@$SC'; endorsed a
eclaration on the )esponsibilities of the Present "enerations towards Future "enerations.
$4plicitly employin" the lan"ua"e o. sustainability* the %eclaration held that <present
"enerations ha,e the responsibility o. ensurin" that the needs and interests o. .uture "enerations
are .ully sa.e"uarded.> Tain" this responsibility seriously re6uired that <each "eneration
inheritin" the $arth temporarily shall tae care to use natural resources reasonably and ensure
that li.e is not pre5udiced by harm.ul modi.ications o. the ecosystems and that scienti.ic and
technolo"ical pro"ress in all .ields does not harm li.e on $arth.>
The ?@$SC' declaration was
"rounded in a sense o. moral responsibility* but it was clear that such a statement o. moral
purpose demanded empirical .oundations. Accordin"ly* the ?.@. initiated the lar"est study to
date o. the status o. the earthDs natural resources and ecosystems. A.ter .i,e years o. research by
more than 1#22 scientists .rom 1) countries* the Millennium $cosystem Assessment was
completed in !22).
The .ull report* o,er !222 pa"es lon"* laid out in "reat detail how and why
the planetOs ecosystems may pro,e incapable o. bein" sustained owin" to the strains placed on
them by contemporary humanity. The Millennium $cosystem Assessment was "rounded in a
sense o. responsibility to .uture "enerations.
?ntil the de,elopment o. nuclear weapons* the 6uestion o. the continued e4istence o. the human
race was not much o. a practical or moral concern.
That all chan"ed with the buildin" and use
o. the .irst atomic bomb durin" the Second 9orld 9ar and the ensuin" Cold 9ar o. the 11)2s
and 11+2s. 9ith considerable alarm* people witnessed the tremendous "rowth o. the nuclear
arsenals o. the ?nited States and the So,iet ?nion* the worldDs superpowers* and the
proli.eration o. nuclear weapons amon" a number o. other states. Scientists obser,ed that an
e4tended e4chan"e o. nuclear missiles would produce the instant death o. tens i. not hundreds o.
millions o. ci,ilians in the metropolises o. the warrin" states* and many more deaths .rom
radiation poisonin". In turn* the smoe and soot in5ected into the stratosphere by the burnin" o.
lar"e cities would blanet the earth* drastically reducin" sunli"ht and chillin" the planet. Such a
<nuclear winter*> it was hypothesi8ed* could produce the "reatest climate chan"e in the history o.
the human race. A new ice a"e mi"ht be"in* destroyin" .ood supplies and wipin" out "reat
swaths o. li.e. For the .irst time in human history* it was concei,able that ci,ili8ation mi"ht
actually destroy itsel..
As i. nuclear annihilation were not enou"h* a new worldwide threat was percei,ed in the 11+2s.
',erpopulation* widespread pollution* and the o,erconsumption o. natural resources raised the
specter o. a "lobal en,ironmental collapse. A massi,e <die7bac> o. populations was predicted
i. current trends persisted* with the .ate o. ci,ili8ation restin" in the balance. In subse6uent
decades* the threat o. "lobal warmin" primarily caused by the burnin" o. .ossil .uels once a"ain
thrust the .uture o. the human race to the .ore.ront o. moral debate. For many* climate chan"e
represents the lar"est and most pressin" threat to ci,ili8ation. Meanwhile* the de,elopment o.
sel.7replicatin" <nanobots> and "enetic en"ineerin"* which mi"ht release ,irulent <desi"ner
patho"ens*> also poses "ra,e dan"ers to our species. At the dawn o. the twenty7.irst century* we
must acnowled"e that ne,er be.ore has the human race .ound so many ways to place the li,es
and li,elihoods o. .uture "enerations H and the .ate o. ci,ili8ation itsel. 77 in 5eopardy.
9hether the continued e4istence o. the human race is actually at ris is open to debate. $,en
the lar"est human7caused catastrophes may not result in the annihilation o. the species as a
whole or the complete destruction o. ci,ili8ation. @onetheless* such disasters 77 o. lar"e and
small scale H will certainly a..ect the wellbein" o. our descendents. The decisions and actions
we tae today* whether they produce "lobal catastrophes* re"ional disasters* or isolated and
incremental chan"e .or better or worse will impact the health and wel.are o. .uture "enerations
and their opportunities to meet their needs and satis.y their wants. 9ith this in mind* it is
important to reco"ni8e that the ri"hts o. .uture "enerations are not limited to mere e4istence.
9hat inter"enerational 5ustice ass us to protect are the ri"hts o. .uture "enerations to the same
le,el o. wellbein" and the same opportunities as are currently en5oyed by present "enerations.
To maintain such a 6uality o. li.e across the "enerations* the use o. natural resources must not
e4ceed the earthDs capacity to re"enerate them. Consider the loss o. ecolo"ical di,ersity that is
now occurrin" on a massi,e scale across the "lobe. Currently* there are nearly / billion people on
the planet. That .i"ure mi"ht be compared with the 122*222 "orillas that still populate the earth*
the )2*222 polar bears that wal our northern lands* the 12*222 ti"ers that ha,e mana"ed to
sur,i,e in diminishin" habitats* and the appro4imately !22 Cali.ornia condors clawin" their way
bac .rom near7e4tinction. 'ther species are disappearin" today at a rate one hundred to a
thousand times "reater than the so7called bac5+,oun) ,ate* which is the natural rate o. species
e4tinction in the absence o. human bein"s.
Species e4tinction today occurs primarily because
o. habitat loss or de"radation as humans burn down* plou"h up* build upon* pa,e o,er* or pollute
massi,e acrea"es o. .orests* scrublands* "rasslands* wetlands* and coral ree.s. ',er hal. the
worldOs wetlands and old7"rowth tropical and temperate .orests are already "one. Loss o.
biolo"ical di,ersity is also occurrin" because o. the introduction o. e4otic :in,asi,e; species*
which o,ertae and eliminate indi"enous .lora and .auna. Pollution o. air* land* and water as
well as o,er.ishin"* o,erhuntin"* and o,erhar,estin" are also ma5or problems. Finally climate
chan"e increasin"ly appears to be playin" a si"ni.icant role in species e4tinction* and its
contribution to the de,astation will liely increase precipitously in the near .uture.
It is estimated* "i,en current trends* that hal. o. all li,in" mammal and bird species today will be
e4tinct within #22 years. 'ther studies are e,en more alarmin"- potentially hal. o. all species
may become e4tinct within the ne4t century.
Species e4tinction on such a massi,e scale
undoubtedly will 5eopardi8e the wel.are o. .uture "enerations* and will se,erely constrict their
opportunities. 9hile the loss o. biodi,ersity may not lead to the destruction o. the human
species as a whole or the end o. ci,ili8ation* it certainly will se,erely de"rade the web o. li.e that
humans depend upon .or their own sustenance* health* recreational pleasure* and spiritual
renewal. The inescapable .act is that e4tinction is .ore,erL once a species is e4tinct* it will ne,er
a"ain "race the planet. 'nce this "eneration allows a species to disappear* .uture "enerations 77
to the end o. time 77 will be depri,ed o. the opportunity to en5oy its presence or otherwise
.rom its e4istence.
The biolo"ist $. '. 9ilson has said that MThe one process now "oin" on that will tae millions o.
years to correct is the loss o. "enetic and species di,ersity by the destruction o. natural habitats.
This is the .olly our descendants are least liely to .or"i,e.M
This .olly* 9ilson predicts* Mwill
be remembered by "enerations a hundred years .rom now* a thousand years .rom now.M
Conser,ation biolo"ist Michael SoulN obser,es that the problem is not solely the destruction o.
li,in" species but also the elimination o. su..icient wilderness space to allow .or the e,olution o.
new species. MFor the .irst time in hundreds o. millions o. years*> SoulN writes* <si"ni.icant
e,olutionary chan"e in most hi"her or"anisms is comin" to a screechin" halt.M
scientist @orman Myers similarly maintains that-
In addition to eliminatin" lar"e numbers o. species* we are also causin" e,olution
to lose its capacity to come up with lar"e numbers o. replacement species.... J9Ke
are e..ecti,ely sayin" that we are absolutely certain that people .or the ne4t )
million years can do without maybe hal. o. all o. todayOs species. ThatOs .ar and
away the bi""est decision e,er taen by one "eneration on the unconsulted behal.
o. .uture "enerations since we "ot up on our hind le"s.
'. course* .uture "enerations can ne,er be consulted as to whether they want or appreciate
biolo"ical di,ersity or any other "ood. 9e shall address this di..iculty in a subse6uent section.
For now* the point is simply that we hold the prospects o. .uture "enerations in our hands. At an
ecolo"ical le,el* many o. those prospects are diminishin".
9ith this in mind* indi,iduals and sustainability7oriented or"ani8ations ha,e "enerally made a
<.uture .ocus> central to their e..orts. A popular slo"an 77 M9e do not inherit the $arth .rom our
parents* we borrow it .rom our childrenM 77 underlines this sense o. obli"ation.
Ad,ocates .or
sustainability as us to sa.e"uard our childrenDs natural inheritance* an inheritance that too
hundreds o. millions o. years to e,ol,e. Few who adopt the sustainability .ramewor loo that
.ar into the .uture. But* at least in some cases* the .uture .ocus is 6uite e4pansi,e.
The 9ildlands Pro5ect* by way o. e4ample* has the aim o. preser,in" and e4pandin" ,iable
populations o. the indi"enous .lora and .auna o. the American continent throu"h the creation o.
wilderness areas and corridors. The "oal is to preser,e or reclaim !) percent o. the land area o.
the continent* a "oal pro5ect administrators acnowled"e will only be achie,ed slowly* with !227
to )227year pro5ections .or reco,ery in some areas.
The le"acy o. such conser,ation e..orts is
meant to endure .or millennia.
Liewise* or"ani8ations dedicated to establishin" sustainable population le,els are similarly
worin" with e4panded time hori8ons. Forty years a"o* there were hal. as many human bein"s
on the planet as there are today. The human population o. the world has "rown ten7.old o,er the
past three centuries and .our7.old o,er the past century. The number o. people the earth can
sustainably support is much in debate. To determine the true carryin" capacity o. the planet* the
a,era"e le,el o. consumption per capita would ha,e to be established. At current le,els o.
consumption* the earth would be able to support .ar .ewer Americans than $uropeans* and .ar
.ewer $uropeans than Asians or A.ricans. Still* analysts ha,e su""ested that the current
population is already well beyond what the planet can sustain o,er the lon" term* and .urther
"rowth in population will certainly e4acerbate the problem. For indi,iduals and or"ani8ations
that .ocus on limitin" or re,ersin" population "rowth* the =uality o. li.e .or .uture "enerations
stands diametrically opposed to the =uantity o. people currently depletin" the earthDs resources.
The ?nited @ationsD most detailed studies and pro5ections o. national and "lobal population
"rowth reach to !2)2.
By that time* or within a .ew decades o. !2)2* it is liely that population
"rowth on the planet will ha,e stabili8ed* probably around the 1712 billion mar. 9ith # billion
more people liely to occupy the planet o,er the ne4t &2 years* the le,el o. the earthDs
biodi,ersity and a number o. other indicators o. en,ironmental and social health and wel.are are
,ery liely to decline. Much o. this en,ironmental de"radation and the ensuin" social hardships
will occur in our li.etimes. Sustainability is .ar7si"hted rather than near7si"hted* but its hori8on
o. moral concern is not limited to the wel.are o. distant descendants. It also pertains to the .uture
we will e4perience in our own li.etimes H whether that .uture is measured in wees* months*
years* or decades.
In pre,ious centuries* be.ore the industrial a"e* human technolo"y was relati,ely rudimentary.
But* as Jared %iamond has demonstrated in his best7sellin" boo* Collapse!
many rudimentary
technolo"ies* coupled with short7term thinin"* led to disastrous conse6uences. Simple iron*
bron8e* or e,en stone a4es produced the de.orestation o. a number o. ancient lands and the
demise o. entire peoples* such as those occupyin" $aster Island. A"riculture based on primiti,e
mechanical methods o. plowin" and plantin"* prior to any use o. arti.icial .ertili8er and
machinery* led to the widespread erosion and salini8ation o. soil* brin"in" about the collapse o.
other ancient societies* such as the Anasa8i o. southwestern @orth America and the Maya o.
Central America. %iamond underlines that en,ironmental destruction is not the sole* or
sometimes e,en predominant* .actor that leads to the collapse o. ci,ili8ations. But* coupled with
o,erpopulation* en,ironmental destruction has played a decisi,e role in many instances. 9hile
technolo"y is certainly implicated in these cases o. social collapse* the technolo"y in,ol,ed was
not particularly ad,anced. A little technolo"y can "o a lon" way in brin"in" a"ricultural*
economic* and military bene.its and in producin" en,ironmentally and socially disastrous
Technolo"y maes our impact on .uture "enerations potentially more potent and o. lon"er
duration* so technolo"y that produces "reater and lon"er7lastin" impacts would presumably
demand "reater o,ersi"ht in its de,elopment and use i. we tae our ethical responsibilities to
.uture "enerations seriously. 9ithin sustainability circles* this measure o. moral responsibility
o.ten "oes by the name o. a ;se-enth +ene,ation< ethic.
Prior to the $uropean arri,al in @orth America* a con.ederacy .ormed .rom the Mohaw*
'neida* 'nonda"a* Cayu"a* and Seneca tribes in what is now ?pstate @ew 3or. These
con.ederated <People o. the Lon"house*> who came to be nown as the Iro6uois nation :and
were later 5oined by the Tuscarora tribe;* de,eloped a <bindin"> oral constitution called the
Haudenosaunee or ;$,eat La8 of Peace3< The (reat Law stipulated that one must consider
the impact on .uture "enerations in e,ery deliberation. @ot only immediate e..ects* but also lon"7
term riss* costs* and bene.its e4tendin" o,er multiple "enerations were to be considered be.ore
tain" any action. %ecision7maers* the <mentors o. the people*> were described as ha,in"
<endless patience> and sins with a thicness o. <se,en spans.> This latter phrase has been
interpreted to mean that their decisions attended to the wel.are o. se,en "enerations. The (reat
Law ass all mentors and decision7maers to <Loo and listen .or the wel.are o. the whole
people and ha,e always in ,iew not only the present but also the comin" "enerations* e,en those
whose .aces are yet beneath the sur.ace o. the "round 77 the unborn o. the .uture @ation.M
Ben5amin Franlin and James Madison* two o. the .oundin" .athers o. the ?nited States* were
said to ha,e studied the (reat Law o. the Iro6uois and looed to it in their own e..orts to cra.t an
endurin" constitution .or the youn" American nation.
(i,en the Iro6uoisD le,el o. technolo"ical de,elopment :and population density;* se,en
"enerations H appro4imately 1)2 to !22 years H would be an appropriate time scale .or
sustainable decision7main". It would be di..icult to ima"ine any action that these tribal peoples
mi"ht tae whose e..ects beyond 1)2 years would not already be apparent within 122 or e,en )2
years. I. the actions they too had no ne"ati,e repercussions .or se,en "enerations* it was liely
that they would ha,e no ne"ati,e repercussions .or /2 or /22 "enerations.
The sme cannot be said today. 'ur technolo"y has ad,anced in its power and scope* and with
these ad,ances come repercussions that e4tend their shadows across time. Consider a .ew
Chloro.luorocarbons :CFCs; were in,ented in the late 1022s. In the 11!2s* an American
en"ineer* Thomas Mid"ley* impro,ed the synthesis o. CFCs* allowin" .or their widespread*
commercial use as re.ri"erants :and later as sol,ents and propellants;. In 11/&* it was
disco,ered that CFCs si"ni.icantly contributed to the destruction o. stratospheric o8one* a band
o. "as 1 to !! miles abo,e the planet that protects the biosphere .rom harm.ul ultra,iolet
radiation :?U7B;. In the ?nited States* CFCs were banned in nonessential aerosol products in
11/0. Concerted action to stem CFC production and use* howe,er* was not taen until scientists
had disco,ered a "rowin" <o8one hole> o,er the Antarctic. In 110/* an international treaty
called the ont,eal P,otocol on Substances That De(lete the O=one Laye, was written.
Two years later* the ont,eal P,otocol came into .orce and ad,anced industrial nations
committed to producin" no more CFCs be"innin" in 111+.
Production o. CFCs .ell maredly a.ter the Montreal Protocol. Still* o8one depletion may "et
worse be.ore it "ets better sometime in the mid7!1
century* as old chloro.luorocarbons continue
to wor their way up to the stratosphere where they may persist in their o8one7destroyin"
reactions .or many years be.ore becomin" inacti,e. That is why stratospheric o8one has
continued to decline by about & percent per decade since the late 11/2s. And there has been a
much lar"er* seasonal decrease in o8one o,er polar re"ions H reachin" up to +2R 77 durin" this
same period. As a result* photosynthetic processes will continue to be disturbed* a6uatic
planton will be illed* and many o. the earthOs creatures* includin" human bein"s* will
e4perience hi"her rates o. sin cancer* eye cataracts* and other ailments .or many more decades.
The international treaty de,eloped in Montreal pro,ided an inspirin" e4ample o. international
cooperation and .oresi"ht. Between 1)2 and 11) nations si"ned either the ori"inal document or
its subse6uent re,isions. It has been ,ery success.ul* and will e,entually allow .or the
restoration o. stratospheric o8one. @onetheless* the .act remains that in little more than hal. a
century* a li.e7protectin" atmospheric layer that the $arth re6uired 1.1 billion years to produce
was si"ni.icantly depleted.
The dama"e caused by this depletion o. stratospheric o8one harms
us today* and will continue to e4ert its ne"ati,e e..ects upon .uture "enerations.
The staes are e,en hi"her and the dan"ers are o. lon"er duration when we e4amine the impact
o. radioacti,e waste. Cadioacti,e waste is produced in the process o. buildin" nuclear weapons
and main" nuclear ener"y. A hi"hly to4ic material* radioacti,e waste must be isolated .or
many thousands o. years to pre,ent contamination o. the "round water* the earthOs sur.ace* and
the air. Plutonium7!#1* the primary material used in nuclear weapons* taes a 6uarter o. a million
years to decay to sa.e le,els 77 that is .i.ty times lon"er than any ci,ili8ation has yet sur,i,ed*
and lon"er e,en than ,omo sapiens ha,e waled the earth. 'ther radioacti,e isotopes* such as
iodine71!1* tae 122 times lon"er than Plutonium7!#1 to decay.
9hen the ?.S. $n,ironmental Protection A"ency en"a"es in the re"ulation o. the stora"e and
disposal o. radioacti,e waste* it must concern itsel. with timescales spannin" ten thousand to one
million years. 9ith the decision in !221 to discontinue e4ploration o. 3ucca Mountain in
@e,ada as a permanent stora"e site* the ?nited States remains without a home .or its "rowin"
stocpile o. radioacti,e waste* which currently sits in temporary* abo,e7"round depositories.
Ine,itably* to produce radioacti,e isotopes today is to saddle .uture "enerations with the
responsibility o. disposin" and monitorin" a ,ast tonna"e o. ha8ardous material.
Many o. the most pressin" en,ironmental concerns H climate chan"e* the depletion o. natural
resources* and the eradication o. species and habitats 77 ha,e rami.ications that will e4hibit their
"reatest .orce lon" a.ter present "enerations are "one. And it is precisely the len"th o.
technolo"yDs shadow 77 the amount o. time be.ore its repercussions mae themsel,es .ully .elt 77
that determines whether we are obli"ated to concern oursel,es with the wel.are o. se,en
"enerations or se,en thousand "enerations. '. course* the capacity o. technolo"y to a..ect the
.uture is not always ne"ati,e 77 .ar .rom it. There are many endurin" bene.its* not 5ust riss and
costs* that must be considered when assessin" the impact o. technolo"ical de,elopments.
Consider the internal combustion en"ine. %e,eloped in the latter hal. o. the 11
century* the
internal combustion en"ine mi4es .uel with an o4idi8er* typically air* in a combustion chamber*
typically a piston or turbine. This mi4ture is then i"nited* causin" the 6uic e4pansion o. the
.luidG"as mi4ture and producin" the .orce to the piston or turbine blade that pro,ides mechanical
power. The in,ention o. internal combustion en"ines allowed the de,elopment o. an automobile
industry that has trans.ormed the planet. At the turn o. the !2
century* there were less than
12*222 re"istered motor ,ehicles in the ?nited States and not many more worldwide. By the
late71112s* )22 million cars were in use "lobally. Today* the .i"ure is 6uicly approachin" one
billion. The internal combustion en"ines in these ,ehicles burn appro4imately #22 billion
"allons o. "asoline and diesel .uel annually.
The e4ponential "rowth in automobile use has caused a "reat deal o. ecolo"ical destruction and
pollution. Coads and hi"hways bisect and de"rade millions o. acres o. land. The tens o.
millions o. automobiles produced and discarded e,ery day represent a massi,e depletion o.
natural resources* a si"ni.icant source o. air pollution .rom .actories* and a hu"e solid waste
problem. Cun7o.. o. motor .luids and roadway chemicals is a ma5or cause o. water pollution.
And* o. course* the burnin" o. .ossil .uels in internal combustion en"ines produces ha8ardous air
pollutants* includin" nitro"en o4ides* carbon mono4ide* and o8one that .re6uently blanets cities
and contributes to poor air 6uality. Far .rom the least concern* o,er a third o. the carbon7dio4ide
currently emitted in the ?nited States comes the burnin" o. .uels in internal combustion en"ines.
9orldwide carbon dio4ide emitted .rom internal combustion en"ines contributes a 6uarter o. this
potent "reenhouse "as.
'. course* the story is not all bad. Be.ore the use o. automobiles* cities were also polluted .rom
the mode o. transportation in use then as manure .rom horses o.ten clo""ed streets and sewers
and the carcasses o. dead horses .ound their way into nearby bays and ri,ers. Ceplacin" horses
with automobiles has also pro,ided tremendous economic bene.its. The automobile industry* as
well as the thousands o. other industrial* commercial* and domestic uses .or internal combustion
en"ines has pro,en a massi,e stimulant to economic "rowth and de,elopment worldwide. In
turn* commercial transportation* recreational and business tra,el* .ood production and deli,ery*
buildin" construction* and so many other .eatures o. contemporary li.e ha,e been accelerated and
o.ten much impro,ed by the use o. internal combustion en"ines. There are* in turn* mani.old
social and personal bene.its. Indeed* it would be di..icult H and .or many indi,iduals and
industries* rather .ri"htenin" H to ima"ine li.e without the mobility* mechanical power* and
independence a..orded by internal combustion en"ines.
9hene,er we assess the impact o. technolo"y* the story is seldom* i. e,er* all bad or all "ood. In
each case* there are costs and bene.its to be wei"hed and assessed. These costs and bene.its are
not uni.orm* either across social space or timeL they ,ary dependin" upon the staeholders
in,ol,ed. For e4ample* snowmobiles may be a boon to people o. northern climates who depend
on them .or transportation durin" lon" winter months. At the same time* snowmobiles may be a
curse to outdoor recreationists who would much to snowshoe or cross7country si across
winter landscapes unmarred by the sounds and smells o. .ast7mo,in" machines.
The .uture7.ocus inherent to the sustainability .ramewor does not eliminate the need to care.ully
wei"h and compare these di,erse costs and bene.its. It does insist that one "roup o. staeholders
must be well represented in any assessment. These staeholders are currently without an
e..ecti,e say in the matter. Bein" ,ery youn" or yet to be born* they cannot spea .or
themsel,es. 9ithin the sustainability .ramewor* .uture "enerations must be "i,en a ,oice.
Importantly* .uture "enerations are not a homo"enous "roup bearin" identical interests. The
.uture* lie the present* will be populated with many di,erse "roups o. people :as well as di,erse
species o. plants and animals;* each with particular interests and perspecti,es. Incorporatin" a
.uture .ocus into deliberation e..ecti,ely ass us to "o beyond wei"hin" the costs and bene.its o.
our actions upon the wide array o. current staeholders. It presents the dauntin" tas o.
accountin" .or an e6ually i. not more di,erse* and liely more numerous* population o. .uture
9e owe .uture "enerations a world that is not substantially diminished in its li.e7sustainin"
capacities. 9e are also obli"ated to pass on to them the bene.its o. culture and ci,ili8ation.
9ith this in mind* John Cawls held that
$ach "eneration must not only preser,e the "ains o. culture and ci,ili8ation* and
maintain intact those 5ust institutions that ha,e been established* but it must also
put aside in each period o. time a suitable amount o. real capital accumulation.
This sa,in" may tae ,arious .orms .rom net in,estment in machinery and other
means o. production to in,estment in learnin" and education.
In many respects* a "reat deal o. capital accumulation H in terms o. education* institutions* and
in.rastructure 77 is always bein" passed on to .uture "enerations. But today we are also passin"
alon" tremendous amounts o. .inancial debt.
In !220* the per capita portion o. the public or national debt amounted to F#+*222. This is
money owed on its citi8ensD behal. by the ?.S. "o,ernment to ,arious domestic and increasin"ly
.orei"n creditors. Much o. the national debt will only be paid o.. in the li,es o. the youn"est
citi8ens and by .uture "enerations o. Americans. 'ur collecti,e decision to burden .uture
"enerations with our .inancial debts mi"ht simply be an e4tension o. our own willin"ness to
incur personal debts that we stru""le to repay o,er months and years. For most o. the decade
precedin" the .inancial collapse o. !220* almost hal. o. American .amilies spent more than they
earned each year. The a,era"e consumer debt H which includes credit card debt and other loans*
but does not include mort"a"es H nearly doubled in the decade precedin" the .inancial collapse
o. !220* reachin" more than F0*222 .or e,ery man* woman* and child in the ?nited States. This
debt must be repaid in the li.etime o. the debtor :or throu"h liens on his or her estate
immediately upon death; unless personal banruptcy is declared H somethin" that occurs in the
?nited States at a much hi"her rate than any other country.
Cather than "rati.ication* we o.ten choose H as indi,iduals and nations 77 to li,e beyond our
means. 9hile the ?nited States is in the top 6uarter o. nations in terms o. the si8e o. its national
debt as a percenta"e o. its (ross %omestic Product :(%P;* and while it borrows o,er hal. o. all
the money lent to "o,ernments in the world* there are scores o. other countries* both de,eloped
and de,elopin"* that also .ind themsel,es deeply in hoc. 9hy do people and nations tae on
such debt* choosin" to en5oy the pleasures o. immediate consumption while de.errin" the pain o.
The answer is that the .uture whispers while the present shouts. (ro Aarlem Brundtland
described the loud and demandin" ,oice o. the present as Mthe tyranny o. the immediate.M Such
tyranny may be more se,ere today than in times past* but it is by no means an in,ention o. the
century. Indeed* the tyranny o. the immediate played a central role in AmericaOs national
history* which is* in many respects* the history o. a .rontier con6uered .or 6uic A
Scandina,ian naturalist tra,elin" in America in the mid71/22s obser,ed that Mthe "rain .ields* the
meadows* the .orests* the cattle* etc. are treated with e6ual carelessness=.. JTKheir eyes are .i4ed
upon the present "ain and they are blind to the .uture.M
The problem o. blindness toward the
.uture* while perhaps hei"htened in the ?nited States owin" to its .rontier mentality* is hardly
restricted to the @ew 9orld. The tyranny o. the immediate is a basic .eature o. human nature.
$conomists call it a <positi,e time pre.erence.> Problems that will a..ect us today recei,e
immediate attentionL tomorrowDs problems* while predictable* are liely to "et i"nored. The
.uture* as economists say* becomes Mdiscounted.M The .urther an e,ent is displaced in time* the
more its ,alue decreases.
%iscountin" the .uture o.ten maes "ood economic sense. A.ter all* a bird in the hand is worth
more than one in the bush. A bird in the hand cannot .ly away and is immediately a,ailable .or
use. It mi"ht lay e""s* e..ecti,ely producin" income .or its owner. %iscountin" the .uture at a
rate that re.lects the inherent insecurities o. .uture endea,ors and the loss o. income :or
compound interest; .rom current "oods certainly maes economic sense. The problem is that
"ood economics o.ten translates into bad ecolo"y.
9ould you to be "i,en F122 today or F1!1 in two yearsE Most o. us would tae the
money now :and run;. That represents a .airly standard discount rate o. ten percent a year.
@ow consider an economic pro5ect that would create a F12 million depletion o. ecolo"ical
resources within the century. At a ten percent discount rate* that pro5ect would mae economic
sense as lon" as it produced a F/!) today^ 3ou can see where this is "oin". As John
%ry8e obser,es* Ma system may be 5ud"ed economically rational while simultaneously en"a"in"
in the wholesale destruction o. nature* or e,en* ultimately* in the total e4tinction o. the human
race. The latter result holds because o. the lo"ic o. discountin" the .uture.M
9hen costs o.
miti"atin" pollution* "rapplin" with resource depletion* and respondin" to the e..ects o. habitat
destruction are shi.ted to .uture "enerations* and these costs are discounted by present7day
decision7maers* then todayDs economic rationality portends tomorrowDs social and ecolo"ical
So "ood economics today can become bad economics .or .uture "enerations. It is natural .or us
to ,alue a bird in the hand more than one in the bush* but when the bird in 6uestion is stewin" in
someoneOs cooin" pot today* .uture "enerations who mi"ht ha,e collected its e""s must "o
without. In such situations* the depletion o. <natural capital> :the bird* or perhaps an entire
species o. birds; lea,es .uture "enerations without the possibility o. li,in" upon the interest that
natural capital "enerates :the e""s;.
@atural capital is a stoc o. natural resources that yields an on"oin" .low o. natural "oods or
ser,ices. A stoc o. trees :i.e.* a .orest;* .or instance* produces timber that may be used .or
lumber* ener"y con,ersion* or paper products. A stoc o. water :e.". a lae; may pro,ide .or
drinin" needs or industrial uses* a sin within which non7to4ic wastes may be dispersed and
reabsorbed* and .ish .or consumption. Such natural stocs* i. utili8ed in a sustainable manner*
may continue to produce ,aluable "oods and ser,ices inde.initely. Aowe,er* when the
e4ploitation o. a stoc becomes too "reat* its natural resources pro,e incapable o. re"eneratin"
themsel,es :.ast enou"h;. The natural <income> it produces H the .low o. "oods and ser,ices
that would normally be pro,ided inde.initely H becomes tapped out. At that point* any .urther
e4ploitation e4hausts the natural capital. As the stoc is depleted* the income it "enerates also
diminishes. In the lon" term* the depletion o. natural capital lea,es one without both capital and
I. current "enerations are depletin" natural capital* then .uture "enerations will .ace diminishin"
returns. The ethical upshot* as a national report entitled Choosing a Sustainable Future
obser,es* is that current "enerations o. natural resource e4ploiters are e..ecti,ely Mstealin" the
en,ironmental capital o. .uture "enerations.M
Such ecolo"ical debts are created e,ery time we
de"rade the natural en,ironment or deplete its resources to the point that .uture "enerations are
le.t with less than we oursel,es inherited.
'ur current predicament* then* is rather dire. @ot only are we incurrin" lar"e personal and
national debts and depletin" our .inancial capital* but we are also runnin" up massi,e ecolo"ical
debts* depletin" the natural capital o. the planet. 'ur descendants will be .orced to pay these
debts 77 that is an in5ustice and some would say that it is also undemocratic. 9e may reasonably
assume that .uture ,oters would not endorse their bein" burdened with reparations .or debts
made be.ore they were born* debts whose bene.its they ne,er en5oyed. Aad they a chance to
,ote on the issue* we may be assured that policies allowin" such .inancial and ecolo"ical debts
would not be appro,ed. So inter"enerational in5ustice is also an undemocratic process. As one
spoespeople .or sustainability insisted* M$colo"ically responsible democracy must consider the
ri"hts o. the true ma5ority 77 those billions o. people as yet unborn.M
The depletion o. natural capital may i"nore the principles o. 5ustice and the principles o.
democratic politics* but it appears to be con"ruent with the principles o. economics. <It is an
economic .act that posterity ne,er has been* and ne,er will be* able to do anythin" .or us*M
9illiam 'phuls writes. MPosterity is* there.ore* damned i. decisions are made Weconomically.D>
'. course* it is not only in economic a..airs that human bein"s discount the .uture. To be sure*
businesses concerned with the bottom line in a competiti,e "lobal maretplace are o.ten
.ocused on short7term pro.its at the cost o. lon"7term sustainability. 'ne mi"ht concede the
ine,itability o. this myopia in the business world* tain" solace in the hope that lon"er7term
thinin" predominates in other realms o. li.e. But in the area o. personal health* we now that
indi,iduals o.ten let the short7term pleasures o. com.ort :watchin" tele,ision rather than
e4ercisin"; and eatin" :too many .ats and su"ars and not enou"h .resh ,e"etables; 5eopardi8e
their lon"7term health.
Liewise* politicians today H thou"h one mi"ht e4pect them to ha,e e4tended local* re"ional*
national or "lobal interests at heart H are o.ten e6ually myopic. Just as todayDs corporations may
.ocus on 6uarterly earnin"s as they con.ront their sel.7interested shareholders* so politicians
encounterin" electoral pressures may .or"o lon"7term concerns and perspecti,es. The temporal
hori8on o. politicians who .ace re7election in two to .our years is o.ten as short as the campai"n
sound bites they produce. In this respect* the ri"hts o. ,oters yet to be born o.ten "et i"nored.
Certainly* i. current ,oters do not ,oice concern .or the wel.are o. .uture "enerations* politicians
will seldom respond to the needs o. those yet to be born and yet to ,ote. As Sierra Club
e4ecuti,e director Carl Pope obser,ed* the ,ision o. many politicians does not e4tend to M.uture
"enerations- an irrele,ant class o. people who canOt ,ote* arenOt consumers* and donOt ha,e
political action committees.M
Just as business people react to a challen"in" maretplace* so
politicians react to current pressure .rom power.ul lobbyists and a demandin" electorate. The
.uture and its citi8ens typically "et discounted.
9e .ace a special dan"er today- the economic* personal* and political discountin" o. the .uture
may be increasin" at precisely the time that technolo"ical inno,ations su""est the need .or
e4panded time hori8ons. 'ne o. the .irst people to sound the alarm o. this incon"ruity was
Cachel Carson* whose boo Silent Spring almost sin"le7handedly 5ump7started the en,ironmental
mo,ement. The messa"e o. Silent Spring! published in 11+!* was as strai"ht.orward as it was
disconcertin". Common pesticides o. the day* such as %%T :%ichloro7%iphenyl7
Trichloroethane;* did not 5ust ill pestsL they also had the unintended and une4pected e..ect o.
decimatin" entire populations o. other animals* includin" many birds. Absent its birds* Carson
predicted American nei"hborhoods would .ace a silent sprin"* .ree not only o. pesy bu"s but
also o. a,ian sin"ers.
Carson e4plained in "reat detail how the a"e7old attempt to "ain Mcontrol o. natureM throu"h the
use o. pesticides was sel.7de.eatin" because it .ailed to comprehend the intricate relationships
that constitute Mthe whole .abric o. li.e.M
Carson insisted that pesticides should really be called
biocides because they o.ten pro,e lethal not only to the tar"eted insects or weeds* but also to
many other .orms o. li.e or biota. Manu.acturin" and applyin" them indiscriminately was
shortsi"htedL the pests mi"ht be abated in the near term* but many would adapt and return in
.orce. In the meantime* ecosystems would be disrupted* other species would decline* and human
health would
'nly recently* Carson obser,ed* has humanind "ained the power si"ni.icantly to alter the planet
throu"h technolo"ical means. That power is "rowin" e4ponentially* as are its repercussions on
the natural world. Carson insisted that we had a responsibility to .uture "enerations to pass on a
di,erse and li.e7supportin" planet. In a chapter o. Silent Spring entitled <The 'bli"ation to
$ndure*> we read that <Future "enerations are unliely to condone our lac o. prudent concern
.or the inte"rity o. the natural world that supports all li.e.>
The obligation to endure created a
right to know what was bein" done to undermine the .abric o. li.e. ?ltimately* CarsonDs e..orts
stimulated <Ci"ht to Know> le"islation that allows people to learn what to4ic chemicals are
bein" produced and released in their counties and nei"hborhoods. >List ,i+ht to 5no8 8ebsites
he,e in bo0 8ith b,ief histo,y?
Cachel Carson was predominantly concerned with the e..ects o. pesticides and other industrial
chemicals. <The most alarmin" assault upon the en,ironment*> she wrote* <is the contamination
o. air* earth* ri,ers* and sea with dan"erous and e,en lethal materials.>
I. we e4pand our
understandin" o. <dan"erous and e,en lethal materials> to include "reenhouse "ases* CarsonDs
"roundbreain" cry .or caution and .oresi"ht* now a hal.7century old* is e6ually ,alid today. It
well describes the ways we are .undamentally alterin" the climate and other li.e7support systems
o. the planet.
Most o. the insecticides that concerned Carson* i. applied to a .ield or lawn when Silent Spring
was published in 11+!* would ha,e dissipated within their en,ironments to relati,ely innocuous
le,els today :thou"h they may ha,e started lethal chain reactions;. TodayDs "reenhouse "as
emissions* in contrast* may ha,e their "reatest e..ects H in terms o. meltin" "laciers and icecaps*
chan"in" climate patterns and weather systems* and disruptin" ecosystems H )2* 122* or )22
years down the road. 9hile the de,astation may be"in in as little as a .ew decades* the
technolo"ies that ha,e allowed us to burn massi,e amounts o. .ossil .uels will liely continue to
e4ert their e..ects on the planet .or centuries to come.
As technolo"y e4tends the impact o. our actions across the reaches o. time* we would
presumably re6uire* in compensation .or this increased power* a hei"htened sense o. moral
responsibility .or the wel.are o. distant pro"eny* a hei"htened scientific ability to predict the
lon"7term e..ects o. our actions* and a heightened political capacity to address these e..ects and
their causes. The ethics o. sustainability culti,ates this hei"htened sense o. moral responsibility.
Science will continue to ad,ance and presumably "row in its power to predict chains o. causal
relationships. Aowe,er* i. history is any "uide* we must assume that its ability to stimulate
technolo"ical ad,ances will remain more power.ul than its ability to predict the social and
ecolo"ical e..ects o. these ad,ances. 'ur political capacity to address the causes and e..ects o.
human technolo"y is ,ery much an open 6uestion* but there are reasons .or hope and clear means
.or impro,ement. 9e will address these reasons and means in Chapter +.
For now* we will e4plore the challen"es associated with the de,elopment and adoption o. the
P,ecautiona,y P,inci(le. This principle is meant to help de.ine our moral responsibilities to
.uture "enerations* stimulate scienti.ic in6uiry into the e..ects o. our actions* and culti,ate the
political abilities to control these e..ects while at the same time acnowled"in" our limitations.
As was mentioned in Chapter 1* the Precautionary Principle is o.ten considered a
.oundation stone o. an ethics o. sustainability. But prudence* the ,irtue that sits at the core o. the
Precautionary Principle* .ar predates the rise o. sustainability as a "lobal ethic in the 1102s.
9ords o. wisdom handed down throu"h the "enerations testi.y to the widespread endorsement o.
the ancient ,irtue o. prudence. 9e ha,e lon" heard that <a stitch in time sa,es nine.> 'ur
"randparents shared with us the counsel <better sa.e than sorry.> And the wise throu"hout the
a"es ha,e in.ormed us that <An ounce o. pre,ention is worth a pound o. cure.> The latter
aphorism may date bac as .ar as the .irst century BC$* when Cicero* the ancient Coman orator
and statesman* wrote that <Precaution is better than cure.>
Prudential thou"ht and action*
Cicero belie,ed* was the hallmar o. "ood "o,ernment and the most important public ,irtue.
To wait until a crisis is upon one be.ore respondin" is to act imprudently. In many cases* it is to
act too late. Thin"s broen cannot always be .i4ed. Prudence is the ,irtue o. a,oidin" crises
whene,er possible and ade6uately preparin" .or them whene,er necessary 77 that is to say*
prudence re6uires actin" with the .uture in mind so as to preempt the need .or reparation or
re"ret. $lder statesmen o. both conser,ati,e and liberal leanin"s ha,e lon" endorsed our
obli"ation to prepare .or and care .or the .uture. Precaution is the chie. means to .ul.ill that
obli"ation and pre,ent the need .or pain.ul cures.
Implicit endorsements o. principles that promote precaution as a means o. sa.e"uardin"
prospects and opportunities .or .uture "enerations may be .ound in many le"al documents that
predate the actual .ormulation o. the Precautionary Principle. The en,ironmental laws codi.ied in
the ?nited States in the early 11/2s* .or instance* such as the National En-i,on*ental Policy
Act >NEPA?* the En)an+e,e) S(ecies Act* and the Clean !ate, Act* embody a precautionary
approach. @$PA re6uires that pro5ects recei,in" .ederal .undin" .irst under"o an en,ironmental
impact study that demonstrates that there are no alternati,es. The Act mandates-
the continuin" responsibility o. the Federal (o,ernment to use all practicable
means* consistent with other essential considerations o. national policy* to
impro,e and coordinate Federal plans* .unctions* pro"rams* and resources to the
end that the @ation may = .ul.ill the responsibilities o. each "eneration as trustee
o. the en,ironment .or succeedin" "enerations.
Sa.e"uardin" the .uture was the central ,alue o. early en,ironmental le"islation.
The actual term precautionary can be traced bac to the (erman word @orsorge* which means
care for the future. The .irst national le"islation e4plicitly articulatin" a precautionary principle*
a Vorsorgeprinzip! was enacted in the Federal Cepublic o. (ermany in the mid711/2s.
Tar"eted at the protection o. clean air and the preser,ation o. .orests* policies in,oin" a
@orsorgeprin0ip outlined the need not only to ward o.. imminent ha8ards and repair dama"e but
also to protect en,ironmental resources .rom anticipated ha8ards and dama"es. Importantly*
such ha8ards and dama"es* thou"h anticipated as possible* were not certainties. They did not
ha,e to be scienti.ically pro$en as ine$itable conse6uences o. :intended; actions. Cather* the
precautionary principle entailed tain" pre,entati,e action to protect natural resources e,en
be.ore scienti.ic research had .ully established a clear* causal lin between potentially harm.ul
practices and en,ironmental dama"e.
The ;Ea,th Su**it.< which brou"ht representati,es .rom 1/! national "o,ernments and o,er
122 heads o. state to Cio de Janeiro* Bra8il in 111!* produced the .irst truly international
a"reement that e4plicitly articulated and endorsed a precautionary principle. Principle 1) o. the
Rio Decla,ation states that <In order to protect the en,ironment* the precautionary approach
shall be widely applied by States accordin" to their capabilities. 9here there are threats o.
serious or irre,ersible dama"e* lac o. .ull scienti.ic certainty shall not be used as a reason .or
postponin" cost7e..ecti,e measures to pre,ent en,ironmental de"radation.>
The Cio
%eclaration "a,e precautionary thinin" and action its .irst truly "lobal .orum. In the ?nited
States* later that decade* the P,esi)ent@s Council on Sustainable De-elo(*ent e4pressed
support .or the precautionary principle* stipulatin" that Me,en in the .ace o. scienti.ic uncertainty*
society should tae reasonable actions to a,ert riss where the potential harm to human health or
the en,ironment is thou"ht to be serious or irreparable.M
In 1110* scientists* lawyers* en,ironmentalists* and philosophers "athered at the !in+s(,ea)
Confe,ence to de,elop a .ormal de.inition o. the Precautionary Principle. This de.inition has
become one o. the most .re6uently cited and employed. The 9in"spread Statement read as
.ollows- <9hen an acti,ity raises threats o. harm to human health or the en,ironment*
precautionary measures should be taen e,en i. some cause and e..ect relationships are not .ully
established scienti.ically. In this conte4t the proponent o. an acti,ity* rather than the public*
should bear the burden o. proo..>
In this and many other de.initions o. the Precautionary
Principle there are two main clauses.
First* re"ulation aimed at pre,entin" harm to the wel.are o. current and .uture "enerations should
not be precluded owin" to :scienti.ic; uncertainty o. the precise mechanisms by which the
intended actions may cause the anticipated harm. Second* the proponents o. an acti,ity* rather
than those who mi"ht be harmed by :the unintended conse6uences o.; an acti,ity* are re6uired to
demonstrate that the le,el o. ris associated with it is acceptable. $..ecti,ely* the precautionary
principle shi.ts the burden o. proo.. @o lon"er do the potential ,ictims ha,e to demonstrate that
an acti,ity is unsa.e. Instead* the proponents o. a potentially dan"erous acti,ity ha,e to
demonstrate* beyond all reasonable doubt* that the acti,ity is harmless.
The Precautionary Principle has been .ormally employed in (ermany and other $uropean
countries since the mid711/2s. It has subse6uently been cited* ad,ocated* and implemented
around the "lobe in hundreds o. national policies* national and international le"al bodies and
court cases* and le"ally bindin" multilateral protocols* a"reements* and con,entions. It has also
been employed by the Inte,national Cou,t of 6ustice* the Inte,national T,ibunal fo, the La8
of the Sea* the supreme courts o. ,arious countries* includin" Canada and India* the aast,icht
T,eaty of the Eu,o(ean Union* and many resolutions o. the $uropean Parliament.
precautionary principle has also been cited and ad,ocated by international non7"o,ernmental
or"ani8ations* such as '* and international "o,ernmental or"ani8ations* such as the 9orld
Ban. 9ith the dan"ers o. climate chan"e speci.ically in mind* .or instance* the 9orld Ban
stipulates that M9hen con.ronted with riss which could be menacin" and irre,ersible*
uncertainty ar"ues stron"ly in .a,or o. prudent action and a"ainst complacency.M
The precautionary principle has also been re.erenced in many non7le"ally bindin" national and
international declarations* resolutions* and decisions that encoura"e but do not en.orce speci.ic
actions. These a"reements rest on ,oluntary compliance.
In turn* the principle has also been
ad,ocated and implemented ,oluntarily by scores o. corporations* includin" AXM* an
international clothin" retailer* and %ell* the computer manu.acturer. Such corporations employ
the precautionary principle in their e..orts to screen ha8ardous chemicals .rom their products.
9al7Mart* the worldDs lar"est retailer ser,in" more than 1/) million customers a wee in o,er
/022 stores around the "lobe* also e4plicitly embraces <the spirit o. the Precautionary Principle.>
The suspicion that an in"redient in a product it sells may harm the en,ironment or human health
will prompt a search .or alternati,es.
Septics claim that the precautionary principle has been so popular precisely because it remains
,a"ue. It allows institutions and or"ani8ations to "i,e ,oice to their en,ironmental ,alues
without bindin" them to any particular set o. actions. The ,a"ueness o. the principle consists in
the .act that it does not spell out what le,el o. ris is tolerable or acceptable* to whom* when* or
how such ris should be a,oided or miti"ated.
For instance* the care.ul reader will ha,e noted that Principle 1) o. the Cio %eclaration states
that the precautionary approach should be <widely applied by States accordin" to their
capabilities.> The clause allows states to implement the precautionary approach <widely*> which
is to say* selecti,ely rather than uni,ersally. In turn* the implementation o. the approach
depends upon their <capabilities.> The determination o. whether a state has capabilities H the
economic capacity* technical now7how* or political will H to implement and en.orce a
precautionary approach is .or "o,ernment o..icials themsel,es to decide in each instance.
'b,iously* this clause allows national "o,ernments a "reat deal o. wi""le room in their e..orts to
employ precautionary standards.
Some ha,e ar"ued that it renders the declaration e..ecti,ely
toothless. The same mi"ht be said about any number o. the other international declarations and
a"reements that cite the precautionary principle but do not spell out speci.ic procedures or
parameters .or its implementation.
In this respect* the precautionary principle is lie many other ethical principles- it is a "eneral
code o. conduct outlinin" the ideals that are meant to "uide action. It is not a speci.ic policy
statement pro,idin" en.orceable rules .or speci.ic cases. As the !o,l) Co**ission on the
Ethics of Scientific "no8le)+e an) Technolo+y obser,ed* the precautionary principle <is not a
decision al"orithm and thus cannot "uarantee consistency between cases. Just as in le"al court
cases* each case Jthat applies the precautionary principleK will be somewhat di..erent* ha,in" its
own .acts* uncertainties* circumstances* and decision7maers* and the element o. 5ud"ment
cannot be eliminated.>
Li"htin" .irewors may be an acceptable le,el o. ris .or adults to tae
in their own bacyard. It is not an acceptable ris to tae at a "as station or in a dry .orest.
Liewise* certain .orms o. economic or technolo"ical de,elopment may produce di..erent riss
in di..erent "eo"raphic re"ions. Buildin" an airport may pose acceptable riss on the outsirts
o. most lar"e cities* but may not i. it intersects .lyways o. mi"ratin" birds or pa,es o,er habitat
o. endan"ered species.
9hat* then* does it mean to ha,e a precautionary orientationE To act with precaution is to
e4ercise oneDs best 5ud"ment so as to a,oid unnecessary ris- one mi"ht say that precaution is a
.orm o. ris mana"ement.
The precautionary principle has been critici8ed .or leadin" to paralysis.
Faced with riss on all
sides* those in,oin" precaution as their principle would .ind themsel,es unable to act at all.
Cis is an ine,itable part o. li.e. It cannot be wholly a,oided* only limited. The precautionary
principle does not as us to do the impossible by a,oidin" ris alto"ether. Cather* it ass us to
mana"e riss prudently.
To be sure* certain riss H which we may deem unnecessary or too "ra,e H can be a,oided
alto"ether. 'ne may personally a,oid the ris o. bein" cau"ht in an a,alanche* .or instance* by
stayin" miles away .rom snowy slopes. In a,oidin" or limitin" certain riss* howe,er* we
ine,itably increase others. Stayin" away .rom snowy slopes may lea,e you plyin" your way
throu"h city tra..ic* with all o. its attendant riss. Liewise* medications taen to pre,ent certain
illnesses we wish to a,oid may cause other maladies* and some cures pro,e worse than the
disease. By pro,idin" ine4pensi,e* e..ecti,e re.ri"eration* chloro.luorocarbons :CFCs; reduced
the ris o. botulism and other illnesses caused by the consumption o. bacterially contaminated
.ood. Aowe,er* CFCs also depleted stratospheric o8one and thus increased riss .or cataracts
and sin cancer.
Cis mana"ement in,ol,es trade7o..s. This is true o. the riss we mana"e in our personal li,es*
as well as those we mana"e collecti,ely* as members o. societies and states. At the personal
le,el* .or instance* one mi"ht choose to dri,e to oneDs out7o.7state ,acation spot rather than .ly so
as to a,oid the ris o. an airplane crash. '. course* there are riss associated with automobile
tra,el. Indeed* statistical data demonstrates that the chances o. bein" in a .atal accident are
"reater .or lon"7distance automobile dri,ers than airplane passen"ers tra,elin" the same distance.
An e,en "reater ris would be associated with ridin" oneDs bicycle on a lon"7distance trip*
thou"h the to health .rom the e4ercise mi"ht o..set much o. the increased chance o. death
by accident.
Faced with riss associated with e,ery .orm o. tra,el* one could always .or"o the
,acation and stay at home. '. course* there are also riss associated with stayin" at home.
@e,er lea,in" the house may decrease riss o. tra,el7related accidents. Aowe,er* tra..ic
accidents account .or less than a 6uarter o. all in5ury7related deaths in the ?nited States* and
unintentional in5uries account .or .ewer deaths than heart disease* or stroes* or respiratory
disease* or cancer.
So stayin" at home* particularly "i,en the e..ects on oneDs psycholo"ical
well7bein" and in all probability* to oneDs o,erall physical health .rom bein" a shut7in* may not
be the sa.est bet.
The point is that ris is always comparati,e. $,ery acti,ity* or lac o. acti,ity* incurs some
riss. The only way to now whether a certain le,el o. ris is acceptable "i,en the bene.its it
pro,ides is to compare it to the le,el o. ris associated with other actions that secure similar
bene.its* or to the riss associated with the absence o. any action aimed at securin" such bene.its.
(oin" on ,acation is a personal choice. Many o. the riss that we e4perience in our daily li,es*
howe,er* are not ,oluntarily assumed. They are collecti,e riss that we bear H whether we want
to or not 77 as members o. societies and nations. @o modern state could e4ist without imposin"
some in,oluntary riss upon its members. A state that pro,ides the in.rastructure .or
mechani8ed tra,el and allows .ast7mo,in"* pollutin" ,ehicles on its roads e..ecti,ely imposes
in,oluntary riss to the health and sa.ety o. most i. not all its members* whether they are dri,ers*
passen"ers* bicyclists* pedestrians* or urban dwellers.
The imposition o. in,oluntary riss is also associated with .ood production* healthcare pro,ision*
and ,irtually e,ery other .acet o. modern li.e. These riss may be miti"ated* but they cannot be
wholly a,oided. In,oluntary riss con.ront us the moment we sit down to brea.ast or set our
.oot out the door. And we do not only these riss as potential ,ictims 77 we also co7
produce them. 9e are all implicated in creatin" and hei"htenin" en,ironmental and other riss
by our participation in social and economic li.e. 9e increase riss to pedestrians and cyclists
e,ery time we dri,e our cars. 9e potentially increase riss to current and .uture "enerations
e,ery time we create* produce* or deli,er a technolo"ical product or ser,ice.
The e..ort to measure comparati,e ris may be seen as part o. a more encompassin" e4ercise
called cost/benefit analysis >CBA?. CBA typically wei"hs the economic costs o. proposed
actions :or restrictions o. action* such as re"ulations; a"ainst the economically 6uanti.ied
bene.its that such actions :or absence o. re"ulations; produce. Costs are usually understood to
be primarily economic. But one mi"ht also include non7economic costs in oneDs calculations*
such as riss to health and wel.are. Indeed* riss are o.ten measured in terms o. the economic
costs o. repairin" dama"e done by the o..endin" action. Maintainin" public health in the .ace o.
pollution7induced disease* .or instance* mi"ht be measured in terms o. the costs o. medical care
to treat these diseases and the cost o. producti,e wordays lost to sicness and early death. For
this reason* analysis is sometimes called ;,is5/cost/benefit analysis< >RCBA?.
CCBA is de.ined as an assessment that Mincorporates notions o. probability and uncertainty as a
basis .or estimatin" technolo"y and en,ironment7related riss and .or determinin" their ,alues as
CBA is "rounded in the assumption that e,erythin" has a price and is .or sale. 3et spendin"
money to treat disease or to compensate berea,ed .amilies and businesses does not produce the
same le,el o. human wel.are as would be obtained by pre,entin" disease in the .irst place. In
turn* pricin" out the costs o. en,ironmental ha8ards or destruction does not address the potential
in.rin"ement o. the ri"hts o. those harmed. Some <"oods> are simply not .or sale- we cannot
le"ally sell our ,otes in an election and we cannot le"ally sell oursel,es into sla,ery. Certainly*
we would not want the .ederal "o,ernment to do a CBA be.ore determinin" whether it was
economically too costly or risy to protect our ri"ht to .ree speech or our other ci,il ri"hts.
These "oods* we mi"ht say* are priceless.
Many "oods that could theoretically and le"ally be bou"ht and sold are ,ery di..icult in practice
to 6uanti.y economicallyL these "oods are nown as <so.t> ,ariables in CBA. Because they are
di..icult to 6uanti.y* they may be under,alued in a comparati,e assessment with hard and .ast
economic costs. 9hen .uture "enerations are in,ol,ed in our calculations* the di..iculties
Consider the protection o. endan"ered species. The preser,ation o. nati,e species in the ?nited
States is not particularly e4pensi,e* with annual .ederal allocations appro4imatin" the cost o.
constructin" a .ew miles o. urban interstate hi"hway or buildin" a .ew military aircra.t.
these costs are real and measurable* and there are other costs to protectin" endan"ered species
that are borne by land7owners and de,elopers. A"ain* these costs are real and relati,ely easy to
9hat o. the bene.its o. preser,in" endan"ered speciesE There may be many economic bene.its
to the recreation and tourism industries* but these may be di..icult to assess accurately. It is not
clear* .or instance* that .ewer people would ,isit national pars i. there were no "ri88ly bears or
wol,es inhabitin" them. Indeed* "i,en the .ear that these carni,ores may induce in potential
par ,isitors* their absence may actually increase tourism. '. course* there are moral* aesthetic*
and spiritual reasons to preser,e endan"ered species* and there are correspondin" moral*
aesthetic* and spiritual bene.its o. their preser,ation. But these are ,ery di..icult* i. not
impossible to 6uanti.y economically. Measurin" such bene.its across many "enerations becomes
e,en more problematic. 3et the economic costs o. en.orcin" the $ndan"ered Species Act is
6uite easily calculated* and these dollar costs are .ully borne by the current "eneration each year.
Since moral* aesthetic* and spiritual bene.its are di..icult to 6uanti.y* such so.t ,ariables may "et
i"nored in .a,or o. the easily assessed economic costs o. preser,ation. The same sort o.
problem occurs whene,er industries place a new product on the maret. 9hile the cost to a
corporation o. not sellin" the product is relati,ely easy to calculate and pro5ect* the health and
en,ironmental costs associated with the product H say a new dru" or a new piece o. machinery H
may be much more di..icult to determine.
The problem is complicated because CBA does not "enerally .ocus on who bears the costs and
who recei,es the bene.its. As the 9orld Commission on the $thics o. Scienti.ic Knowled"e and
Technolo"y obser,ed* analysis may support risy acti,ity <as lon" as the sum o. the
bene.its outwei"hs the sum o. the costs* e,en i. a small "roup o. people "et the bene.its and a
whole community su..ers the costs. Thus a""re"ation o. costs and bene.its may obscure ethical
issues o. .airness and e6uity.>
(i,en these di..iculties* some ethicists ob5ect to the use o. cost7 analysis. They .eel that CBA pri,ile"es technolo"ical and economic de,elopment by
business corporations or other elites while under,aluin" the riss and depri,ations su..ered by
the "eneral public and .uture "enerations. analysis may o.ten present ine6uitable
solutions since the dollar costs o. re"ulatin" or prohibitin" economic or technolo"ical
de,elopment is easily calculable and the o. protectin" current and .uture populations
.rom uncertain riss and the depri,ations o. so.t "oods is o.ten di..use and di..icult to calculate.
@otwithstandin" such concerns* en"a"in" the best science in con,ersation with ethical ,alues in
a comparati,e and inclusi,e analysis o. riss* costs* and bene.its is pre.erred. @e"lectin" such
e4ercises may eep so.t ,ariables .rom "ainin" any ,oice and thus maintain the ,alues o. the
status 6uo.
Ine,itably* howe,er* to en"a"e in CBA comparati,ely and inclusi,ely presents the
challen"e o. pittin" the o.ten ambi"uous bene.its o. en,ironmental protection and social wel.are
a"ainst an arsenal o. .i"ures detailin" the economic costs o. re"ulatin" or prohibitin" economic
and technolo"ical de,elopment. The primary means to combat the tyranny o. the immediate
that o.ten in.orms such calculations remains the in,ol,ement o. a wide array o. staeholders.
'ne possible means to address this challen"e is to establish <technolo+y t,ibunals> where
citi8en 5uries* in.ormed by scienti.ic data and ethical discourse* e,aluate the riss* costs* and
bene.its o. such matters as the production and use o. synthetic chemicals or the deployment o.
new industrial or technolo"ical processes.
9hether citi8en tribunals* "o,ernment a"encies* or corporate departments are in,ol,ed in CBA*
the best science should play a prominent role. At the end o. the day* howe,er* science cannot
tell us what thin"s to ,alue abo,e others* what le,el o. ris is acceptable to a "i,en population* or
how to balance concern .or present "enerations with the wel.are o. .uture "enerations. $,en
within its own* narrower limits* science does not spea with certainty. Scienti.ic theories are
de,eloped throu"h replicable e4perimentation and ri"orous methodolo"ies. Scienti.ic theories
well describe our world. Aowe,er* the scienti.ic method is incapable o. pro,in" anythin" with
122R certainty. In point o. .act* science does not pro$e anythin". Cather* it repeatedly re.utes
.alse :null; hypotheses. I. a hypothesis cannot be re.uted by way o. ri"orous and repeated
e4perimentation* that hypothesis recei,es widespread and perhaps consensual support o. the
practitioners o. a .ield- it becomes the .oundation o. a scienti.ic theory. Still* the hypothesis
mi"ht always be re.uted at a later date as new e,idence is disco,ered or new e4periments are
The uncertainties mount when the science in 6uestion is not about what happens in the controlled
conditions o. a laboratory but in the uncontrolled* multi,ariable* hi"hly interacti,e conditions o.
the social and biolo"ical world. Many pesticides* thou"h relati,ely beni"n to non7tar"et species
when applied in isolation* may be a thousand times more disrupti,e o. hormone and reproducti,e
systems o. non7tar"et species when or"anisms are e4posed to two or more o. them o,er time 77
as o.ten occurs in the natural en,ironment.
Similar <syner"istic> e..ects are e,ident in the
realms o. climate chan"e* where positi,e .eedbac loops and interactions between the causes and
e..ects o. "lobal warmin" mae predictions particularly di..icult.
The writer and a"ricultural ethicist 9endell Berry obser,es that the e..ects o. our actions are
Min,ariably multiple* sel.7multiplyin"* lon" lastin"* and un.oreseeable in somethin" lie
"eometric proportion to the si8e or power o. the cause.M
The e..ects o. our actions and
technolo"ical inno,ations H owin" to their interactions and syner"ies H may become mani.est
many years* decades* or centuries a.ter their introduction to the world. Such time la"s are the
rule* not the e4ception* when ecosystems are disrupted.
$..ecti,ely* these disruptions
riss and costs to .uture "enerations.
The web o. li.e is so comple4 that no amount o. scienti.ic in,esti"ation can .ully re,eal the
intricacies o. its patterns or the lon"7term conse6uences o. se,erin" any particular strand or
introducin" new relationships. Cis assessment* i. pursued .rom a precautionary approach*
underscores the limits o. scienti.ic predictions and heeds the .act that these predictions become
increasin"ly speculati,e the .urther they e4tend into the .uture.
9ith such uncertainties in mind* and aware o. the ine,itable need .or the assessment o. costs*
bene.its* and riss* economist Cichard @or"aard ar"ues that practicin" sustainability does not
entail e4act prediction or .irm control o. the inde.inite .uture. Such a le,el o. nowled"e and
power is beyond our reach* e,en with the best science and technolo"y. I. we re.use to act in the
absence o. certainty* our only choice would be passi,ity. But passi,ity* lie stayin" at home
instead o. "oin" on ,acation* bears its own riss. There.ore* a precautionary approach "rounded
in a thorou"h understandin" o. the dynamic interdependencies o. the web o. li.e lins
sustainability not to inaction* but to prudent en"a"ement.
To practice sustainability is to
e4ercise caution while strenuously pursuin" the best scienti.ic nowled"e and the most di,erse
staeholder perspecti,es 77 includin" the ima"ined perspecti,es o. .uture "enerations. As one
commentator obser,ed re"ardin" the "enerationally de.erred costs and riss associated with
climate chan"e* MI. we are to err* then let us* conscious o. our responsibility to .uture
"enerations* err on the side o. caution.M
To adopt a sustainability .ramewor is not to stop pro"ress* petri.y human e4perience* or turn the
planet into a museum. Auman in"enuity is an important .eature o. the "ood li.e that needs to be
sustained and e,olutionary chan"e is the .ulcrum o. li.e on the planet. The precautionary
principle* in this respect* does not promote the elimination o. ris. A.ter all* ris is an inherent
part o. li.e and an intrinsic part o. all disco,ery and creati,e processes. At times* the riss
inherent to .ul.illin" human li,es will be lar"ely borne by current "enerations. At times* .uture
"enerations will bear some o. the riss* 5ust as they will share in the bene.its o. our current
acti,ities and achie,ements.
The precautionary principle does not demand the elimination o. riss* but it does entail their
care.ul and comparati,e assessment. In turn* it does not allow us to burden .uture "enerations
with riss we oursel,es would be unwillin" to assume. And it re6uires that we de,ote resources
to the disco,ery o. means to miti"ate any riss we .ind oursel,es imposin" on .uture "enerations.
I.* .or instance* .ossil .uels are burned notwithstandin" the riss to .uture "enerations o. climate
chan"e* or nuclear ener"y is produced notwithstandin" the riss to .uture "enerations o.
radioacti,e contamination* then there is an accompanyin" duty to de,ote resources to the
disco,ery and de,elopment o. alternati,e ener"y sources that will impose .ewer riss on .uture
"enerations .or the ener"y we en5oy today.
Ine,itably* some o. the riss we tae will ha,e untoward conse6uences. The precautionary
principle su""ests that the proponents o. such riss remain responsible .or any compensation or
remediation .or these dama"in" e..ects. 'ne proposed means o. institutionali8in" such
compensation are .inancial instruments called <assurance bonds.> The ,alue o. an assurance
bond is based on the best scienti.ic estimates o. potential en,ironmental or social dama"es that
mi"ht be incurred by a proposed acti,ity.
Corporations in,ol,ed in the de,elopment o. new
technolo"ies would post these interest7accruin" bonds to insure that .uture "enerations were not
saddled with the riss and costs associated with unintended conse6uences.
9ere such a bond7postin" system employed* economic and technolo"ical de,elopment would
not be paraly8ed by the uncertainties associated with ris assessment. Still* "i,en that money
would ha,e to be put on the table* we would ha,e "reater assurance that a ri"orous ris
assessment was conducted. As lon" as there were no problems* the bonds and the interest would
return to the de,eloper o. the product a.ter a pre7determined time. I. problems arose* howe,er*
those who bene.ited .inancially .rom the de,elopment and maretin" o. a product* not its
,ictims* would become responsible .or the costs o. reparation. Insurance companies today are
be"innin" to tae the carbon .ootprint o. corporations into their calculations o. the cost o.
insurin" them. The hi"her premiums paid by lar"e carbon emitters is the e6ui,alent o. an
assurance bond.
To determine the si8e o. an assurance bond* one has to determine the le,el o. ris. Cis re.ers to
an undesirable .uture state o. dama"e that has some probability o. occurrin". To determine the
le,el o. ris* one multiplies the ma"nitude o. the dama"e by its probability. A hi"h probability
o. insi"ni.icant dama"e :e.". the ris o. "ettin" sore muscles a.ter a lon" hie; constitutes a small
ris. A ,ery low probability o. "reat dama"e :e.". the ris o. "ettin" struc by li"htnin" on a
sunny day; also constitutes a small ris. Lar"e riss are products o. relati,ely hi"h probabilities
coupled with relati,ely hi"h dama"e. And i. the dama"e is hi"h enou"h :e.". the collapse o.
ci,ili8ation owin" to climate chan"e;* e,en middle7ran"e probabilities can produce a su..iciently
hi"h ris to warrant precautionary action or dictate the postin" o. a si8able assurance bond.
Are there cases* howe,er* where no assurance bond or any other .orm o. compensation could be
lar"e enou"h to allow the tain" o. certain rissE As we pre,iously obser,ed* there are "oods
that are priceless or sacred to us. Presumably* risin" these "oods* e,en i. compensation were
o..ered .or their dama"e were it to occur* mi"ht be deemed ille"itimate. Consider the case o.
"enetic en"ineerin".
'ne day soon we may be able to en"a"e in "enetic en"ineerin" that maes people healthier*
stron"er or smarter. The prospect o. such "enetic en"ineerin" raises the specter o. Franenstein7
lie monsters bein" created throu"h e4periments "one horribly awry. As was the case with the
in,ention o. nuclear weapons* howe,er* the most .ri"htenin" prospect may not be .ailed
e4periments. The "reatest dan"er .rom "enetic en"ineerin" may not be that it "oes wron"* but
that it succeeds beyond all e4pectation.
9hat could be wron" with healthier* stron"er* and
smarter peopleE $4pandin" oneDs time hori8on illustrates the problem.
As Bill McKibben obser,es in his boo* Enough* the "ermline manipulation o. human .etuses
will liely set o.. a biolo"ical arms race that ri,als in its dan"er the arm race set o.. in the Cold
9ar by the in,ention o. the atomic bomb.
Faced with the prospect o. their childrenDs .riends
and .ellow students ha,in" enhanced I]s* many parents who otherwise would not to
manipulate their childrenDs %@A will .eel they ha,e little choice but to do so. To abstain .rom
such manipulation would rele"ate oneDs child to an uphill climb in school* to o,erwhelmin"
competition in the maretplace* and potentially to second7class status in society. To mae the
problem worse* the techni6ues .or "enetic enhancements will liely 6uicly impro,e. So the
child e6uipped with a state7o.7the7art up"rade today may well .ind hersel. outdone by ne4t yearDs
model* which promises an additional !2 or #2 points o. I]. McKibben writes that
The ,ision o. oneDs child as a nearly useless copy o. 9indows 1) should mae
parents .i"ht lie hell to mae sure we ne,er "et started down this path. But the
,ision "ets lost easily in the "ushin" e4citement about Wimpro,in"D the
opportunities .or our ids. I. "ermline "enetic en"ineerin" e,er starts* it will
accelerate endlessly and unstoppably into the .uture* as indi,iduals mae the
calculation that they ha,e no choice but to e6uip their ids .or the world thatDs
bein" made. 'nce the "ame is under way* in other words* there wonDt be moral
decisions* only strate"ic ones.
McKibben concludes that the only time to stop such technolo"y is be.ore it "ets started* be.ore
the "enie o. human "enetic en"ineerin" "ets out o. the bottle. Keepin" such technolo"ical "enies
in the bottle is only possible throu"h the culti,ation o. a precautionary approach. Pre,ention is
the only option because there may be no cure. Some riss* McKibben su""ests* are simply too
bi" to tae.
Ar"uably* humans are a curious* ad,enturous species* and there is no way to slow down* let
alone stop the economic "rowth and technolo"ical de,elopment that allows us to pursue e,ery
"reater com.ort* wealth* and power. 9ith this in mind* the di..iculties o. restrictin"
technolo"ical de,elopments in accordance with the precautionary principle are considerable. In
the absence o. a clear understandin" o. riss and in the .ace o. our curiosity* our desire to "row
e,ermore power.ul* and the prospect o. economic "ain* ethical septics ar"ue that most
technolo"ical inno,ations will proceed apace. In the words o. J. Cobert 'ppenheimer* the
ori"inal director o. the Manhattan Pro5ect which produced the .irst atom bomb- <9hen you see
somethin" that is technically sweet you "o ahead and do it and you ar"ue about what to do about
it only a.ter you ha,e had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.>
There are endless numbers o. technically <sweet> opportunities a,ailable to us today* such as
"enetic en"ineerin"* and in all lielihood such opportunities will increase at an e4ponential rate.
The problem with these new technolo"ies is that once they ha,e been in,ented H as was the case
with nuclear weapons 77 they cannot be un7in,ented.
Aow* then* do we decide which riss are unacceptable and beyond compensationE 9e mi"ht
add this challen"in" 6uestion to a ra.t o. others that this chapter has prompted. Aow are we to
balance the pursuit o. current needs and wants with our concern .or the wel.are o. .uture
"enerationsE To what e4tent should we "oods so that .uture "enerations mi"ht thri,eE
Should we depri,e our children o. certain bene.its i. this appears a necessary means to ensure the
wel.are o. our "reat "randchildrenE These are not easy 6uestions to answer. And science* while
pro,idin" us much ,aluable data about costs* bene.its* and riss* cannot answer them .or us.
'nly ethical deliberation sets us on the ri"ht course.
$thical deliberation sets us on the ri"ht course but does not in itsel. pro,ide answersL we cannot
simply reason our way to solutions. Cather* ethical in6uiry and deliberation helps stimulate the
de,elopment o. the ,alues and perspecti,es and processes that will pro,e indispensable to the
cra.tin" o. answers. Cobert Aeilbroner* author o. 2n In=uiry into the ,uman Prospect* e4plains
@o ar"ument based on reason JaloneK will lead me to care .or posterity or to li.t a
.in"er in its behal.=. I suspect that i. there is cause to .ear .or manDs sur,i,al it is
because the calculus o. lo"ic and reason will be applied to problems where they
ha,e as little ,alidity* e,en as little bearin"* as the calculus o. .eelin" or sentiment
applied to the solution o. a problem in $uclidean "eometry.
Aeilbroner su""ests that the meanin" we "ain and the moral satis.action we obtain .rom carin"
.or .uture "enerations cannot be deri,ed .rom lo"ic or reason H no more so than the care and
concern we show to our children* spouse* and .riends is a product o. rational ar"ument. Ceason
and lo"ic can help us see the conse6uences o. our actions and they can help us be consistent in
the pursuit o. our ,alues* but no calculus can mae us care.
In his boo The Third )e$olution! Paul Aarrison su""ests that MThe time is near when e,ery child
will as its parent O9hat did you do in the en,ironment war* mum and dadE 9ere you one o.
those who helped to destroy my .utureE 'r were you one o. those who helped to sa,e itEOM
prospect o. such an interro"ation* Aarrison su""ests* should moti,ate all :potential; parents to
thin o. tomorrow = today.
A sense o. responsibility to .uture "enerations is not the monopoly o. parents. Cachel Carson
and hundreds o. thousands o. childless couples who adopt the ethics o. sustainability are proo. o.
that. Indeed* a sense o. responsibility .or .uture "enerations and a concern .or the e..ects o.
o,erpopulation is the impetus behind many couplesD decisions not to ha,e any children.
'ur ethical relationship to .uture "enerations has been liened to a <chain o.
The metaphor mi"ht brin" to mind the stren"th o. our connection to pro"eny.
Alternati,ely* it may su""est an onerous burden H a hea,y chain o. responsibility. Bein" held
responsible .or the wel.are o. an inde.inite number o. .uture "enerations may indeed lea,e the
mind reelin". And it may hurt our pocetboos* si"ni.icantly restrictin" the pursuit o. economic
"ain. But is our obli"ation to .uture "enerations a hea,y burden* or is it a pri,ile"eE
The philosopher $rnest Partrid"e states that <in actin" .or posterityDs "ood we act .or our own
"ood.> Concern .or the wel.are o. posterity e..ecti,ely helps us to escape the con.ines o. narrow
sel.7interest* where immediate pleasures* com.orts* and bene.its are the only considerations.
$scapin" these con.ines is liberation* not a burden. ?nless we identi.y oursel,es with <lar"er*
on"oin"* and endurin" processes* pro5ects* institutions* and ideals*> Partrid"e writes* our li,es
will become <empty* blea* pointless* and morally impo,erished.>
Concern .or posterity is a
catalyst .or the e4pansion o. our li,es. The obli"ation to mae the world a better place .or
posterity is really an opportunity to mae our own li,es more meanin".ul and .ul.illin".
(enetically speain"* posterity o..ers us a .orm o. biolo"ical immortality H or increased
lon"e,ity in any case. Culturally speain"* it pro,ides the same "i.t. Future "enerations carry
on and .urther de,elop our technolo"ical* scienti.ic* social* political* aesthetic* and ethical
achie,ements- they pro,ide us a sort o. cultural immortality. By carryin" .orward our le"acy*
.uture "enerations e..ecti,ely "i,e meanin" and durability to our ine,itably limited li,es. In
e4chan"e* we are obli"ated to pro,ide them with a world that has not had its ecolo"ical resilience
or its capacity to sustain human wel.are depleted. But it would "o too .ar to su""est that this
<e4chan"e> is ain to those that tae place in the maretplace and are "uided by the principles o.
economics. As 'phuls su""ested* posterity may well be damned i. we ,iew it solely as a partner
in an economic transaction.
The challen"e o. carin" .or posterity! thou"h presentin" itsel. with a new ur"ency today* is as old
as ci,ili8ation. The youth o. ancient Athens were re6uired to "raduate .rom the E(hebic
Colle+e be.ore attainin" the status as citi8ens. At the a"e o. 10* in the midst o. two years o. ci,ic
trainin"* they too an oath that captured the essence o. their citi8enship. The youn" (rees
pled"ed ne,er to dis"race the city by immoral acts* to maintain its ideals* re,ere its laws* and
culti,ate the spirit o. ci,ic duty. The E(hebic oath ended with the words- <Thus in all these
ways we will transmit this City* not only not less* but "reater and more beauti.ul than it was
transmitted to us.> 9hat the ancient Athenians swore to their city* we mi"ht well pled"e to the
local communities and nations we inhabit today* and to the planet that sustains them.
Future "enerations cannot be sur,eyed or consulted as to their needs and wants* but we can
assume that they will need and want the same basic "oods that we need and want 77 physical
security* health* nutritious .ood* decent shelter* education* a meanin".ul li,elihood* and a li.e7
supportin" planet. In turn* we can assume that .uture "enerations will want the opportunity to
en5oy and .rom "oods that we ha,e had the opportunity to ,alue- the e4perience o. scenic
beauty and biolo"ical di,ersity as well as opportunities to de,elop scienti.ic* technolo"ical* and
cultural achie,ements.
Strictly speain"* .uture "enerations will ne,er ha,e our opportunities. They will not ha,e the
opportunity to mae our scienti.ic disco,eries or to produce our technolo"ical inno,ations.
In,entions cannot be undone. Time chan"es e,erythin". To practice an ethics o. sustainability*
howe,er* means that we preser,e .or .uture "enerations the opportunity to en"a"e in a similar
ran"e o. practices that we ha,e en5oyed* and that that we preser,e the conditions that will allow
them to en5oy a similar ran"e o. e4periences. 9ith this in mind* our responsibility to .uture
"enerations mi"ht best be described as the <conser,ation o. options.>
The ethics o. sustainability does not aspire to mere e4istenceL to li,e sustainably is to en6oy and
preser$e a hi"h 6uality and rich di,ersity o. li.e. 'ur obli"ation to .uture "enerations* in this
respect* is not only to ensure that people yet to be born can meet their most basic needs. 'ur
obli"ation is to preser,e the ideals and opportunities that we cherish today.
%a,e Foreman* a
stalwart o. ecolo"ical conser,ation* pessimistically obser,ed that M'urs is the last "eneration that
will ha,e the choice o. wilderness.M
Many people who will li,e in the .uture* lie many o. our
contemporaries* will tae little pleasure .rom wilderness. To li,e sustainably* howe,er* is to
ensure that .uture "enerations ha,e the choice o. wilderness.
9hat is said here o. wilderness mi"ht be said as well about other "oods and opportunities many
o. us en5oy and cherish. 'ur obli"ation to .uture "enerations is to pass on the le"acy o. a
biolo"ically di,erse* resilient* li.e7supportin" planet and a social world e6ually supporti,e o.
human di,ersity and creati,ity. This re6uires the preser,ation o. healthy ecosystems and healthy
social systems* the latter includin" institutions o. 5ustice* democratic representation* education*
health and wel.are* economic opportunity* scienti.ic disco,ery* and artistic creati,ity. 9e should
thin and act as i. the .uture depends upon us. ?n6uestionably it does 77 in more ways than we
can now.
Berry* 9endell. 1101. The "ift of "ood &and. San Francisco- @orth Point Press.
Bodansy* %aniel. :ed.;. !22!. E$olution and Status of the Precautionary Principle in
International &aw. The Aa"ue- Kluwer International Law.
Colborn* T.* %umanosi* %iane X Myers* John Peterson. 111+. Our Stolen Future. @ew 3or-
%utton Boos.
%iamond* Jared . !22). Collapse% ,ow Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. @ew 3or- Uiin"
%aily* (retchen C.* ed. 111/. .ature5s Ser$ices% Societal ependence on .atural Ecosystems
9ashin"ton* %.C.- Island Press.
%ry8e* John S. 111/. The Politcs of the Earth% En$ironmental iscourses. '4.ord- '4.ord
?ni,ersity Press.
Aardin* (arrett. 111#. &i$ing 1ithin &imits% Ecology! Economics! and Population Taboos.
@ew 3or- '4.ord ?ni,ersity Press.
Mac@eill* Jim* 9insemius* Pieter X 3aushi5i* Tai8o. 1111. (eyond Interdependence% The
Meshing of the 1orld7s Economy and the Earth7s Ecology. @ew 3or- '4.ord ?ni,ersity Press.
McKibben* Bill. !22#. Enough% Staying ,uman in an Engineered 2ge. @ew 3or- Aenry Aolt
'phuls* 9illiam X A. Boyan* Stephen Jr. 111!. Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity )e$isited%
The /nra$eling of the 2merican ream. @ew 3or- 9. A. Freeman.
'DCiordan* T. and J. Cameron. 111+. Interpreting the Precautionary Principle. London-
$arthscan Publishers.
Partrid"e* $rnest* ed. 1101. )esponsibilities to Future "enerations. Bu..alo- Prometheus Boos.
Siora* C. I. and Brian Barry* eds.* 11/0. Obligations to Future "enerations. Philadelphia-
Temple ?ni,ersity Press.
Shrader7Frechette* K. S. 1111. )isk and )ationality% Philosophical Foundations for Populist
)eforms. Bereley- ?ni,ersity o. Cali.ornia Press.
9eiss* $dith Brown . 110/. In Fairness to Future "enerations. Toyo- The ?nited @ations
9orld Commission on $n,ironment and %e,elopment. :110/;. Our Common Future. '4.ord-
'4.ord ?ni,ersity Press.
Currently* there are appro4imately 1#+ million births per year. A youn" reader with +/ years o. ahead o. her
would li,e throu"h the birth o. well o,er 1 billion people. See the 9orld Aealth Ceport at
Al (ore* Earth in the (alance- Ecology and the ,uman Spirit :Boston- Aou"hton Mi..lin* 111!; p. 1/2.
Lester Milbrath su""ests the motto <Thin tomorrow* act today.> Lester 9. Milbrath* &earning to Think
En$ironmentally Awhile there is still timeB :Albany- S?@3 Press* 111+;* p. 1!2.
See John Cawls* 2 Theory of #ustice! Ce,ised $dition :Cambrid"e- Aar,ard ?ni,ersity Press* 1111;* p. !!). The
e4tension o. CawlsD .ramewor to inter"enerational 5ustice is clari.ied in CawlsD subse6uent wor* Political
&iberalism :@ew 3or- Columbia ?ni,ersity Press* !22);* p. !/&.
John Cawls* 2 Theory of #ustice! Ce,ised $dition :Cambrid"e- Aar,ard ?ni,ersity Press* 1111;* p. !1).
Bryan (. @orton* Toward /nity among En$ironmentalists :@ew 3or- '4.ord ?ni,ersity Press* 1111;* p. 1!1.
$dmund Bure* )eflections on the )e$olution in France :(arden City* @3- %oubleday* 11+1;* p. 112.
$dmund Bure* )eflections on the )e$olution in France :(arden City* @3- %oubleday* 11+1;* p. 120.
@$PA Section 121 Ce6uirement 1.
9orld Commission on $n,ironment and %e,elopment* Our Common Future :'4.ord- '4.ord ?ni,ersity Press*
110/;* p. 0. The term sustainable de$elopment may ha,e .irst been employed in the 1102 publication o. the
International ?nion .or the Conser,ation o. @ature and @atural Cesources* 1orld Conser$ation Strategy% &i$ing
)esource Conser$ation for Sustainable e$elopment. See http-GGdata.iucn.or"Gdbtw7wpdGedocsG9CS722&.pd..
Accessed at http-GGcon..diplomacy.eduGhuman7ri"htsGdecleration.htm.
Ecosystems and ,uman 1ell-(eing! Synthesis- 2 )eport of the Millennium Ecosystem 2ssessment A9ashin"ton*
%.C.- Island Press* !22);.
C. I. Siora and Brian Barry* eds.* Obligations to Future "enerations :Philadelphia- Temple ?ni,ersity Press*
11/0;* p. ,ii.
Ecosystems and ,uman 1ell-(eing! Synthesis- A Ceport o. the Millennium $cosystem Assessment! 9ashin"ton*
%.C.- Island Press* !22);* p. #+. Accessed at http-GGwww.millenniumassessment.or"GenGinde4.asp4.
Science %aily* January 12* !22!. Accessed at http-GGwww.sciencedaily.comGreleasesG!22!G21G2!21212/&021.htm.
$. '. 9ilson* The Future of &ife :!22!;.
$dward '. 9ilson* (iophilia :Cambrid"e- Aar,ard ?ni,ersity Press* 110&;* p. 1!1.
Focus* 9orld 9ildli.e Fund* MayGJune 111#* p. /.
Michael SoulN* <Thresholds .or Sur,i,al- Maintainin" Fitness and $,olutionary Potential*> in Michael SoulN and
Bruce 9ilco4* eds. Conser$ation (iology% 2n E$olutionary-Ecological Perspecti$e :Sunderland* Mass- Sinauer
Associates* 1102;! pp. 1++* 1+0.
]uoted in Focus* 9orld 9ildli.e Fund* MarchGApril 111+ p. +.
The ori"inal ,ersion o. the phrase has been attributed to %a,id Brower* &et the Mountains Talk! &et the )i$ers
)un% 2 Call to Those 1ho 1ould Sa$e the Earth :@ew 3or- Aarper Collins* 111);* p. 1.
Ste,e Trombula* Ceed @oss and Jim Strittholt* <'bstacles to Implementin" the 9ildlands Pro5ect Uision*>
1ildearth* 9inter 111)G1+* p. 0+.
See the ?nited @ations Population In.ormation @etwor at http-GGwww.un.or"GpopinG.
Jared %iamond* Collapse% ,ow Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed :@ew 3or- Uiin" Press* !22);.
See http-GGwww.ratical.or"GmanyYworldsG+@ationsG$oLGinde4.html_ToC and
See Ailary F. French* MLearnin" .rom the '8one $4perience*M in Lester C. Brown et al* State of the 1orld 4CCD
:@ew 3or- 9. 9. @orton* 111/;* pp.1)171/1L .ucleus* 9inter 111)71+* pp. 17#L <Can 9e Sa,e 'ur Sins*>
Friends of the Earth* JulyGAu"ust 111+pp. 0711.
John Cawls* 2 Theory of #ustice! Ce,ised $dition :Cambrid"e- Aar,ard ?ni,ersity Press* 1111;* p. !0).
]uoted in Cobert McAenry and Charles Uan %oren* eds.* 2 ocumentary ,istory of Conser$ation in 2merica
:@ew 3or- Prae"er Publishers* 11/!;* p. 1/!.
John S. %ry8e* )ational Ecology% En$ironment and Political Economy :@ew 3or- Basil Blacwell* 110/;* p.
See Cli,e L. Spash* M$conomics* $thics* and Lon"7Term $n,ironmental %ama"es*M En$ironmental Ethics 1)
:Summer 111#;- 110* 1!/* 1!0.
9orld 9ildli.e Fund* 4CC> 2nnual )eport! p. ##. Choosing a Sustainable Future :9ashin"ton %C- Island Press*
Patric 9atson* imensions* ) :March 1112;- #.
9illiam 'phuls and A. Boyan* Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity )e$isited :@ew 3or- 9. A. Freeman* 111!;* p.
Carl Pope* in Sierra* May7June 111&* p. 1&.
See Stephan Schmidheiny* Changing Course% 2 "lobal (usiness Perspecti$e on e$elopment and the
En$ironment :Cambrid"e- MIT Press* 111!;* p. 11.
Cachel Carson* Silent Spring :Boston- Aou"hton Mi..lin* 11+!;* p. !/0.
Cachel Carson* Silent Spring :Boston- Aou"hton Mi..lin* 11+!;* p. 1#.
Cachel Carson* Silent Spring :Boston- Aou"hton Mi..lin* 11+!;* p. +.
Cicero* %e 'ratore :III* #);.
The te4t o. the @$PA can be .ound at- http-GGce6.hss.doe."o,GnepaGre"sGnepaGnepae6ia.htm.
Arie Trouwborst* E$olution and Status of the Precautionary Principle in International &aw :The Aa"ue- Kluwer
Law International* !22!;* p. 1/.
For a history o. the precautionary principle* see %aniel Bodansy :ed.;* E$olution and Status of the Precautionary
Principle in International &aw :The Aa"ue- Kluwer International Law* !22!;* p. !). See also the 110/ London
%eclaration re"ardin" the protection o. the @orth Sea* which can be accessed at
)io eclaration on En$ironment and e$elopment* :?@$P* 111!;. Accessed at
Towards a Sustainable America- Ad,ancin" Prosperity* 'pportunity* and a Aealthy $n,ironment .or the 1
Century :The PresidentDs Council on Sustainable %e,elopment* 1111;* p. )&. Accessed at
Accessed at- http-GGwww.sehn.or"Gwin".html.
Cass Sunstein* &aws of Fear% (eyond the Precautionary Principle :Cambrid"e- Cambrid"e ?ni,ersity Press*
!22);* pp. 1)71/.
]uoted in Jim Mac@eill* Pieter 9insemius and Tai8o 3aushi5i* (eyond Interdependence% The Meshing of the
1orld7s Economy and the Earth7s Ecology :@ew 3or- '4.ord ?ni,ersity Press* 1111;* pp. 1. For '* see
For a comprehensi,e account o. the principleDs implementation up to !22!* see %aniel Bodansy :ed.;* E$olution
and Status of the Precautionary Principle in International &aw :The Aa"ue- Kluwer International Law* !22!;* pp.
AXM Corporate Cesponsibility* <$n,ironment> accessed at"bGcorporateresponsibilityGen,ironmentYYen,ironment.nhtml.
In,estor $n,ironmental Aealth @etwor* <Corporate Policies and Case Studies.> Accessed at
See %a,id Freestone and $llen Aey* The Precautionary Principle and International &aw% The Challenge of
Implementation. 111+. :The Aa"ue- Kluwer Law International;* p. &).
9orld Commission on the $thics o. Scienti.ic Knowled"e and Technolo"y* The Precautionary Principle* :Paris-
?@$SC'* !22);* p. 1+. Accessed at http-GGportal.unesco.or"GshsGenGe,.php7
Cass Sunstein* &aws of Fear% (eyond the Precautionary Principle :Cambrid"e- Cambrid"e ?ni,ersity Press*
!22);* pp. &* 1&71).
Cichard 9ilson* <Analy8in" the %aily Ciss o. Li.e*> in Theodore S. (licman X Michael (ou"h :$ds.;*
)eadings in )isk :9ashin"ton* %.C.- Cesources .or the Future* 1112;* p. )/.
?.S. %epartment o. Aealth and Auman Ser,ices* .ational @ital Statistics )eport! 8::E. Accessed at
K.S. Shrader7Frechette* Science Policy! Ethics! and Economic Methodology% Some Problems of Technology
2ssessment and En$ironmental-Impact 2nalysis :Boston- %. Ceidel Publishin"* 110)* p. ##.
Mar* (eyond the Endangered Species 2ct% Conser$ation in the 84st Century :9ashin"ton* %.C.- The
9ilderness Society* 111!;* p. /. 2udubon* January7February* 111+* p. &1.
9orld Commission on the $thics o. Scienti.ic Knowled"e and Technolo"y* The Precautionary Principle* :Paris-
?@$SC'* !22);* p. #1. Accessed at http-GGportal.unesco.or"GshsGenGe,.php7
K.S. Shrader7Frechette* Science Policy! Ethics! and Economic Methodology% Some Problems of Technology
2ssessment and En$ironmental-Impact 2nalysis :Boston- %. Ceidel Publishin"* 110)* p. !22.
K.S. Shrader7Frechette* Science Policy! Ethics! and Economic Methodology% Some Problems of Technology
2ssessment and En$ironmental-Impact 2nalysis :Boston- %. Ceidel Publishin"* 110);* p. #2/.
See Theo Colborn* %iane %umanosi and John Peterson Myers* Our Stolen Future :@ew 3or- %utton Boos*
9endell Berry* The "ift of "ood &and :San Francisco- @orth Point Press* 1101;* pp. i4* 11+.
Ecosystems and ,uman 1ell-(eing! Synthesis- A Ceport o. the Millennium $cosystem Assessment! 9ashin"ton*
%.C.- Island Press* !22);* p. 00. Accessed at http-GGwww.millenniumassessment.or"GenGinde4.asp4.
Cichard B. @or"aard* e$elopment (etrayed% The end of progress and a coe$olutionary re$isioning of the future
:London- Coutled"e* 111&;* esp. pp. 117!!* &+7&/.
Cichard $lliot Benedic* <$6uity and $thics in a (lobal Climate Con,ention*> pp. #2+7#1& in Theodore (old.arb*
ed.* Taking Sides% Clashing @iews on Contro$ersial En$ironmental Issues! )th edition* :(uil.ord* CT- %ushin
Publishin"* 111#;* p #1&.
For a discussion o. the <proactionary principle*> see http-GGwww.ma4more.comGproactionary.htm.
Cobert Costan8a* <Three (eneral Policies to Achie,e Sustainability.*> pp. #1!7&2/; in A. Jansson* M.Aammer*C.
Fole and C. Costan8a* eds.* In$esting in .atural Capital% The Ecological Economics 2pproach to Sustainability
:9ashin"ton* %.C.- Island Press* 111&;* p. &2!.
Cobert 9achbroit* <(enetic $ncores- The $thics o. Auman Clonin"*> in )eport From the Institute of Philosophy
and Public Policy :?ni,ersity o. Maryland- Colle"e Par* 111/;* p. !.
Bill McKibben* Enough% Staying ,uman in an Engineered 2ge :@ew 3or- Aenry Aolt* !22#;* p. ##.
Bill McKibben* Enough% Staying ,uman in an Engineered 2ge :@ew 3or- Aenry Aolt* !22#;* p. #&7#).
Cobert L. Aeilbroner* <9hat has Posterity $,er %one .or MeE> pp. 1117!2! in )esponsibilities to Future
"enerations* ed. $rnest Partrid"e :Bu..alo- Prometheus Boos* 1101;* p. 111711!.
Paul Aarrison* The Third )e$olution% Population! En$ironment and a Sustainable 1orld :@ew 3or- Pen"uin*
111#;* p. #2).
Cichard B. Aowarth* <Inter"enerational Justice and the Chain o. 'bli"ation*> En$ironmental @alues* Uolume 1*
@umber !* May 111! * pp. 1##71&2.
$rnest Partrid"e* <9hy Care about the Future*> pp. !2#7!!2 in )esponsibilities to Future "enerations* ed. $rnest
Partrid"e :Bu..alo- Prometheus Boos* 1101;* p. !1/7!10.
$dith Brown 9eiss* In Fairness to Future "enerations :Toyo- The ?nited @ations ?ni,ersity* 1101;* p. #0.
See Mar Sa"o..* The Economy of the Earth% Philosophy! law and the en$ironment :Cambrid"e- Cambrid"e
?ni,ersity Press* 1100;* pp. +!7+&.
%a,e Foreman* Confessions of an Eco-1arrior :@ew 3or- Crown Trade Paperbacs* 1111;* p. i4.
As the pre,ious chapter demonstrated* a concern .or .uture "enerations lies at the heart o. a
sustainability ethic. This moral relationship connects us to distant descendants throu"h a set o.
ri"hts and duties and accompanyin" relations o. and ris. Treatin" .uture "enerations
.airly* in a 5ust manner* means that we do not burden them with riss or costs H .inancial or
en,ironmental H that we would not want to bear oursel,es. This is a matter o. inter"enerational
5ustice* which addresses our ethical responsibilities to people separated by the boundaries o. time.
The sustainability .ramewor su""ests that we also ha,e ethical obli"ations to people separated by
the boundaries o. space. This is a matter o. social 5ustice* which is intra"enerational.
In reco"ni8in" our obli"ations to .uture "enerations* we are acnowled"in" and a..irmin" a
responsibility to people who remain incapable o. acti,ely representin" their own interests. They
ha,e* as yet* no ,oice. 3et their inability to participate in our decision7main" processes does not
ne"ate our responsibilities to consider their interests and ri"hts. The same mi"ht be said re"ardin"
our obli"ations to those separated .rom us by social* political* or "eo"raphic boundaries.
Many people are incapable o. acti,ely representin" their interests in the decision7main" processes
that most a..ect their li,es owin" to socio7economic or "eo7political reasons. They lac the social*
economic* or political resources to ensure that their ,oices are heard and heeded. Althou"h such
mar"inali8ed or .orei"n citi8ens ha,e no ,ote* cannot participate in our decision7main" processes*
or are otherwise relati,ely powerless* their ri"hts to sustainable li,elihoods that are not burdened
with disproportionate en,ironmental riss remain intact.
This chapter e4amines the si"ni.icance o. social 5ustice within the sustainability .ramewor. It
demonstrates how an ethics o. reciprocity promotes concern .or the least ad,anta"ed o. society*
both domestically and within the "lobal community. In turn* the chapter in,esti"ates the
relationship between social 5ustice on a "lobal scale and en,ironmental caretain". Principles o.
distributi,e 5ustice are e4plored* as is the role o. "o,ernment and non7"o,ernmental or"ani8ations
in pursuin" e6uity and en,ironmental protection. The chapter concludes with an e4amination o.
the sharin" o. power* the role o. transparency* and the need .or autonomy in the pursuit o. social
5ustice within a sustainability .ramewor.
The Ethics of Reci(,ocity an) Social 6ustice
As we obser,ed in Chapter #* 5ustice sometimes re.ers to the proper administration and
en.orcement o. laws. In this sense* the 5ust is simply the le"al while the un5ust is the ille"al. '.
course* we now that there are many thin"s that are le"al but that are not 5ust in any traditional
sense o. the word. %urin" the @a8i rule o. (ermany* laws were passed by the le"islature
employin" proper rules o. procedure. 3et a "ood portion o. these laws H thou"h properly
administered and le"ally en.orceable H ha,e been deemed un5ust by ,irtually e,ery contemporary
obser,er. In turn* there are many thin"s that we may consider to be 5ust that are not addressed by
e4istin" laws. Laws are typically written* adopted* and en.orced by speci.ic political units* such as
nation states. Typically* these laws are written and adopted in accordance with pre,ailin"
understandin"s o. 5ustice. 9hile e4istin" laws are meant to codi.y these pre,ailin"
understandin"s* they do not capture e,ery aspect o. them. In turn* chan"in" times produce
chan"in" demands o. 5ustice. That is why new laws are created and old laws "et reinterpreted by
the courts or modi.ied.
Intra"enerational 5ustice is a .orm o. social 5ustice. Social 5ustice is o.ten codi.ied in law. But it
also e4tends beyond e4istin" laws* inspirin" the creation o. new laws and the reinterpretation or
modi.ication o. old laws. Social 5ustice is concerned with the .air and proper treatment o.
indi,iduals and "roups within society. It is concerned with the allocation o. burdens* riss*
bene.its* and opportunities. In this respect* social 5ustice re.ers to the .air distribution o.
ad,anta"es and disad,anta"es within a society. Alon" with ecolo"ical health and economic
prosperity* social 5ustice is one o. the three pillars supportin" the sustainability .ramewor.
Social 5ustice may be "rounded in any number o. ethical systems. Most .undamentally* howe,er*
it pertains to an ethics o. reciprocity. Ceciprocity re.ers to relationships o. mutual e4chan"e* e6ual
treatment* and reciprocal ri"hts and duties. At a most basic le,el* the ethics o. reciprocity is
nown by another* well7nown name- <the "olden rule.>
9idely re"arded as <the supreme moral principle*>
the "olden rule can be .ound in ,irtually e,ery
reli"ious and cultural tradition in the world* datin" bac o,er two and a hal. millennia. Con.ucius
:))17&/1 B.C.$.;* the ancient Chinese sa"e* may ha,e been the .irst person clearly to enunciate a
(olden Cule. In his 2nalects* we read the .ollowin" dialo"ue- <T8u7un" ased* WIs there a sin"le
word which can be a "uide to conduct throu"hout oneDs li.eED The Master said* WIt is perhaps the
word <shu> Jempathy* or considerationK. %o not impose on others what you yoursel. do not
Statements re.lectin" a similar ethics o. reciprocity written at appro4imately the same
time period can be .ound in the Mahabharata o. the Aindu tradition* and in Buddhist te4ts. The
Jewish sa"e* Aillel* when challen"ed to teach the holy scriptures said* <9hat is hate.ul to
you* do not do to your nei"hbor* that is the whole Torah* while the rest is the commentary thereo.L
"o and learn it.>
In the .ew Testament o. the Christian bible* the "olden rule is articulated in
sli"htly di..erent ways in the di..erent "ospels. But its basic .ormulation is the same- <Always
treat others as you would lie them to treat you.>
As a supreme moral principle* the (olden Cule has been ,iewed as <sufficient .or ethics in the
sense that no one could e,er "o wron" by adherin" to it or in the sense that all duties may be
in.erred .rom it.> It .ollows* .or some ethicists* that <an action must be able to pass the test o. the
"olden rule i. it is to be ,alidated as ri"ht* and any action that .ails the test is wron".>
'. course*
the "olden rule is not without detractors. The 11
century British writer (eor"e Bernard Shaw
su""ested that the "olden rule mistaenly assumes that oneDs own wishes pro,ide a "ood measure
o. what others actually want. <%onDt do to others as you want them to do unto you*> Shaw wrote.
<Their tastes may be di..erent.>
Shaw was a satirist. But he was not wholly o.. the mar in his
criticism. The "olden rule should not be taen too literally H at least by some people. The sado7
masochist* .or instance* or a person with se,ere psycholo"ical disorders producin" sel.7destructi,e
beha,ior* should not be encoura"ed to treat others as he treats himsel.. 'b,iously* we would not
want the suicidal person to operate with a literal interpretation o. the "olden rule in mind.
In turn* di..erences in socio7economic status and cultural traditions mae any strai"ht.orward
implementation o. the "olden rule problematic. The independently wealthy and independently
minded may a low7ta4in"* hands7o.. "o,ernment. Such a person* i. elected to* mi"ht
strip away wel.are pro"rams with the "olden rule in mind* to the detriment o. economically
disad,anta"ed members o. the society. Liewise* it is always dan"erous literally to enact the
"olden rule when one is crossin" cultural boundaries. Attemptin" to stimulate the local economy
and local .ood production by startin" an en,ironmentally7.riendly ho" .arm may constitute an
e..ort to treat others economically and ecolo"ically with an ethics o. reciprocity. But such "ood
intentions will be misplaced i. the local community in 6uestion is predominantly Jewish or
Muslim* where the eatin" o. por is .orbidden.
9ith these concerns in mind* we mi"ht ad5ust the "olden rule to read- <Always treat others as you
would lie them to treat you i.* and only i.* you ha,e pre.erences .or the commonly accepted
elements o. the "ood li.e.> '. course* this lea,es us with the ,ery demandin" tas o. clearly
articulatin" the commonly accepted elements o. the "ood li.e. At this point* our e..ort to achie,e
5ustice within "enerations encounters the same challen"e we .aced in describin" 5ustice between
"enerations- we ha,e to .i"ure out what our nei"hbors H whether they are distant in time or in "eo7
political or socio7economic space H need and want.
In the absence o. any compellin" e,idence to the contrary* we simply ha,e to assume that* lie us*
our local and "lobal nei"hbors :and .uture "enerations; want to ha,e their basic needs met H needs
.or physical security* health* nutritious .ood* decent housin"* education* a meanin".ul li,elihood*
and a li.e7supportin"* beauti.ul* and biolo"ically di,erse planet. In turn* we can assume that they
want the ri"ht and opportunity to participate in the decision7main" processes that will determine
how these basic "oods will be de.ined and distributed and will want to recei,e a proportionate
share o. them. 9e can also assume that our local and "lobal nei"hbors :and .uture "enerations;
want to understand the riss they may .ace in li.e* the ri"ht and opportunity to participate in the
decision7main" processes that will determine how these riss will be distributed* and will not
want to bear a disproportionate share o. them. 9hile outlinin" the basic "oods and riss o. li.e is
relati,ely easy* the tas o. ensurin" their .air allocation at local and "lobal le,els is a supreme
challen"e. This is the challen"e o. social 5ustice.
En-i,on*ental 6ustice
In 110!* more than )22 people were arrested in @orth Carolina .or ci,il disobedience. The
protestors were ob5ectin" to the disposal o. to4ic wastes in a land.ill located in a primarily A.rican
American community. The .ollowin" year* a ?.S. "o,ernment report documented that A.rican7
Americans comprised the ma5ority o. the population in the counties o. a number o. southeastern
states where ha8ardous waste land.ills were located. ',er the .ollowin" decade* numerous reports*
articles* boos and summits documented and debated the e4tent and nature o. such <en,ironmental
Academic research con.irmed that communities that ended up holdin" the short end o.
the to4ic stic tended to be populated with minorities. The political and economic powerlessness
o. these minority communities le.t them ,ulnerable to <en,ironmental racism.>
In response to
this char"e* the $n,ironmental Protection A"ency set up an ' o. $n,ironmental Justice and a
presidetial order directed all .ederal a"encies to ensure that minority communities were not
disproportionally burdened with en,ironmental ills and riss.
9hile en,ironmental in5ustice and en,ironmental racism were ori"inally understood as identical
concerns* the notion o. en,ironmental 5ustice was soon broadened to include concern .or the
en,ironmental riss and burdens borne by any disad,anta"ed communities* such as Appalachian
coalminers* re"ardless o. their racial composition. In turn* ad,ocates o. en,ironmental 5ustice
addressed ,arious .orms o. en,ironmental ine6uities beyond the increased e4posure to to4ic
contamination su..ered by disad,anta"ed communities. They addressed hardships produced by
en,ironmental catastrophes that .all disproportionately on the disad,anta"ed* such as the e..ects o.
Aurricane Katrina on the poorer* and typically blac communities o. @ew 'rleans. They
addressed the <climate in5ustice> su..ered by those communities* peoples* and nations that will
bear the brunt o. "lobal warmin". And they addressed the <stealin"> o. "enetic material .rom
indi"enous populations by pharmaceutical companies that subse6uently en.orce intellectual
property ri"hts throu"h the patentin" o. li,in" or"anisms or %@A se6uences.
Kristin Shrader7Frechette writes that <$n,ironmental in5ustice occurs whene,er some indi,idual or
"roup bears disproportionate en,ironmental riss* lie those o. ha8ardous waste dumps* or has
une6ual access to en,ironmental "oods* lie clean air* or has less opportunity to participate in
en,ironmental decision7main". In e,ery nation o. the world* poor people and minorities .ace
"reater en,ironmental riss* ha,e less access to en,ironmental "oods* and ha,e less ability to
control the en,ironmental insults imposed on them.>
I. we e4pand Shrader7FrechetteDs de.inition
to include social and well as en$ironmental riss* "oods* and decision7main" opportunities* then
we arri,e at the broader cate"ory o. social 5ustice. Cobert Bullard* whose 1112 boo umping in
i*ie brou"ht the issue o. en,ironmental racism to widespread attention* maintains that the
concern .or en,ironmental 5ustice is indeed an e4tension o. the broader concern .or social 5ustice.
9ithin the sustainability .ramewor* the .air distribution o. en,ironmental bene.its* costs* riss
and opportunities is understood as intrinsic to the commitment to a .air distribution o. social*
economic* and political bene.its* costs* riss and opportunities.
The +lobal co**unity
'ur moral obli"ations to .uture "enerations are di..icult to separate* lo"ically speain"* .rom our
moral obli"ations to those who inhabit other nations or other classes* "enders* or races within the
same nation. As the Brundtland Ceport stipulated* the <concern .or social e6uity between
"enerations ... must lo"ically be e4tended to e6uity within "enerations.>
'ur distant descendants
beyond a .ew "enerations* we obser,ed in Chapter )* will share ,ery .ew o. our "enes* little more
than non7in currently li,in" on the other side o. the "lobe. I. we ha,e a moral obli"ation to pass
on a healthy* li.e7supportin" en,ironment to .uture "enerations 7 the ,ast ma5ority o. whom will be
wholly unrelated to us or will ha,e "enetic lins diminishin" at a "eometric rate 7 one mi"ht reason
that the same sort o. obli"ation pertains to current "enerations.
The lo"ic o. e4tendin" care .rom inter"enerational nei"hbors to intra"enerational nei"hbors is
practical as well as moral. In order to protect the en,ironmental health and wel.are o. our children
and "randchildren* it is increasin"ly necessary to protect the en,ironmental health and wel.are o.
the peoples inhabitin" distant nei"hborhoods and distant lands. The wel.are o. .uture "enerations
is* in many realms o. en,ironmental a..airs* dependent upon the wel.are o. our "lobal nei"hbors.
Attempts to shield .uture Americans .rom climate chan"e* .or instance* must account .or the
"reenhouse "as emissions o. China and India. Preser,in" the o8one layer in the stratosphere so
.uture "enerations do not increased incidences o. eye cataracts and sin cancer cannot be
achie,ed without the cooperation o. people .rom e,ery continent. $nsurin" that "rowin"
populations do not deplete natural resources and diminish the planetDs biodi,ersity will re6uire the
pro,ision o. education and sustainable li,elihoods to the citi8ens o. de,elopin" countries* where
11R o. .uture population "rowth will occur.
Indeed* at a practical le,el* it is not only the wel.are o. .uture "enerations that depends upon the
actions o. "lobal nei"hbors. It is also our own wel.are that is directly a..ected. (lobali8ation has
many bene.its* includin" the increased sharin" o. nowled"e* technolo"y* and cultural ,alues.
$colo"ically speain"* the world is shrinin" as well. $n,ironmental responsibilities* lie the air
we breathe* do not stop at national borders. Many o. todayDs most pressin" en,ironmental
problems* such as climate chan"e* o8one depletion* many .orms o. pollution and resource
depletion* as well as diminishin" biodi,ersity* are "lobal threats re6uirin" "lobal solutions.
Smoe .rom brush.ires set by commercial lo""ers in one country may poison the sies across an
entire re"ion o. the "lobe. %ust blown into the atmosphere .rom storms on the "rowin" deserts o.
China .inds its way into the sies o. @orth America and the lun"s o. Cali.ornians. 9hen
increasin" population and po,erty .orces Ama8on dwellers to slash and burn rain.orests to plant
commercial crops* Swedes who mi"ht .rom pharmaceuticals deri,ed .rom .orest .lora and
.auna .or this loss o. biolo"ical di,ersity. 9hen Americans release carbon dio4ide throu"h
the burnin" o. .ossil .uels in their cars and trucs* the li,es and li,elihoods o. Polynesian islanders
on the other side o. the "lobe are threatened as meltin" icecaps and e4pandin" sur.ace waters
submer"e their homeland.
The natural resources consumed and the emissions and waste produced by the worldDs nations cast
Mecolo"ical shadowsM that e4tend well beyond their own borders. Technolo"y o.ten e4tends these
shadows .urther. The 110+ e4plosion o. a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in the ?raine
demonstrated ,i,idly how technolo"y has breached national borders. Locally* o,er #22*222
people were e,acuated and many thousands died .rom radiation7induced cancer. But the
radioacti,e .allout .rom the e4plosion at Chernobyl did not limit itsel. to the ?raine. It reached
the western So,iet ?nion* $astern $urope* 9estern $urope* @orthern $urope* and eastern @orth
As we obser,ed in the last chapter* the ecolo"ical shadow cast by technolo"y does not always
come .rom the most sophisticated in,entions. The burnin" o. wood and charcoal and the use o.
automobiles contributes hea,ily to carbon dio4ide emissions. As a result o. climate chan"e*
"laciers will melt* ri,ers will dry out in the summer* a"ricultural land will lac irri"ation*
deserti.ication will increase* and low7lyin" coastlines will .lood. These climate7induced chan"es
will produce tens o. millions o. en,ironmental re.u"ees in the ne4t decade* with worst7case
scenarios su""estin" that hundreds o. millions o. re.u"ees may ha,e to .lee the en,ironmental
destruction caused by "lobal warmin".
These desperate indi,iduals 6uittin" their homelands will
not be contained within national borders. $colo"ically* socially* and politically* no less than
technolo"ically* the world has become e,er smaller. @ow* more so than e,er* the .ates o.
nei"hbors in the "lobal ,illa"e are 5oined.
The world is shrinin" owin" to a myriad o. connections that e,er more ti"htly intermesh the li,es
and li,elihoods o. peoples across the "lobe. @orman Myers obser,es that M@ot e,en the most
ad,anced nation can insulate itsel. .rom J"lobalK en,ironmental impacts* no matter how stron" it
may be economically or how ad,anced technolo"ically or how power.ul militarily.>
Myers says re"ardin" the impact o. en,ironmental .orces is e6ually true o. economic* scienti.ic*
technolo"ical* social* political* and cultural .orces. These crisscrossin" lina"es circlin" the planet
ha,e made the wel.are o. indi,iduals and nations inseparably intertwined.
Thomas Friedman* the @ew 3or Times columnist and author* has employed the metaphor o. a
<.lattened> world to describe the "rowin" le,els o. interdependence that characteri8e contemporary
Friedman hi"hli"hts social* cultural and business lina"es throu"h the internet* computers*
cell phones* and other media* transnational business operations that spread supply7chains*
worloads* and customers across multiple continents* and "rowin" cultural and political
connections that mae independence and isolation increasin"ly unworable. 9hile FriedmanDs
metaphor is instructi,e* it may obscure many o. the ,ery real di..erences in cultures and in
opportunties that e4ist in a world characteri8ed by "rowin" disparities in wealth and power. But
there is no doubt that in many respects* the contemporary world* more than e,er be.ore* is
characteri8ed by what scholars o. international a..airs describe as <comple4 interdependence.>
The comple4ity arises .rom the multiple .orms o. interdependence in,ol,ed* and .rom the multiple
ways these connections intersect.
The intermeshin" o. the worldDs economic* scienti.ic* technolo"ical* social* political* cultural* and
ecolo"ical systems has created both bene.its and burdens .or human staeholders. These burdens
and bene.its are not e,enly or e6uitably distributed* and such une,enness and ine6uity contributes
to the comple4ity. A small island state and a lar"e mountainous country may contribute e6ually to
"lobal warmin". But the e4pected rise in sea le,els will lea,e only one nation without a homeland.
9hile human and natural systems may en5oy or di..erentially .rom their interconnectedness*
historian %onald 9orster maintains that there is no e4ception to Mthe reality or e4tent o. the
interdependency itsel..>
The cross7cuttin" and multilayered lina"es that characteri8e the
contemporary world are undeniable and inescapable. In todayDs world* interdependence is <a
strict .act o. li.e.M
?nderstood as a strict .act o. li.e* interdependence was .irst disco,ered within the science o.
ecolo"y. $colo"ists study the multilayered* interacti,e relationships between or"anisms and their
en,ironments that .orm the dynamic webs o. connections called ecosystems. Con.lict and
competition between indi,idual or"anisms is intrinsic to such systems. But so is symbiosis* as the
li.e7supportin" acti,ities o. one species complements or supplements the li.e7supportin" acti,ities
o. another species. It is the dance o. competition* con.lict* cooperation* and symbiosis that create
the relationships o. interdependence between the di,erse or"anisms comprisin" an ecosystem.
In.ormed by these ecolo"ical insi"hts* social scientists ha,e e4plored the con.lict* competition*
cooperation* and symbiosis that create webs o. interdependence between and within economic*
scienti.ic* technolo"ical* social* political* and cultural systems. This interdependence is truly
comple4. Sharin" e6uitably the burdens and bene.its that our relationships o. interdependence
create is a core .eature o. sustainability.
Thin5in+ +lobally. actin+ locally
The dictum to <Thin tomorrow* act today>
has its complement in the well7nown
recommendation to MThin "lobally* act locally.M Thinin" "lobally entails becomin" aware o.
and responsi,e to the webs o. interdependence that connect us to distant peoples* cultures* and
ecosystems. The ethics o. sustainability re6uires that we e6uitably share ri"hts and
responsibilities* bene.its and burdens with our local and "lobal nei"hbors. These relationships o.
shared duties* ri"hts* riss* and opportunities are not dissol,ed* thou"h they may be attenuated and
complicated* by distinctions or di,isions arisin" out o. di..erences in class* race* "ender* ethnicity*
belie. systems* and nationality.
To pursue sustainability is to thin and act inclusi,ely* with the wel.are o. a lar"er community in
mind. 9here the speci.ic boundaries o. oneDs <community> lie is a complicated 6uestion. For
people to e..ecti,ely pursue sustainability* they ha,e to concern themsel,es with the local
communities in which they li,e and wor. As 9endell Berry writes* MThe real wor o. planet7
sa,in" will be small* humble* and humblin"* and as it in,ol,es lo,e; pleasin" and
rewardin". Its 5obs will be too many to count* too many to report* too many to be publicly noticed
or rewarded* too small to mae anyone rich or .amous.M
Berry* as we saw in Chapter #* is one o.
the .oundin" thiners o. biore"ionalism* a set o. principles that insist on the priority o. local
commitments and caretain". Sustainability is "rounded in the actions o. countless people
looin" a.ter their own human and biolo"ical communities. At times* one mi"ht be primarily
concerned with the sustainability o. oneDs .amily* nei"hborhood* business* or ci,ic association. At
times* concern mi"ht e4tend to oneDs town* city* county* state* or nation. Aowe,er* all such <local>
actions* i. unin.ormed by a "lobal perspecti,e that illuminates e,er lar"er* more encompassin"
webs o. interdependence* may pro,e counterproducti,e and shortsi"hted. ?ltimately* the pursuit
o. sustainability must always be Janus7.aced* with one eye turned toward the local community and
one eye turned toward the world community.
9e mi"ht spea o. this world community as the "lobal commons. To say that we li,e in a "lobal
commons today is not to deny endurin" ideolo"ical* socio7economic* racial* reli"ious* or "ender
clea,a"es that e4ist in societies. In turn* national* ethnic* and in loyalties persist. To say that we
li,e in a "lobal commons is to insist that* notwithstandin" endurin" a..iliations and di,isions* the
peoples o. the world remain ine4tricably bound to"ether by webs o. ecolo"ical and social
interdependence. Ar"uably* turnin" one eye toward the world community is only possible i. we
already ha,e one eye turned toward local a..iliations. It is hard to ima"ine moral concern .or an
e4pandin" circle o. .ellow citi8ens de,elopin" in a person who was not primarily de,oted as a
youth to .amily and .riends and morally educated by them. As $dmund Bure* the 10
political theorist* wrote- MTo be attached to the subdi,ision* to lo,e the little platoon we belon" to
in society* is the .irst principle :the "erm as it were; o. public a..ections. It is the .irst lin in the
series by which we proceed towards a lo,e o. our country and o. humanind.>
Concern .or the
near and dear* and bein" cared .or by ith and in* is "enerally the prere6uisite .or broader* more
encompassin" relationships o. moral concern.
'. course* care .or the near and dear is not ine,itably bound to e4tend itsel. to a broader
community. Bure* a conser,ati,e and patriot* new well that lo,in" oneOs own platoon did not
always produce a more encompassin" embrace. @ot in.re6uently* it produced a .earsome hate o.
other platoons* other armies* and the other nations they de.ended. Much o. the history o. the
world* a.ter all* is written with the blood o. the ,ictims o. tribal con.lict* ethnic .euds* and national
Some biolo"ists ar"ue that an ethics o. reciprocity that e4tends moral concern to nei"hbors is
really the e,olutionary product o. the need .or stren"th in numbers in the .ace o. e4ternal threats.
That is to say* threats .rom <out"roups> made solidarity o. an <in"roup> the best strate"y .or
9e learned to cooperate and care .or our nei"hbors* in other words* because an ethics
o. reciprocity allowed us to sur,i,e in the .ace o. enemies. There are* to be sure* many e4amples
o. moralities "rounded in brotherhood producin" hate directed towards outsiders* and ,isitin"
much destruction on the world in the process.
The situation is no di..erent today* notwithstandin" "rowin" "lobal interdependencies. The need
to secure dwindlin" reser,es o. natural resources* such as oil or .resh water* will liely produce
armed con.lict between so,erei"n states. In the .ace o. scarce resources* "lobal solidarity threatens
to wane as national interests wa4. @ations still command "reat loyalty .rom their citi8ens* and
liely will continue to do so .or the .oreseeable .uture. But alle"iances are steadily multiplyin".
And national "o,ernments* in order to .ul.ill their mandates o. pro,idin" security* clean air and
water* a stable en,ironment* and economic opportunities .or their citi8ens* .ind themsel,es
necessarily in,ol,ed in "lobal caretain" in an increasin"ly interdependent world.
Throu"hout the ,ast e4panses o. human history* most o. our ancestors led relati,ely isolated li,es
within small inship "roups and tribes. As wanderin" hunter7"atherers* their actions seldom
a..ected distant nei"hbors. A huntin" and "atherin" li.estyle re6uires about a s6uare mile .or
.ora"in" per indi,idual. The total area o. inhabitable land on the planet is less than two hundred
million s6uare miles. 9ith a current "lobal population approachin" se,en billion* it is clear that
our species .or.eited the option o. isolated li,es .or its members many centuries a"o. Today* lie it
or not* we are all "lobal citi8ens. The 6uestion is whether we can rise to meet the responsibilities
o. this citi8enship* li,in" and worin" in a way that sustains the "lobal commons.
Life on S(aceshi( Ea,th
9hile typically "rounded in local actions* sustainability is "enerally planetary in its broadest
,isions. This planetary ,ision is occasionally described as globalism. (lobalism means di..erent
thin"s to di..erent people. For some* it si"nals the cultural imperialism o. 9estern power and
,alues* as the planetDs di,erse peoples become increasin"ly connected H and homo"eni8ed 7
throu"h modern media and technolo"y. For some it represents the threat o. a unitary world
"o,ernment* a "lobeocracy* that erodes indi,idual .reedoms and the so,erei"nty o. nation7states.
For some* it represents the "rowin" power o. multinational corporations and the inte"ration o.
economies and consumption patterns across the planet* creatin" a so7called Mc9orld* where
e,eryone marches H and eats H to the same corporate beat. And .or some* "lobalism has a more
beni"n meanin" and e..ect. It bespeas the weaenin" o. dan"erous .orms o. nationalism and
tribalism* increased transparency throu"h media* "reater interaction and connection o. the worldDs
peoples and cultures* and "reater opportunities .or mobility* employment* and education. It also
su""ests* as international relations theorist Paul 9apner writes* Ma hei"htened sensiti,ity to the
.ra"ility o. the li.e7support system o. the planet and a sense o. human solidarity in a world o.
increasin" interdependence.M
This latter* beni"n understandin" o. "lobalism can be traced bac to the 11+2s* when ?.S.
ambassador to the ?nited @ations* Adlai Ste,enson* populari8ed Kenneth Bouldin"Os notion o.
Spaceship $arth. In his last speech to the ?.@. deli,ered in 11+)* shortly be.ore his untimely
death* Ste,enson .amously said- M9e tra,el to"ether* passen"ers on a little spaceship* dependent
upon its ,ulnerable reser,e o. air and soilL all committed .or our sa.ety to its security and peaceL
preser,ed .rom annihilation by the care* the wor* and I will say* the lo,e we "i,e our .ra"ile
cra.t.> 'n Spaceship $arth* Ste,enson was sayin"* ecolo"ical interdependence sows a common
.ate and a common tas .or the human species.
There are problems associated with the Spaceship $arth metaphor. Althou"h the planetDs peoples
are* in an important sense* Oin the same boat*O the ima"e o. all o. us as passen"ers on a sin"le cra.t
sharin" a sin"le .ate may be decepti,e. @ot all passen"ers on Spaceship $arth en5oy the same
pri,ile"es or the same depri,ations. The ma5ority* those with little power and wealth* sweat
and all too .re6uently star,e in the smoe7.illed en"ine room. A small percenta"e en5oy .ine
dinin" and issue orders .rom the air7conditioned brid"e. Bene.its and riss aboard the planetary
cra.t are not e6ually shared. Ste,enson was well aware o. this ine6uity. $choin" Abraham
LincolnDs .amous MAouse %i,idedM speech "i,en a century earlier where Lincoln announced that
the American M"o,ernment cannot endure* permanently hal. sla,e and hal. .ree*> Ste,enson
continued his speech to the ?.@. with these words- M9e cannot maintain Jthe spaceshipK hal.
.ortunate* hal. miserable* hal. con.ident* hal. despairin"* hal. sla,e to the ancient enemies o.
manind and hal. .ree in a liberation o. resources undreamed o. until this day. @o cra.t* no crew*
can tra,el sa.ely with such ,ast contradictions. 'n their resolution depends the security o. us all.M
Ste,ensonDs notion o. Spaceship $arth lins caretain" o. the "lobal commons with social 5ustice.
It mi"ht be considered an early precursor to the ethics o. sustainability. This lina"e o. "lobal
caretain" and social 5ustice has not been uncontested. Some belie,e that the metaphor o.
Spaceship $arth* and its implicit connection between en,ironmental caretain" and social 5ustice*
is misleadin" and dan"erous. In 11/&* (arrett Aardin wrote his .amous article on <li.eboat
Aardin a"reed with Ste,enson that li.e on Spaceship $arth is ine6uitable* thou"h he
notes* more accurately than Ste,enson* that it is not hal. the population that is poor and despairin"*
but a si"ni.icant ma5ority. (i,en this reality* Aardin proposes that we "i,e up the spaceship
metaphor and adopt instead the ima"e o. a li.eboat. A small number o. people* residents o. the
rich nations o. the world* .ind themsel,es sa.e and secure in the li.eboat. Their needs are lar"ely
bein" met. The ,ast ma5ority o. people* residents o. poor nations* .ind themsel,es bobbin"
treacherously on the open seas* without the resources to sur,i,e* let alone thri,e.
To in,ite the needy masses into the small boat would be disastrous* Aardin claims. As more and
more waterlo""ed people boarded the cra.t* it would soon e4ceed its carryin" capacity. Soon
enou"h* the li.eboat would sin* and all its occupants would share a sin"le* in"lorious .ate.
Sharin" resources in such a situation 7 the essence o. social 5ustice 7 mi"ht be seen as the only
ethical thin" to do. But the results* Aardin concludes* are certain- <The boat is swamped* and
e,eryone drowns. Complete 5ustice* complete catastrophe.>
Aa,in" the best intentions and
attemptin" to meet e,eryoneDs needs may be .ine prescriptions .or an ethical theory* Aardin
maintains. But such well7intentioned morality pro,es problematic* i. not disastrous* in practice.
Tain" care o. onesel.* oneDs .amily* and oneDs nation is at odds with e..orts to satis.y the needs
and sae"uard the opportunities o. "lobal nei"hbors.
Aardin disputes whether the pursuit o. social 5ustice* and morality more "enerally* produce
desirable results in a world o. scarce resources. @ice "uys .inish last* Aardin obser,es* and
sel.ishness will always beat out "ood intentions. Aowe,er* Aardin was not su""estin" that
unrestrained indi,idual sel.ishness is the best recipe .or protectin" the "lobal en,ironment. In an
earlier* and e,en more widely cited article entitled MThe Tra"edy o. the Commons*M Aardin used
another metaphor to e4plain why indi,idual sel.ishness produced en,ironmental catastrophe.
The commons Aardin was describin" were pastures in $n"land where people "ra8ed their sheep.
A typical li,estoc owner* Aardin ar"ues* would tae ma4imum ad,anta"e o. the .ree .ora"e by
"ra8in" all o. his animals on the commons. '. course* his lieminded and e6ually sel.7interested
nei"hbors* bein" economically rational people* would act similarly. As relati,ely .ew herders and
relati,ely .ew sheep e4ploited a relati,ely lar"e commons* no real problems would arise. But lac
o. sel.7restraint practiced by increasin" numbers o. sel.7interested herders placin" more and more
sheep on a limited acrea"e would 6uicly produce a pasture eroded by o,er"ra8in". The .ormerly
lush* "reen commons* lie the swamped li.eboat* would be rendered useless. @ow all the sheep*
and e,entually all the herders* would star,e.
AardinDs point is that the tra"edy o. the commons is ine,itable when the commons H understood
broadly as publically a,ailable natural resources H is open to e4ploitation by indi,iduals in the
absence o. a central authority to re"ulate their actions. 9ith no one to control o,ere4ploitation*
Aardin insists* the commons will be depleted to the point o. collapse. Then e,eryone loses.
In writin" <The Tra"edy o. the Commons*> Aardin was concerned not only with the o,eruse and
erosion o. public lands* but with the depletion o. all natural resources in an o,erpopulated world.
Ais conclusion was that MCuin is the destination toward which all men rush* each pursuin" his own
best interest in a society that belie,es in the .reedom o. the commons. Freedom in a commons
brin"s ruin to all.M
The only ,iable solution to en,ironmental destruction in an o,erpopulated
world o. scarce resources* Aardin maintained* was the creation o. an authority that could
coerci,ely impose restraint.
Aardin e4plicitly embraces two .eatures o. the sustainability .ramewor. In <Li.eboat $thics*> he
ar"ues that we must resist the ur"e to in,ite e,erybody into the li.eboat* in part* out o. a sense o.
duty to pro"eny. It is incumbent upon us to be e4clusi,e i. we want to preser,e the natural world
.or .uture "enerations. <For the .oreseeable .uture*> Aardin writes* <sur,i,al demands that we
"o,ern our actions by the ethics o. a li.eboat. Posterity will be ill ser,ed i. we do not.>
In the
<Tra"edy o. the Commons*> Aardin insists that the sel.7interested pursuit o. prosperity is an
ineradicable .eature o. the human condition. Any indi,idual or collecti,e ,enture that does not
account .or its own economic success is doomed to .ail. The obli"ation to protect the en,ironment
.or .uture "enerations and the understandin" o. the importance o. economic ,iability put Aardin
two7thirds o. the way into the sustainability tent. It is on the issue o. social 5ustice that Aardin
re.uses .ull entry. Aardin is dubious that all three le"s o. the stool o. sustainability truly support
one another. Stren"thenin" the economic and en,ironmental le"s* he belie,es* will necessitate
i"norin" the le" o. social 5ustice.
Aardin maes two ma5or claims that ad,ocates o. social 5ustice must con.ront. First* he claims
that in an o,erpopulated world o. scarce resources* the attempt to meet the needs o. the poor and
disad,anta"ed will pro,e en,ironmentally disastrous. The predictable result is that the carryin"
capacity o. the commons 7 the planet as a whole 7 will be e4ceeded* with dire conse6uences .or all.
Second* he claims that a so,erei"n authority is re6uired to protect natural resources* that
indi,iduals tryin" to meet their own needs in the absence o. a central authority will destroy the
commons. Because people are .undamentally sel.7ser,in" and shortsi"hted* a sense o. social
5ustice or ,oluntary cooperation will not produce acceptable results. Let us e4amine each o. these
claims in turn.
1ill meeting the needs of the disad$antaged pro$e en$ironmentally disastrous?
Ar"uin" the case .or the disad,anta"ed o. the world* physicist and en,ironmental acti,ist Uandana
Shi,a obser,es that <(i,in" people ri"hts and access to resources so that they can re"ain their
security and "enerate sustainable li,elihoods is the only solution to en,ironmental destruction and
the population "rowth that accompanies it.>
It is with this same con,iction that the Brundtland
Commission determined* decades earlier* that <ine6uality is the planetDs main Wen,ironmentalD
Aere* Shi,a and the Brundtland Commission insist that social 5ustice is not at odds
with protectin" the "lobal commons. Indeed* social 5ustice is the only thin" that can sa,e it.
$mpirical research "i,es wei"ht to these claims. Countries with more e6ual income distribution
and more e"alitarian political ri"hts "enerally do a better 5ob protectin" their en,ironments. A
similar relationship occurs domestically* when one compares ine6uality and en,ironmental health
in the )2 ?.S. states. The conclusion reached by many scholars is that <social 5ustice and
en,ironmental sustainability are ine4tricably lined* and that the achie,ement o. the latter without
"reater commitment to the .ormer will be e4ceptionally di..icult.>
In an ecolo"ically and
technolo"ically shrinin" world* an e4pandin" sense o. social solidarity pro,ides a crucial
.oundation .or sustainability. This is* by no means* a uni,ersal con,iction e,en amon" those who
label themsel,es en,ironmentalists. But it is intrinsic to the sustainability .ramewor.
embrace sustainability is to accept that economic security H the ability to earn oneDs li,elihood H is
a uni,ersal pursuit* a uni,ersal ri"ht. People will always see economic security as a means o.
sur,i,al* and "i,en the chance* most will pursue economic prosperity. (i,en this reality* people
will continue to destroy the en,ironment i. that is the only way .or them to sur,i,e economically.
The sustainability .ramewor insists that the only way to sa,e the en,ironment is to help people
de,elop en,ironmentally beni"n li,elihoods.
The well7nown anthropolo"ist and conser,ationist Cichard Leaey put the point succinctly when
he said- MTo care about the en,ironment re6uires at least one s6uare meal a day.M
Consider the
issue o. biodi,ersity in this conte4t. The poor and disad,anta"ed o. western nations* sur,eys
demonstrate* are much more concerned with economic de,elopment that will pro,ide them with
steady 5obs than with the e..ort to protect wildli.e. As %orceta Taylor* an en,ironmental 5ustice
e4pert at the ?ni,ersity o. Michi"an* remars* MIt is unrealistic to e4pect someone subsistin" at the
mar"ins o. the urban or rural economy* or who is unemployed* to support wildli.e and wilderness
preser,ation i. she or he has no access to or cannot utili8e these resources.M
It is not di..icult to
understand why meetin" basic needs .or su..icient .ood* decent housin"* a secure 5ob* and a to4ic7
.ree en,ironment ran abo,e wilderness preser,ation .or people stru""lin" to mae ends meet.
?ntil basic needs are su..iciently satis.ied* the protection o. biodi,ersity will not be widely
embraced by disad,anta"ed populations. Indeed* the protection o. wilderness* which maes habitat
o..7limits to economic de,elopment* may be ,iewed as 5eopardi8in" 5ob creation. In this conte4t*
nature preser,ation may be seen as a lu4ury o. the rich* and a threat to the poor.
The same is true at an international le,el. Today* one o. the chie. threats to primates is the
destruction o. nati,e habitat as subsistence .armers slash and burn rain.orests to "row crops .or
e4port* such as tobacco :Malawi;* palm oil :Indonesia;* or soya :Bra8il;. $6ually de,astatin" in
some countries is the huntin" o. <bushmeat> by impo,erished people. Preser,in" chimpan8ees and
"orillas and oran"utans is a wonder.ul idea. But to those .amilies that mi"ht star,e in the absence
o. a meal o. bushmeat* or are .orced to culti,ate crops in .ormer .orests* sa,in" wildli.e seems a
pri,ile"e they can ill a..ord. In A.rica* Indonesia* India and elsewhere* early e..orts by western
en,ironmentalists to preser,e wildli.e and wilderness areas by cordonin" o.. habitat without
thou"ht to the economic needs o. local residents met with limited success and "reat resentment.
Typically* it was ,iewed as caterin" to the needs o. western tourists.
In contrast* community7
based preser,ation e..orts that tie wilderness preser,ation to the de,elopment o. sustainable local
economies ha,e been more promisin".
The connection between en,ironmental protection and the need .or economic de,elopment is not
limited to the preser,ation o. biolo"ical di,ersity. [ero7emission and low7emission automobiles
are now widely a,ailable* but their cost may be prohibiti,e .or those who li,e below the po,erty
line. 9ell7constructed* well7insulated housin" that conser,es ener"y is also o.ten beyond the
economic reach o. the poorest sectors o. society. 9hile the poor consume .ar .ewer resources
than the wealthy per capita* po,erty o.ten means that one cannot a..ord to be ener"y e..icient. In
such cases* economic de,elopment and sustainability "o hand in hand.
In the de,elopin" world* a similar relationship e4ists between po,erty and the ine..icient use o.
other natural resources. Althou"h erosene lamps use .i.ty times more ener"y per watt produced
than electric li"ht bulbs* many urban slum dwellers and the rural poor still use erosene lamps*
contributin" more to "reenhouse "as emissions and also su..erin" .rom the smoe and unhealthy
emissions. Solar cooers use re.lected rays .rom the sun to coo .ood and* where necessary*
pasteuri8e water. 3et relati,ely .ew people ha,e such cooers. Indeed* about 02 percent o. the
worldDs peoples still collect and burn ,ast amounts o. wood and charcoal .or cooin". '.tentimes*
bushes and trees are cut down .or .irewood .aster than they can be replenished* leadin" to the
erosion o. mountainsides and sa,annas* and deserti.ication. In these cases* increased conser,ation
o. natural resources and impro,ed human wel.are would be made possible throu"h the pro,ision o.
appropriate technolo"y and sustainable economic de,elopment.
The de,elopment and deployment o. appropriate technolo"y and the creation o. sustainable local
economies will not happen su..iciently or 6uicly enou"h i. the disad,anta"ed o. the world are le.t
to their own resources. In lar"e part* that is because the disad,anta"ed are already inte"rated into 7
and are .urther pushed into unsustainable li,elihoods as a result o. 7 a "lobal economy. The
opportunity is a,ailable to the wealthier countries o. the world* those that consume most o. the
planetDs natural capital and produce most o. its to4ic pollution* to help .oster sustainable
economies across the "lobe.
In 11+2* the ten richest countries in the world were #2 times as rich as the ten poorest. Forty years
later* they were si4ty7.i,e times as rich.
The stubborn .act is that "reat wealth and "reat po,erty
are both en,ironmentally disastrous H the .ormer owin" to the massi,e consumption and waste that
it encoura"es* the latter owin" to the o,erpopulation and li,es o. desperation it produces.
%e,elopin" countries currently account .or well o,er 1) percent o. world population "rowth.
Stemmin" this tide will entail more than sharin" words o. concern .or en,ironmental protection. It
will entail sharin" the nowled"e* technolo"y* and resources that allow .or the de,elopment o.
sustainable li,elihoods. Cesearch has consistently shown that education and economic
opportunities* particularly .or women* are one o. the surest and .astest means to lowerin"
reproduction rates and mo,in" toward more sustainable societies.
All this is to say that in theory* and in practice* the protection o. the en,ironment may be helped*
not hindered* when the impo,erished and disad,anta"ed are aided in their e..orts to "ain education
and economic opportunity.
'. course* it is important to stimulate the most sustainable .orms o.
economic opportunity. Tom Athanasiou has said that MAistory will 5ud"e "reens by whether they
stand with the worldOs poor.M
AistoryDs 5ud"ment* more precisely* will be determined by whether
those who pursue sustainability 5oin the worldDs disad,anta"ed to mae ecolo"ical security and
economic security mutually rein.orcin".
Is a coerci$e! centrali0ed authority re=uired to preser$e the global commons?
9ithin a "roup o. .riends or collea"ues* there may be no need to coerci,ely en.orce laws
.orbiddin" thie,ery. A sense o. care and common morality H the ethics o. reciprocity 7 is
su..icient. 9ithin lar"er "roups o. indi,iduals* such as nation7states* laws that .orbid thie,ery and
"uarantee honest transactions appear necessary. These laws mi"ht be .ollowed willin"ly by most
people most o. the time out o. a sense o. moral rectitude or cooperati,e en"a"ement. Still* the
presence o. a police .orce and 5udicial system to en.orce the law appears necessary to ensure that
stealin" does not become an irresistible temptation.
Anarchists disa"ree. They belie,e that order can be maintained within lar"e or"ani8ations o.
people without any coerci,e authority or central "o,ernment. Anarchism has a lon" and ,ibrant
history. Its theory is much debated. 'ccasionally H and usually in ,ery short7li,ed e4periments H it
has been put into practice. $mbracin" the sustainability .ramewor does not entail the
endorsement o. anarchism. 9ithin nation7states* ad,ocates o. sustainability are almost uni,ersally
supporti,e o. laws that uphold human ri"hts* ci,il ri"hts* and honest practices* while .orbiddin"
trans"ressions such as thie,ery and bribery. (o,ernments with coerci,e powers are understood to
be the necessary means o. en.orcin" such laws.
In this respect* the sustainability .ramewor does not dispute the claim that centrali8ed authority
may be use.ul* and is o.ten re6uired* to achie,e many "oods* includin" protection o. the
en,ironment. But a "reat deal o. en,ironmental preser,ation occurs in the absence o. centrali8ed
In the <Tra"edy o. the Commons> and <Li.eboat $thics*> Aardin claims that the commons cannot
be preser,ed in the absence o. a coerci,e authority. To be sustained* the commons must either be
di,ided up into parcels o. pri,ate property :each mana"ed by a so,erei"n owner; or protected by a
so,erei"n world "o,ernment. Both options present their own problems.
9orld "o,ernment is unliely to de,elop any time soon. :The ?nited @ations* Aardin maintains* is
a <toothless ti"er> incapable o. doin" the 5ob.; I. it did de,elop* the threat o. "lobal tyranny
would be e,er7present. In turn* the presence o. a central world "o,ernment by no means "uarantees
ecolo"ical wellbein". Many states with stron" central "o,ernments H such as the .ormer So,iet
?nion H had abysmal domestic records o. en,ironmental protection.
There is no reason to
assume that centrali8ed authority on a "lobal scale would be more ecolo"ically beni"n than the
centrali8ed authority o. many o. the worldDs states with the poorest en,ironmental records.
The option o. pri,ati8in" the commons* e..ecti,ely parcelin" it up into paca"es o. real estate
owned and protected by indi,iduals* is o.ten neither worable nor e..ecti,e at ensurin" its
protection. Some commons* the open seas or the atmosphere* cannot e..ecti,ely be di,ided up and
pri,ati8ed. And historically* the <enclosin"> o. common lands has not deterred their depletion*
erosion* and destruction.
Pri,ate property is o.ten abused and destroyed .or 6uic
So centrali8ed authority is no "uarantee that the "lobal commons will be preser,ed. And the
pri,ati8ation o. property does not ensure that its natural resources will not be depleted or its
ecolo"ical health maintained.
As importantly* the absence o. a central authority does not mae the destruction o. a commons
ine,itable. There is a lon" history o. communally mana"ed resources* o.ten called common pool
resources such as pastureland* water sources* .orests* and .isheries. These commons ha,e been
sustained across the "enerations throu"h the cooperati,e en"a"ement o. local staeholders. And
this has been achie,ed in the absence o. central* so,erei"n authorities.
In turn* scores o. bilateral and multilateral treaties and a"reements between countries ha,e also
ser,ed to protect the "lobal commons in the absence o. a centrali8ed authority. The Montreal
Protocol* which protects the stratospheric commons and its protecti,e layer o. o8one* is a "ood
e4ample. Liewise* the Con,ention on International Trade in $ndan"ered Species o. 9ild Fauna
and Flora :CIT$S;* which monitors and re"ulates trade in endan"ered species* has achie,ed a
si"ni.icant le,el o. protection to more than #2*222 di..erent species o. plants and animals without a
world "o,ernment to en.orce it. The Antarctic Treaty* adopted in 11+1 by twel,e si"natories and
now includin" &+ states* sa.e"uards our southernmost continent 7 which lie the worldDs oceans
and atmosphere* is a true commons belon"in" to no nation and shared by all. The treaty protects
Antarctica .rom militari8ation* nuclear testin"* and waste disposal* while promotin" peace.ul*
international scienti.ic cooperation.
Consider e..orts to address the transboundary mo,ement and disposal o. ha8ardous waste. Ai"hly
industriali8ed countries produce most o. the hundreds o. millions o. tons o. ha8ardous waste
"enerated each year. Si"ni.icant portions o. this waste crosses national borders* with most o. it
mo,in" .rom industriali8ed to de,elopin" nations. The Basel Con,ention* which came into .orce
in 111! and now has 1/! si"natories* controls the tra..icin" o. many .orms o. ha8ardous waste
across national borders. The con,ention upholds the MLe"al Principles .or $n,ironmental
Protection and Sustainable %e,elopmentM adopted by the 9orld Commission on $n,ironment and
%e,elopment. A Mnon7discriminationM principle maintains that states Mshall apply as a minimum at
least the same standards .or en,ironmental conduct and impacts re"ardin" transboundary natural
resources and en,ironmental inter.erences as are applied domestically.M
In e..ect* the Basel
Con,ention applies the "olden rule to the international relations o. to4ic waste disposal. And it has
pro,en 6uite e..ecti,e. Alon" with many other multilateral treaties and a"reements* the Basel
Con,ention was created and maintained in the absence o. a central* so,erei"n world "o,ernment.
The e..orts o. non7"o,ernmental or"ani8ations :@('s; to protect the "lobal commons are also
noteworthy. The most prominent o. these "roups* such as (reenpeace* the 9orld 9ide Fund .or
@ature* the @ature Conser,ancy* and the International ?nion .or Conser,ation o. @ature :which
brin"s to"ether "o,ernment a"encies and @('s;* span the "lobe and boast millions o. members.
@o centrali8ed authority coerces these "roups to do the wor they do* or .orces members o. the
"eneral public to 5oin* donate money* time* and e..ort to .urtherin" their missions. 3et these
or"ani8ations .oster tens o. thousands o. initiati,es that .urther sustainability around the world.
@ot in.re6uently* their e..orts e,entually stimulate domestic or international "o,ernmental action.
For e4ample* CIT$S was ori"inally dra.ted at a 11+# meetin" o. members o. the International
?nion .or Conser,ation o. @ature* an international @('* be.ore bein" adopted o,er the .ollowin"
decades by 1/) so,erei"n states.
$arth Share* a con"lomerate o. @('s .ormed in the late 1102s* created a motto to capture the
sensibility o. its constituents. @(' members ,oluntarily contribute money* time* and e..ort to the
protection o. the "lobal commons. The $arth Share motto simply reads- MItOs a Connected 9orld.
%o 3our Share.M
%oin" your share in an interdependent world is more than a moral imperati,e.
It is a practical necessity i. sustainability is to be .urthered.
But why should anyone do his or her shareE 9hy not simply throw up oneDs hands in .rustration
and* belie,in" that nothin" one can do personally will mae much o. a di..erenceE
Alternati,ely* why not sit bac and ha,e a <.ree ride*> "ainin" the bene.its o. any actions taen by
others to sustain the world while contributin" little i. anythin" onesel.E 9hy and how* in other
words* do @('s not only .orm and sur,i,e* but succeed and spreadE
@('s* whether oriented toward sustainability or the pursuit o. other "oods* mana"e to attract and
moti,ate their members in three primary ways.
First* they de,elop and promote a sense o.
a"ency* main" concerted action to alter the situation at hand .easible. 9hile it may o.ten seem
impossible to mae much o. a di..erence to the preser,ation o. the "lobal commons as an
indi,idual* 5oinin" to"ether with other lie7minded people allows a "reater sense o. empowerment
and e..icacy.
Second* these "roups .oster a sense o. collecti,e identity or teamwor. At base* homo sapiens are
social animals. Today* as in prehistoric times* they primarily li,e* wor* and thri,e in
communities. 9e ha,e an instinct .or solidarity. Friends demonstrate that they will <do
anythin"> .or .riends. Athletes belon"in" to sports associations* and the .ans that support them*
demonstrate their loyalty and willin"ness to <"i,e it their all> .or the o. their teams.
Citi8ens and soldiers do the same .or their countries* o.ten sacri.icin" li.e itsel. .or the collecti,e
"ood. In the same .ashion* @('s "i,e their constituents a sense o. membership and identity. In
this way* the success o. the "roup also becomes the memberDs personal ,ictory.
The third means by which @('s attract and moti,ate their members is by identi.yin" an in5ustice
that re6uires redress. 'ne o. the stron"est moti,ators we now as a species is the sense o.
in5ustice. Indeed* it o.ten pro,es stron"er than the pursuit o. sel.7interest. $conomists and social
scientists ha,e demonstrated this .act H already well nown to historians H throu"h empirical
In an e4periment called the <?ltimatum (ame*> players interact to decide how to di,ide a sum o.
money. The .irst participant chooses how to split the sum while the second participant either
accepts or re5ects the proposal. I. the second player re5ects the proposal* neither player recei,es
any money. I. the second player accepts the proposal* the money is di,ided up accordin" to the
a"reement. In many instances* the .irst player will propose a )2G)2 split* presumably out o. a
sense o. .airness. 9hat is remarable is that proposals that are too lop7sided typically will be
re5ected. I. the .irst player proposes a /2G#2 split* or an e,en more lop7sided distribution* the
second player will o.ten choose to "o home with nothin" rather than the percei,ed in5ustice
o. "ainin" a small portion o. the total sum.
The ?ltimatum (ame demonstrates that people naturally attempt to redress in5ustice* e,en i. doin"
so will incur a personal cost. In the same .ashion* @('s that identi.y and wor to redress
percei,ed social or en,ironmental in5ustice translate this natural sense o. moral indi"nation in their
members into collecti,e action.
(arrett Aardin maintains that <In lar"e "roups social policy institutions necessarily must be "uided
by what I ha,e called the Cardinal Cule o. Policy- .e$er ask a person to act against his own self-
interest. It is within the limitations o. this rule that we must see to create our .uture.> 9ith this
Cardinal Cule in mind* Aardin e4amines an e..ort by (reenpeace acti,ists to protect whales-
9e are told o. idealists on board this J(reenpeaceK ,essel who appealed by me"aphone to
the captain o. a Cussian whaler to cease his acti,ities in the interests o. the whales and
posterity. The captainOs reply was* o. course* o. the sort that we o. the older "eneration call
Ounprintable.O And why should it not beE 9hate,er sneain" admiration we may ha,e .or
the idealists o. the (reenpeace Foundation77and I con.ess I ha,e more than a little77their
pro"ram is 6ui4otic because it ,iolates the Cardinal Cule by asin" people to act a"ainst
their own sel.7interest.
To be sure* sel.7interest is always a "ood moti,ator. 3et Aardin i"nores the .act that (reenpeace
has been 6uite success.ul in their anti7whalin" campai"n o,er the years. And the appeals made by
(reenpeace H to the "eneral public and to their political representati,es around the "lobe 7 ha,e not
been directed toward satis.yin" these indi,idualsD immediate sel.7interests. Cather* the appeals
ha,e been directed to the pli"ht o. the whales themsel,es* to the ri"hts o. .uture "enerations* and to
the wel.are o. the "lobal commons. Sel.7interest is neither the sole* nor always the most power.ul*
@('s dedicated to en,ironmental conser,ation ha,e historically appealed to the wel.are o.
endan"ered animals and to the wel.are o. .uture "enerations. Increasin"ly H and maredly so in
the last two decades 7 they ha,e also lined their conser,ation e..orts to the pursuit o. social
5ustice. The 9orld 9ide Fund .or @ature :99F;* .or e4ample* was initially .ormed as an a"ency
.or the protection o. wildli.e in biolo"ically rich but economically poor countries. Their early
e..orts met with mi4ed success and o.ten alienated local peoples. In the late 1102s* 99FOs
perspecti,e and strate"y chan"ed. The or"ani8ation shi.ted .rom a narrow .ocus on protectin"
charismatic me"a.auna H species such as lions* rhinoceroses* ti"ers* and elephants H to the
preser,ation o. biodi,ersity and the promotion o. sustainability throu"h local economic
de,elopment and community empowerment.
The idea was to mae habitat protection a payin"
proposition .or local residents.
Liewise* The @ature Conser,ancy shi.ted its strate"ic orientation a couple decades a"o. $arlier
e..orts were oriented to the purchase o. lar"e swaths o. ecolo"ically rich land* with the subse6uent
tas that o. policin" these preser,es a"ainst poachers or other en,ironmentally destructi,e
practices. @ow e..orts to preser,e landscapes are tied to the sustainable economic de,elopment o.
local populations.
The protection o. biodi,ersity is "rounded in <community7based
As one @ature Conser,ancy o..icial stated* Mconser,ation wors place by place ...
in e,ery ecosystem weOre worin" in* we need lon"7term community support or we will .ail.M
A .ine e4ample o. a success.ul @(' that .ocuses its e..orts on community7based solutions is
$n"ineers without Borders. This or"ani8ation supports de,elopment pro"rams in communities
around the world by helpin" to desi"n and implement sustainable en"ineerin" pro5ects. 9ith more
than &22 pro5ects in &/ countries* $n"ineers without Borders7?SA :there are do8ens other
a..iliates in other countries; primarily .ocuses on low7cost* sustainable water and ener"y pro5ects.
In each case* meetin" the basic needs o. local residents and de,elopin" community leadership and
ownership o. pro5ects is central to the mission o. the or"ani8ation. For $n"ineers without Borders*
sustainability be"ins at home* in sel.7responsible communities that de,elop the tools and resources
to meet their own needs.
9hile "o,ernmental authorities and the laws they promul"ate and en.orce will always be
necessary to protect public "oods* includin" en,ironmental resources* a centrali8ed* coerci,e .orce
is no "uarantee o. en,ironmental protection. The role o. "o,ernment is to protect and empower its
citi8ens. (o,ernment has the responsibility to protect citi8ens .rom the law7breain" o. other
citi8ens* .rom the power o. business corporations and other or"ani8ed "roups* and importantly*
.rom the unconstitutional and e4cessi,e intrusions o. "o,ernment itsel.. In turn* "o,ernment has
the responsibility to empower citi8ens to sustain themsel,es and their world as indi,iduals and
throu"h the non7"o,ernmental or"ani8ations they .orm. By way o. this empowerment* throu"h the
customary and cooperati,e en"a"ement o. local staeholders and the e..orts o. transnational non7
"o,ernmental or"ani8ations* the domestic and "lobal commons o.ten "ains much7needed
protection. In such cases* the success.ul protection o. the commons is "rounded in a sense o.
5ustice that is percei,ed to complement rather than contra,ene lon"7term sel.7interest.
Dist,ibutional P,inci(les
John Cawls* as we saw in earlier chapters* de.ines 5ustice as pertainin" to the determination o.
ri"hts and duties and the .air distribution o. social ad,anta"es.
In a 5ust society* Cawls ar"ues*
basic ci,il ri"hts are upheld and the social ad,anta"es o. education and economic opportunity are
e6uitably shared. Justice also re6uires the .air distribution o. social disad,anta"es* such as
en,ironmental riss. In turn* it re6uires a .air distribution o. power and decision7main" abilities*
as these :political; "oods determine how and to whom other social ad,anta"es and disad,anta"es
will be distributed. This is a ,ery important component o. 5ustice* and Cawls is sometimes .aulted
.or payin" insu..icient attention to the underlyin" causes o. maldistribution that result .rom power
di..erentials* discrimination* and oppression.
9hy should a "o,ernment or state be in,ol,ed in the distribution o. social "oodsE 9hy not allow
each indi,idual :or .amily; to be on its own* to prosper or the .ull conse6uences o. its
actions* to succeed or .ail based solely on its own e..orts and resourcesE 'ne reason is that no one
H and certainly not the most power.ul people o. any society H e,er truly succeeds on his own. All .rom the basic in.rastructure and ser,ices that society pro,ides* such as elementary and
secondary educationL roads* brid"es* and hi"hwaysL the administration o. ci,il 5ustice and police
.orcesL and national de.ense. @o one would be able to "ain much in the way o. nowled"e or
economic opportunity without this basic in.rastructure. (i,en that social ad,anta"es can only be
obtained by way o. a .oundation pro,ided by society at lar"e* there is reason to insist that these
ad,anta"es be distributed .airly within society.
A fair distribution o. social ad,anta"es does not mean an e=ual distribution. Absolute e6uality in
the distribution o. social "oods would be ,ery di..icult to achie,e and maintain. And it is not clear
that such a distribution would be .air or 5ust. Ar"uably* .airness and 5ustice entail the appropriate
rewardin" o. e..ort. Since une6ual indi,idual e..orts may be in,ol,ed in the pursuit o. social
ad,anta"es* a .ully e6ual distribution o. these ad,anta"es may be un5ust and un.air to those who
e4erted more e..ort.
Cawls "rapples with the challen"e o. achie,in" a .air distribution o. ad,anta"es in society by
de,elopin" what he calls the <di..erence principle.>
9e recall that .or Cawls 5ustice can best be
concei,ed by asin" how we would order society and distribute the bene.its and costs o. social li.e
.rom the ori"inal position. Aere* standin" behind a ,eil o. i"norance* we would not now our
socio7economic status* or any o. our personal attributes or history. Cawls ar"ues that people
behind the ,eil o. i"norance would insist that basic ci,il ri"hts be sa.e"uarded. That is to say* they
would ensure e6ual liberty. They would also insist on e6uality o. opportunity. This would ensure
that indi,iduals were not pre,ented .rom seein" education or competin" .or 5obs or o..ices.
In,oin" the di..erence principle* Cawls then ar"ues that une6ual distributions o. social and
economic bene.its should only be allowed when these ine6ualities can be demonstrated to
the least ad,anta"ed in society and are :in accordance with the e6ual opportunity principle;
attached to o..ices or positions that are open to e,eryone.
In other words* once e,eryoneDs ci,il ri"hts are secured* and e6uality o. opportunity ensures that
e,eryone is able to see education and compete .airly .or 5obs* positions* or o..ices* then
ine6ualities that arise out o. this competition are acceptable i.* and only i.* these ine6ualities the least ad,anta"ed in society. So* .or instance* i. e,eryone includin" the least ad,anta"ed
in society .rom the most nowled"eable* most silled* and hardest7worin" scientists and
en"ineers .illin" the most important positions in their respecti,e institutions or corporations* and i.
payin" hi"her salaries can be shown to ensure that the best scientists and en"ineers apply .or and
retain these positions* then ine6ualities in income would be considered acceptable. To "enerali8e*
a meritocracy in a particular .ield o. endea,or that rewards the best people the most may produce
acceptable ine6ualities i. the least ad,anta"ed in society .rom that meritocratic or"ani8ation
more than they would were rewards :salaries; e6ually distributed re"ardless o. merit.
Conse6uently* "oods should be more e6uitably distributed i. this redistribution does not mae the
least ad,anta"ed in society worse o...
9hat* then* o. social disad,anta"esE Should they also be shared e6uitablyE Consider
en,ironmental riss. 9e ha,e obser,ed that ris in li.e cannot be eliminated* only comparati,ely
assessed and miti"ated. Mana"in" riss within a precautionary .ramewor entails reducin" the
"ra,ity and .re6uency o. ad,erse e,ents. It also entails ensurin" that those who produce
en,ironmental riss remain responsible .or 5usti.yin" their acceptability and compensatin" those
who harm. Another important .eature o. ris mana"ement is <spreadin" riss across a "roup
such that particular indi,iduals or sub7classes are not ine6uitably sub5ect to non7compensated
In other words* 5ust as the ad,anta"es that come with collecti,e li.e ou"ht to be e6uitably
shared* so* too* must the disad,anta"es.
Currently* the poor and powerless members o. society H those without the economic or political
means to "et their needs met H also tend to be the most ,ulnerable to en,ironmental riss* such as
e4posure to hi"h le,els o. pollution or to4ic material in their nei"hborhoods and worplaces. As
sociolo"ist ?lrich Bec ar"ues* wealth tends to accumulate at the top o. the socio7economic
spectrum* while riss accumulate at the bottom.
These riss are not limited to health ha8ards
.rom increased e4posure to pollution or waste. @on7"o,ernmental or"ani8ations also address
what is bein" called <climate 5ustice.>
Those people already li,in" near subsistence le,els around
the world will undoubtedly bear more than their .air share o. the e..ects o. climate chan"e* such as
decreased a"ricultural yield* .loodin" and other e..ects o. weather pattern chan"es* increased
deserti.ication and water scarcity* and sea7le,el rise with its accompanyin" displacement o.
residents and .armers o. low7lyin" coastal lands.
$,en i. a precautionary approach minimi8es
such riss* we are still le.t with the problem o. achie,in" a .air distribution o. them. ?nlie the
issue o. economic compensation and opportunity* a meritocratic approach is not liely to yield
acceptable results in the arena o. en,ironmental riss. There is no reason to belie,e that the least
ad,anta"ed in society .rom bearin" more than their .air share o. en,ironmental riss. I.
anythin"* were the most ad,anta"ed members o. society to bear more en,ironmental riss* one
mi"ht presume that e..orts to limit or eliminate the en,ironmental ha8ards would be increased.
The chie. means o. ensurin" that ad,anta"es and disad,anta"es* includin" riss* will be more
e6uitably distributed in society is to ensure that political power and decision7main" processes are
themsel,es more e6uitable.
Sha,in+ (o8e,
AmericaDs <.ather o. conser,ation*> (i..ord Pinchot* spearheaded the creation o. the ?.S. Forest
Ser,ice and was its .irst chie. .rom 112)71112. The a"ency was in char"e o. mana"in" public
lands newly established as national .orests. It .ound itsel. battlin" the MboomersM and Mland7
"rabbersM o. the day* men who plundered western lands .or mineral wealth and timber. 9hat
Pinchot said about conser,ation at the turn o. the century applies well to contemporary
sustainability. Pinchot wrote-
The central thin" .or which Conser,ation stands is to mae this country the best possible
place to li,e in* both .or us and .or our descendants. It stands a"ainst the waste o. natural
resources which cannot be renewed* such as coal and ironL it stands .or the perpetuation o.
the resources which can be renewed* such as the .ood7producin" soils and the .orestsL and
most o. all its stands .or an e6ual opportunity .or e,ery American citi8en to "et his .air
share o. .rom these resources* both now and herea.ter.
Conser,ation* Pinchot maintained* was a moral duty. It entailed the <application o. commonsense
to the common problems .or the common "ood*> producin" a Mwise use o. the earthM with the "oal
o. attainin" Mthe "reatest "ood o. the "reatest number .or the lon"est time.M
(i..ord Pinchot ar"ued that conser,ation was an inherently democratic mo,ement. The same
mi"ht be said about sustainability H .or two reasons. First* as recent empirical studies ha,e
demonstrated* democratic .orms o. deliberation and interaction tend to promote a .uture .ocus* an
e4pandin" sense o. community* and holistic thinin"* all o. which do,etail nicely with
sustainability ,alues.
Second* the social 5ustice .acet o. sustainability re6uires not only the
e6uitable distribution o. social bene.its and riss* but the e6uitable sharin" o. power. As the
9orld Commission on $n,ironment and %e,elopment obser,ed* Mthe pursuit o. sustainable
de,elopment re6uires ... a political system that secures e..ecti,e citi8en participation in decision
'. course* democracy is no panacea. To the e4tent democracy is tied to a hyper7
indi,idualistic consumer culture or to nationalistic commitments* it may thwart lon"7term* "lobal
sustainability. Aowe,er* i. we de.ine democracy as the e6uitable distribution o. political power
such that citi8ens :or staeholders o. businesses* uni,ersities* or ci,ic "roups; become widely and
meanin".ully in,ol,ed in the processes o. deliberatin" and securin" the common "ood* then
democracy is indeed an inherent .eature o. sustainability. Sustainable "o,ernance* "rounded in
democratic principles and practices such as ci,il ri"hts* the rule o. law* open elections* and
transparency* sustains en,ironmental caretain" and social 5ustice.
Marshall McLuhan* the well7nown communications theorist who coined the phrase <"lobal
,illa"e> to describe todayDs interdependent world o..ered a power.ul ima"e to describe the
relationship between democratic participation and sustainability. <There are no passen"ers on
Spaceship $arth*M McLuhan said* Me,erybodyOs crew.M The responsibility o. bein" crew deri,es
both .rom the nature o. the threats to Spaceship $arth and .rom the chie. means o. meetin" these
threats. 'n our planetary cra.t* "i,en current le,els o. social and en,ironmental interdependence*
a threat to one ultimately is a threat to all. Sustainin" the cra.t* in turn* will re6uire widespread*
cooperati,e e..ort in,ol,in" all staeholders.
'. course* not all crew members bear the same le,el o. responsibility. %emocratic political power*
while in theory dispersed across the entire citi8enry* is in practice primarily held by elected
o..icials. 9e mi"ht in,oe an adapted ,ersion o. the <di..erence principle> here to 5usti.y this
une6ual distribution o. political power.
Lar"e populations mae direct democracy* where the citi8enry turns out en masse to deliberate and
mae decisions* a practical impossibility. Cepresentati,e political institutions translate the
democratic power e6ually ,ested in each citi8en into worable decision7main" bodies composed
o. elected o..icials. The di..erence principle would su""est that the ine6uitable political power
held by elected o..icials is acceptable i. it is attached to o..ices that are open to e,eryone :a .eature
o. all true democracies; and i. it bene.its the least ad,anta"ed o. society. (i,en that direct
democracy in mass societies is practically impossible* the absence o. representati,e bodies would
create an unworable political system. 9ithout a .unctionin" "o,ernment in place* the least
ad,anta"ed in society would in all lielihood be .urther disad,anta"ed by the most power.ul
indi,iduals and "roups* who could pursue their sel.7interest in the absence o. democratic control.
The (,inci(le of t,ans(a,ency
In any democratic system* power is primarily held by representati,e bodies whose members are
elected to In such systems* the principle o. transparency is a crucial means o. ensurin"
responsible "o,ernment. Transparency re.ers to the openness o. decision7main" processes to
e4amination by the "eneral public. 'pen parliamentary debate and open le"islati,e :roll call;
,otes are ey .eatures o. transparency in "o,ernment* allowin" the public to hear ar"uments in
.a,or and a"ainst each piece o. le"islation and to now which elected representati,es ,oted .or or
a"ainst it.
Transparency in "o,ernment "oes beyond what happens on the .loor o. the le"islature. It
addresses the publicDs ri"ht to now how le"islators were in.luenced in their decision7main"
processes prior to debatin" and ,otin" in the chambers o. "o,ernment. '. course* le"islators may
be in.luenced by myriad people and e,ents. There is no practicable way o. eepin" trac o. all
these potential in.luences* or determinin" which o. them pro,ed particularly salient. Aowe,er*
many "o,ernments re6uire their elected o..icials to eep .ormal lo"s o. meetin"s. Perhaps more
important* elected o..icials are o.ten re6uired to eep records o. their meetin"s with pro.essional
lobbyists* and to disclose the names o. donors to their :re;election campai"n .unds. The
assumption here is that money o.ten speas with a particularly loud ,oice. Main" the in.luence
o. pro.essional lobbyists and campai"n contributors public in.ormation is one o. the more e..ecti,e
means o. brin"in" transparency to "o,ernment.
Transparency in "o,ernment aids citi8ens in their own decision7main" processes. Citi8ens ha,e a
responsibility to elect the best candidates to %eterminin" which candidate will mae the
best representati,e re6uires in.ormation. Knowin" what candidates campai"nin" .or re7election
said in le"islati,e session* how they ,oted* and whom they met with and recei,ed money .rom are
crucial pieces o. data to in.orm the discernin" ,oter.
Liewise* transparency in business corporations is a crucial means .or consumers
concerned with sustainability to in.orm their own decision7main" processes. In this case* the data
does not help the public decide between competin" candidates in open and .ree elections. Cather*
it helps the public decide between competin" products in an open and .ree maret. The idea is that
consumers ha,e a ri"ht to now what social and en,ironmental impacts the products they buy ha,e
on their local communities and on the planet.
In the late 11/2s* a step was taen toward such transparency in business with the creation in
(ermany o. the <Blue An"el> en,ironmental label. The Blue An"el or"ani8ation "a,e their seal o.
appro,al to those products that had minimal en,ironmental impact. $..ecti,ely* consumers could
now see deeper into products and businesses. A decade later* the <(reen Seal> pro"ram was
initiated in the ?nited States.
To earn the (reen Seal* a product must meet certain en,ironmental
standards set out by the or"ani8ation which tests the products employin" scienti.ic methods.
Since the mid71112s* a con"lomeration o. !) or"ani8ations* includin" (reen Seal* .ormed the
(lobal $colabellin" @etwor :($@; to promote and impro,e en,ironmental per.ormance
monitorin" and labelin" across the "lobe* allowin" consumers to distin"uish brands by their
en,ironmental impacts.
$colabellin" is not the only means to achie,e "reater transparency in business. A number o.
or"ani8ations e,aluate and rate products in the maretplace employin" social and en,ironmental
criteria and pro,ide this in.ormation to the public on websites. $..ecti,ely* they pro,ide the
sustainability e6ui,alent o. Consumer )eports. These e,aluation and ratin" or"ani8ations* such as
ran products and companies based on their health riss* en,ironmental
per.ormance* and social impact. Thou"h no labels actually appear on the products they e,aluate*
"reater transparency is "ained throu"h the in.ormation they pro,ide* allowin" sustainability7
oriented consumers to mae better7in.ormed choices. Shoppers today appreciate the .ederally
mandated labelin" that displays the in"redients as well as .at* protein* sodium and caloric content
o. paca"ed .oods. $colabelin" and ratin" ser,ices attempt to pro,ide similar transparency
re"ardin" the en,ironmental and social impacts o. many o. the other thin"s we buy.
$colabelin" and en,ironmental ratin" ser,ices constitute third7party e..orts to assess and certi.y
products employin" sustainability criteria. Many businesses today tae on this tas in7house.
Their e..orts are built upon a bur"eonin" .ield o. industrial ecolo"y* which employs ,arious
techni6ues o. desi"n and analysis to pro,ide detailed in.ormation o. 7 and subse6uently minimi8e H
the social and en,ironmental impacts o. their products and ser,ices.
'ne o. the primary techni6ues employed in industrial ecolo"y is li.e cycle assessment
:LCA;. LCA pro,ides data on the social and en,ironmental impact o. products and ser,ices by
in,esti"atin" the complete <li.e> o. products and ser,ices .rom <cradle to "ra,e.> That is to say*
LCA be"ins with the social and en,ironmental impact o. the e4traction and use o. raw materials*
e4amines the .ull set o. manu.acturin" processes* calculates the e..ects o. distributin" the product*
assesses its use by consumers* and* .inally* in,esti"ates how the product is disposed o. at the end
o. its producti,e li.e. I. products are desi"ned well enou"h such that they can be wholly reused or
recycled at the end o. their producti,e li.e* then LCA may e4pand to a <cradle to cradle> analysis.
In e4aminin" each o. these phases in the li.e cycle o. products and ser,ices* LCA analysts address
to4ic waste production and pollution :includin" "reenhouse "as emissions;* habitat destruction*
land de"radation :includin" salini8ation and deserti.ication;* natural resource depletion* and a
potentially e4tensi,e list o. indicators measurin" social impacts* which may include employee
compensation* labor and human ri"hts practices* worin" conditions* and di,ersity policies.
The ori"ins o. en,ironmental transparency stem not .rom the assessment o. the en,ironmental
impact o. purchased "oods* but rather .rom the assessment o. riss. As we saw in the pre,ious
chapter* Cachel CarsonDs in,esti"ation o. the e..ects o. chemicals on local ecolo"ies stimulated
<Ci"ht to Know> le"islation that created "reater transparency in the production and release o. to4ic
chemicals. This in.ormation allowed worers and residents to become more in.ormed about the
sa.ety o. their worplaces and nei"hborhoods. By e4tendin" our <ri"ht to now> .rom the
cate"ory o. to4ic chemicals to a broad ran"e o. social and en,ironmental impacts o. "oods in the
maretplace* ecolabelin"* en,ironmental ratin" ser,ices* and li.e cycle assessment pro,ides
consumers with the means to e,aluate the sustainability o. their purchases.
In an economically interdependent world* where consumers enter a "lobal maretplace*
transparency is a crucial element o. social 5ustice. The purchaser o. a stea or hambur"er in @ew
3or may not reali8e that the cattle that produced his meat were nourished with .eed e4ported
.rom soya plantations in Bra8il* plantations that ha,e destroyed millions o. acres o. rain.orest. The
consumer o. dou"hnuts in Los An"eles may not reali8e that her product contains palm oil .rom
plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia that ha,e le,eled rain.orests in these tropical lands*
destroyin" ,ital habitat .or million o.
species and contributin" to "lobal warmin". Liewise* consumers o. shrimp and prawns .armed in
Thailand may not reali8e that their meal has contributed to the destruction o. thousands o. hectares
o. man"ro,e swamps* which are critical breedin" "rounds .or .ish and other sea li.e.
In all o. these cases* products desi"ned to satis.y the needs and wants o. distant consumers H o.ten
.rom western countries H ha,e had the e..ect o. decreasin" biodi,ersity* contributin" to climate
chan"e* and underminin" the sustainable li,elihoods o. local subsistence hunters* "atherers* small
.armers* and .ishermen. The chie. threats to "lobal sustainability* with this in mind* is not only or
e,en primarily the ,ery ,isible o,eruse o. resources by the "rowin" populations o. de,elopin"
countries* but the e,er increasin" demand .or resources by non7local consumers* primarily .rom
de,eloped countries.
Pro,idin" these consumers with useable in.ormation about the products they
buy is crucial to the de,elopment o. a sustainable "lobal maretplace.
T,ans(a,ency an) Technolo+y
Francis Bacon* the se,enteenth7century polymath* .amously said that <Knowled"e is power.> The
principle o. transparency is one o. the central .eatures o. the more encompassin" ethical obli"ation
o. sharin" power. Transparency in business a..airs entails sharin" nowled"e o. the components
or in"redients o. products and ser,ices* and the social and en,ironmental costs and riss associated
with their production* distribution* use* and disposal. This puts more power in the hands o.
consumers* worers* and residents* who can mae en,ironmentally and socially in.ormed
decisions about what they purchase* where they wor* and where they li,e.
Knowled"e is power. But more data and in.ormation do not always translate into more
nowled"e. For e4ample* many consumers do no understand the health or en,ironmental
implications o. the ,arious in"redients listed on their paca"ed .oods. To complicate matters*
much o. todayDs technolo"y H whether pro,ided throu"h a"ricultural ser,ices* medical and
pharmaceutical ser,ices* media ser,ices* industrial and construction ser,ices* or military ser,ices 7
remains se,eral steps remo,ed .rom the consumer. The consumer o. ser,ices may ne,er become
aware o. the technolo"y employed to conduct tests on her blood* the pesticides used in "rowin" her
.ood* the resources in,ol,ed in main" the .ilms* tele,ision shows* and internet websites she
en5oys* the machines and components that produce her appliances* or the cra.t and weaponry
de,eloped to the armed .orces mandated to protect her. 3et all o. this technolo"y has social
and en,ironmental impacts. More than not* the technolo"y is so sophisticated that consumers
would not be able to e,aluate the data describin" it e,en i. it were made a,ailable.
Certainly "o,ernment has a role to play in assessin" the social and en,ironmental impact and riss
o. technolo"y. There are* in turn* ,arious @('s* many o. which ser,e as <watchdo"> "roups* that
ha,e taen on this tas. The ?nion o. Concerned Scientists* .or instance* with o,er !)2*222
members* is a leadin" science7based @(' worin" in the sustainability .ield. Its .oundin"
statement* issued in 11+1* contained these words-
The ,astly increased importance and comple4ity o. technolo"y has* in e..ect* increased the
i"norance o. the public and its elected representati,es= 'nly the scienti.ic community can
pro,ide a comprehensi,e and searchin" e,aluation o. the capabilities and implications o.
ad,anced military technolo"ies. 'nly the scienti.ic community can estimate the lon"7term
"lobal impact o. an industriali8ed society on our en,ironment. 'nly the scienti.ic
community can attempt to .orecast the technolo"y that will surely emer"e .rom the current
re,olution in the .undamentals o. biolo"y. The scienti.ic community = must en"a"e
e..ecti,ely in plannin" .or the .uture o. manind* a .uture .ree o. depri,ation and .ear=.
Far7reachin" political decisions in,ol,in" substantial applications o. technolo"y are made
with ,irtually no popular participation. It is our belie. that a stren"thenin" o. the
democratic process would lead to a more humane e4ploitation o. scienti.ic and technical
nowled"e* and to a reduction o. the ,ery real threats to the sur,i,al o. manind.
Today the ?nion o. Concerned Scientists .ocuses on main" transparent the bene.its and riss o.
technolo"ical de,elopments* "o,ernment policy* demo"raphic chan"e* and consumer patterns
related to ener"y production* transportation* security* a"riculture* wildli.e conser,ation* and
climate chan"e. Ar"uably* those who ha,e bene.ited .rom hi"her le,els o. e4pertise* such as
scientists and technical pro.essions* ha,e a hei"htened responsibility to assess* e,aluate* and
disseminate the social and en,ironmental impacts and riss posed by technolo"y.
The P,inci(le of Autono*y
The principle o. transparency is "rounded in the assumption that all who potentially bear the riss
associated with the de,elopment and use o. technolo"ical inno,ations and processes* products and
ser,ices* ha,e a ri"ht to be in.ormed o. these riss and in,ol,ed in e,aluatin" their acceptance or
re5ection. Ar"uably* "o,ernment a"encies mandated with e,aluatin" such riss should include or
see counsel .rom representati,e bodies in,ol,in" multiple staeholders H independent scientists*
business representati,es* as well as consumer and citi8en ad,ocacy "roups. I. the ris in,ol,ed is
deemed too hi"h* products should not be allowed to be sold. 9hen the ris in,ol,ed is determined
to be within acceptable limits* the product may be made a,ailable .or purchase. In such cases*
transparency still demands that the le,el and nature o. the ris be made patent* so that indi,idual
consumers may e4ercise their autonomy in decidin" .or themsel,es i. this is a ris they are willin"
to bear.
9hat happens in cases where riss are not restricted to those consumers who purchase the new
technolo"y* product and ser,iceE 9hen* i. e,er* is it le"itimate .or an indi,idual or a"ency to .oist
riss on a wide ran"e o. consumers or citi8ens without their awareness or consent* e..ecti,ely
strippin" away their ri"ht to choose .or themsel,esE In the last chapter* we touched on this
concern re"ardin" the issue o. the "enetic en"ineerin" o. humans. The autonomy o. parents to
re.use the technolo"y was limited in such cases by what mi"ht be considered maret .orces. But
this autonomy was not wholly denied. There are many e4amples* howe,er* where the autonomy o.
staeholders to re.use new technolo"y and products* and the riss associated with them* is denied.
Consider the case o. "enetically modi.ied crops. The ?nited States currently produces more than
hal. o. all the "enetically modi.ied crops in the world* with soybeans and corn en"ineered to be
resistant to herbicides composin" the lar"est portion o. this total. ?p to /)R o. all processed
.oods in the ?.S. contain a "enetically modi.ied in"redient.
There is si"ni.icant scienti.ic
research indicatin" that "enetically modi.ied or"anisms :(M's; are sa.e to eat. Aowe,er*
concerns remain about possible aller"ens and other sa.ety issues to consumers. In turn* since many
o. the plants that are en"ineered are modi.ied to be more resistant to herbicides or pesticides* it is
possible that (M's will ha,e the e..ect o. increasin" the use o. biocides* which will ha,e
unanticipated and undesirable en,ironmental e..ects. There are also concerns that "ene trans.ers
may occur between (M's and weeds* main" the latter more resistant to biocides. In turn*
"enetically modi.ied crops may be harm.ul to other or"anisms. As noted in Chapter 1* Monarch
butter.lies appear to be harmed by the pollen .rom "enetically modi.ied corn that incorporates the
Bt to4in. Finally* "enetically modi.ied crops may pro,e too e4pensi,e .or many .armers in
de,elopin" countries* potentially underminin" the pursuit o. sustainable li,elihoods.
In short*
there are comparati,e riss associated with (M's. In the .ace o. such comparati,e riss* is it
possible .or consumers and .armers to re.use (M'sE Can they e4ercise their autonomy by
e..ecti,ely optin" out o. this technolo"yE
First* it is important to reco"ni8e that in the ?nited States :unlie many $uropean countries;* .ood
that contains (M's is not re6uired to ha,e any special labelin". This ,iolates the principle o.
transparency. 3et there is more at stae. (enetically modi.ied crops may cross7pollinate with
re"ular crops. I. and when this occurs* .armers o. non7"enetically modi.ied crops* and consumers
who wish to eat only non7"enetically modi.ied .oods* ha,e no e..ecti,e way o. ensurin" that what
they produce or consume is indeed .ree o. (M's.
In the same ,ein* people who choose not to .rom .ossil .uel use still ha,e to bear the e..ects
o. climate chan"e. People who choose not to .rom satellite technolo"y still ha,e to ,iew
the ni"ht sy marred by the re.lections o. hundreds o. orbitin" machines crossin" the hori8on.
People who may choose not to .rom nanotechnolo"y will still .ace the riss o. <"reen "oo>
i. sel.7replicatin" nanobots "et out o. control. In all o. these cases* and many more* the ethics o.
sustainability con.ronts us with the obli"ation not only to ensure transparency but to sa.e"uard* to
the "reatest e4tent possible* the ri"hts o. indi,iduals and "roups to opt out o. technolo"ies whose
costs and riss they are unwillin" to bear.
The pursuit o. social 5ustice does not re6uire that we eliminate riss* only that riss be e6uitably
distributed in society. It also re6uires* to the "reatest e4tent possible* that indi,iduals retain the
autonomy to determine* in the li"ht o. in.ormation made a,ailable throu"h transparent processes*
which riss they choose to endure.
Two millennia be.ore (arret Aardin penned <The Tra"edy o. the Commons*> Aristotle wrote in
The Politics% <That which is common to the "reatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.
$,eryone thins o. his own* hardly at all o. the common interest.>
Protectin" a
commons H includin" the "lobal commons 7 will ne,er be easy. Shortsi"htedness and sel.7interest
mae sustainin" o. public "oods a he.ty challen"e. Social 5ustice* which attends to the "ood o.
society as a whole* is an ideal that we only e,er approach* ne,er .ully achie,e. Lie sustainability*
it is a path to be waled* not a destination to be reached.
Can we .ore"o the e..ort to pursue social 5ustice* re5ect distributi,e principles* and simply deny the
reality o. a "lobal communityE Ko.i Annan* Secretary7(eneral o. the ?nited @ations* addressed
the 9orld Summit on Sustainable %e,elopment in Johannesbur"* South A.rica in !22! with these
words- <A path to prosperity that ra,a"es the en,ironment and lea,es a ma5ority o. humanind
behind in s6ualor will soon pro,e to be a dead7end road .or e,eryone =. ?nsustainable practices
are wo,en deeply into the .abric o. modern li.e. Some say we should rip up that .abric = I say we
can and must wea,e in new strands o. nowled"e and cooperation.>
Annan insists that
sustainability and social 5ustice are not 6ui4otic ideals. They are not e,en possibilities amon"
other options. Cather* they are necessities .or sur,i,al. Knowled"e and cooperation are the
means to their pursuit.
At times* nowled"e and cooperation may produce new national and international treaties*
protocols* a"reements* policies and laws that promote sustainable de,elopment throu"h le"ally and
politically en.orceable means. At times* nowled"e and cooperation may produce new businesses
and products that .oster sustainable de,elopment by employin" the maret to deli,er "reen
technolo"y. At times nowled"e and cooperation may produce ,oluntary associations o. @('s
worin" to .oster sustainable li,elihoods. At times* nowled"e and cooperation may produce new
relationships and e..orts to reali8e sustainable de,elopment throu"h institutions o. democratic
decision7main"* power7sharin"* education* and sel.7"o,ernance.
Sla,ery was once considered a natural and una,oidable institution. It had been practiced since the
dawn o. ci,ili8ation in ancient Sumer* Assyria* $"ypt* and (reece and was assumed to be an
indispensible means o. economic sur,i,al and the ine,itable product o. human nature. Sla,ery
was a part o. li.e in Britain since prehistory* .rom be.ore the time o. the Coman in,asion. As its
empire "rew in the 1/22s* Britain had established the lar"est sla,e7trade o. any country in the
world. Then* 6uite abruptly in the early 1022s* Britain outlawed sla,ery throu"hout its dominion*
owin" in lar"e part to e..orts o. the Abolitionist mo,ement H an early @(' 7 that ,iewed sla,ery
as inherently immoral and un5ust. 9hile the end o. sla,ery was opposed by some* and lined to
the end to British economic mi"ht and "lobal power* history turned out 6uite di..erently. 9ithin
decades o. the outlawin" o. sla,ery* BritainDs industrial re,olution came into .ull .orce* pro,idin"
the en"ine .or its "rowth into the lar"est empire the world has e,ery nown by the early 1122s.
The sustainability mo,ement mi"ht loo to the end o. sla,ery as a demonstration o. the power o.
ethical resol,e o,er ancient pre5udice. It mi"ht ar"ue* with the abolitionist mo,ement as its
e4emplar* that the pursuit o. social 5ustice within the "lobal community will not be the harbin"er o.
decline* but the catalyst o. "reater prosperity.
Athanasiou* Tom. 111+. i$ided Planet% The Ecology of )ich and Poor. Boston- Little* Brown.
Bhalla* Sur5it S. !22!. Imagine There5s .o Country% Po$erty! Ine=uality! and "rowth in the Era
of "lobali0ation. 9ashin"ton %.C.- Institute .or International $conomics.
Brown* Lester C. !221. Plan ( F.:% Mobili0ing to Sa$e Ci$ili0ation. @ew 3or- 9.9. @orton.
Bullard* Cobert* $d. 111&. /ne=ual Protection% En$ironmental #ustice and Communities of
@ew 3or- Candom Aouse.
%aly* A. $.* and J. B. Cobb Jr. 111&. For the Common "ood% )edirecting the Economy toward
Community! the En$ironment! and a Sustainable Future. !d ed. Boston- Beacon Press.
Aardin* (arrett. 11//. The &imits of 2ltruism% 2n Ecologist7s @iew of Sur$i$al. Bloomin"ton-
Indiana ?ni,ersity Press.
Aawen* Paul.* Lo,ins* Amory.* Lo,ins* Aunter L. !222. .atural Capitalism. @ew 3or-
Little* Brown and Company.
Kaplinsy* Caphael.!22). "lobali0ation! Po$erty! and Ine=uality. Cambrid"e- Policy Press.
'strom* $linor. 1112. "o$erning the Commons% The e$olution of institutions for collecti$e action.
Cambrid"e- Cambrid"e ?ni,ersity Press.
Shrader7Frechette* Kristin. !22!. En$ironmental #ustice% Creating E=uality! )eclaiming
emocracy. '4.ord- '4.ord ?ni,ersity Press.
Schumacher* $. F. Small Is (eautiful% Economics as If People Mattered. 11/#. @ew 3or- Aarper
and Cow.
Shi,a* Uandana. !22). Earth emocracy% #ustice! Sustainability! and Peace. Cambrid"e- South
"<)&+"()!9$&-"&)'49&)5#)/-'$,./4'405$-)($>&9'($%4'4.$*&'4/4.0 :Albany- State ?ni,ersity o.
3or Press* 111+;* !"")@""
* $
* -
* >
* =
As noted in Chapter #* an ethic o. sustainability in,ol,es three distinct sub.ields within
ethics* correspondin" to the en,ironmental* social* and economic issues that sustainability
encompasses. Chapter # introduced all three ethical .ields* with special attention to social
and economic issues. In this chapter* we loo in more detail at the ethical dimensions o.
our relations to other species and the community o. li.e more "enerally. This brin"s us to
en,ironmental ethics* a relati,ely recent area within ethics that .ocuses on the ,alue o.
non7human nature* includin" nonhuman animals as well as ecolo"ical communities. The
chapter will pro,ide an o,er,iew o. ma5or issues* thiners* and theoretical approaches in
en,ironmental ethics. Issues o. special interest include the role o. scienti.ic* especially
ecolo"ical* principles and ideas in en,ironmental ethics* and also the relationships
between social and ecolo"ical communities in relation to en,ironmental 5ustice.
This chapter also addresses ar"uments about the ethical status o. nonhuman animals* both
as indi,iduals and as parts o. species or populations. This includes discussion o. the
ways that non7human animals enter into en,ironmental ethics* particularly in relation to
ar"uments about indi,idual ri"hts or interests* as distinct .rom the more holistic
ar"uments that are dominant in many en,ironmental philosophies. 9e also address the
moral status o. domestic animals and their relationship to an ethic o. sustainability* usin"
the notion o. a <mi4ed community> in which humans coe4ist with non7human* and
particularly domestic* animals.
Finally* buildin" on the discussion in Chapter # and elsewhere* this chapter articulates the
speci.ic characteristics and re6uirements o. an ethic o. sustainability. Because
en,ironmental ethics is so central to sustainability* we must understand the di..erences
and similarities between en,ironmental and sustainability ethics in order to achie,e
$n,ironmental ethics in the most "eneral sense H philosophical re.lection on the moral
,alue o. nonhuman nature H has as lon" and ,aried history o. philosophical ethics.
@atureDs ,alue and its relation to human li.e are important themes .rom the ,ery ori"ins
o. both reli"ious and secular ethics* appearin" in the wor o. .oundational 9estern
philosophers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy and in the sacred te4ts o. most world
reli"ions* both Asian and 9estern. 9hile nature is a continuous concern* it has been
hi"hli"hted in the wor o. certain thiners* whose wor pro,ides a re.erence point .or
many contemporary en,ironmental philosophers. Amon" the most in.luential 9estern
thiners who ha,e "i,en nonhuman nature sustained re.lection are Saint Francis o. Assisi
and the Transcendentalists includin" Aenry %a,id Thoreau :101/710+!; and Calph
9aldo $merson :102#7100!;. These thiners in.luenced early 9estern en,ironmentalists
such as John Muir :10#07111&;* who put .orth the basic philosophical claim that nature
had intrinsic ,alue and deser,ed protection and e,en ,eneration re"ardless o. its
instrumental ,alue .or humans.
9hile the history o. philosophical re.lection on nature is lon" and ,aried* the birth o.
modern en,ironmental ethics is "enerally dated to the wor o. Aldo Leopold :100/7
11&0;. Born in Iowa* Leopold wored .or many years .or the ?.S. Forest Ser,ice* .irst in
the Southwestern ?.S. and then in 9isconsin. In 11## he became a pro.essor o. (ame
Mana"ement at the ?ni,ersity o. 9isconsin in Madison* where he li,ed until his death
.i"htin" a .orest .ire on a nei"hborDs land. LeopoldDs career coincided with the early
de,elopment o. the .ield o. ecolo"ical science was 5ust de,elopin"* and he had "reat
in.luence on a ran"e o. .ields .rom ecolo"y and wildli.e mana"ement to philosophical
LeopoldDs "reatest and most lastin" impact came throu"h his essay titled <The Land
$thic*> part o. a posthumously published collection o. essays titled 2 Sand County
2lmanac :11&1;. <The Land $thic> re,olutioni8ed philosophical thinin" about the ,alue
o. nonhuman nature and pa,ed the way .or the emer"ence o. en,ironmental ethics as a
distincti,e sub.ield. In the essay* Leopold too an e,olutionary approach to ethics* citin"
an ethical history throu"h concentric circles that dates bac to the roots o. society. The
.irst circle or sta"e o. ethics was in the relations between indi,idualsL the second circle
was an e4tension o. indi,idualistic ethics to encompass indi,iduals and society. The third
step in this se6uence is to e4tend the moral circle .rom 5ust people and society to include
nonhuman nature. As Leopold summari8ed* <The land ethic simply enlar"es the
boundaries o. the community to include soils* waters* plants* and animals* or collecti,ely-
the land.>
The land* .or Leopold* was not merely soil* but what we now thin o. as an
ecosystem* or <a .ountain o. ener"y .lowin" throu"h a circuit o. soils* plants* and
This interconnected web o. inor"anic elements and li,in" bein"s deser,es to
be treated with lo,e and respect* .or it has not only instrumental but also intrinsic ,alue.
The "oal o. en,ironmental ethics* in LeopoldDs ,ision* is to encoura"e people to thin
about how they use land as not simply an economic concern but also an aesthetic and
especially a moral issue. The land ethic pro,ides a basic "uideline by which people can
5ud"e the moral correctness o. di..erent attitudes and actions re"ardin" nature. Leopold
writes- <A thin" is ri"ht when it tends to preser,e the inte"rity* stability* and beauty o.
the biotic community. It is wron" when it tends otherwise.>
Thou"h LeopoldDs land ethic is a ,ery simple premise* e4tendin" the circle o. moral
concern to the land* it was re,olutionary and counter to the pre,ailin" notions o. his day.
The land ethic called .or a shi.t .rom land as resource to land as community* with the
proper role o. humans as <plain members and citi8ens> rather than con6uerors. Leopold
made a mo,e away .rom a more anthropocentric :human7centered; ,iew o. the land to a
more ecocentric :nature or ecolo"ically7centered; one. Ais ecocentrism is considered to
be a holistic in that what is best .or the land* or nature* is what best preser,es the
ecolo"ical inte"rity o. the entire community and not 5ust .or indi,idual elements H human
or otherwise. As a result* en,ironmental decisions must be made in li"ht o. what best
preser,es the inte"rity o. nature and not on what is most con,enient* use.ul* or
economically e4pedient to people.
Althou"h the academic .ield o. en,ironmental ethics has "rown e4ponentially in the past
si4ty years* LeopoldDs land ethic continues to be one o. the ma5or models. The <land
ethic> is the best nown e4ample o. a holistic* ecocentric ethic* which has spawned many
,ariations and modi.ications H and not a .ew criti6ues. LeopoldDs wor remains a
re.erence point and touchstone e,en .or philosophers who ultimately ad,ocate di..erent
sorts o. ethics* e.".* those that are more indi,idualistic or more anthropocentric :human7
centered; than LeopoldDs ,ision. In part* the power o. the land ethic lies in its bre,ity- it
sets out an a"enda .or an entire .ield in 5ust a .ew short pa"es* with enou"h speci.icity to
prompt li,ely debate while also lea,in" most o. the wor o. practical systemati8in" still
to be done.
Followin" on <The Land $thic*> en,ironmental ethics H and en,ironmentalism "enerally
H reached another ma5or turnin" point with the 11+! publication o. Silent Spring* by
Cachel Carson :112/711+&;. Carson* a biolo"ist and naturalist* wrote Silent Spring as an
impassioned and detailed attac on the destructi,e ecolo"ical conse6uences o. pesticide
use* but it is also an attac on the notion that scienti.ic pro"ress is always bene.icial.
Sometimes* Carson ar"ued H as in the case o. pesticide use H scienti.ic pro"ress is more
destructi,e than anyone could ha,e anticipated. Carson especially critici8ed the widely
used chemical nown as %%T :dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane;. Chemicals such as
%%T were e..icient and economical ways to eradicate pests and increase crop yield* but
they also had unintended conse6uences to humans and the en,ironment alie. In the
absence o. detailed studies and without "uidance by any sort o. precautionary principle*
not only .armers but also public health o..icials H seein" to reduce mos6uitoes H used
%%T widely* in the ?.S. and other parts o. the world. 'ne o. the ey ecolo"ical
problems o. %%T was that it is soluble in .at but not water* which leads to
bioaccumulation in microor"anisms that would then be eaten by lar"er or"anisms. In
other words* %%T becomes increasin"ly concentrated as it mo,es up the <.ood chain.>
Carson made the case that %%T bioaccumulation in birds decreased calcium in their e""
shells renderin" the e""s unable to withstand incubation and other en,ironmental
The dan"ers and dama"es reported by Carson in Silent Spring led to both an outcry
a"ainst pesticide use by the public and de.enses o. the a"ricultural necessity o. pesticides
by the manu.acturers o. the chemicals. Thou"h these companies ,i"orously tried to
discredit Carson and in,alidate her claims* the boo was widely praised and mobili8ed
many Americans a"ainst the dan"ers o. %%T. More "enerally* Silent Spring is
reco"ni8ed to ha,e launched the en,ironmental mo,ement in the ?nited States. As a
result o. the booDs popularity* many Americans became more aware o. the interrelations
o. humans and nature and how human technolo"ies can ha,e wide7ran"in" e..ects that
cannot be bar"ained a"ainst the health and well7bein" o. our planet* human or non7
human. %%T was banned in 11/! .or a"ricultural use in the ?.S.* in no small part due to
the CarsonDs wor. The bannin" o. %%T in the ?.S. is one o. the ma5or reasons .or the
reco,ery o. the bald ea"le* amon" other endan"ered bird species. :The chemical is still
used in some de,elopin" countries.;
'ne o. the ey ecolo"ical and philosophical messa"es o. Silent Spring* echoin"
LeopoldDs ar"ument* is that o. interdependence. Leopold insisted that the natural world
can only be understood as a whole H <the land*> consistin" o. webs o. relationships
amon" animals* plants* and the physical landscape. CarsonDs ar"uments built on this
assumption* hi"hli"htin" the dama"e that is done when humans i"nore natural
interdependence and pursue their own scienti.ic or economic "oals without addressin"
the conse6uences. Interdependence is central both to contemporary ecolo"ical science
and to contemporary en,ironmentalism* which taes as one o. its central tenets John
MuirDs assertion that <9hen we try to pic out anythin" by itsel.* we .ind it hitched to
e,erythin" else in the uni,erse.>
A more recent and popular ,ersion o. this notion is
.ound in the <laws o. ecolo"y> commonly attributed to Barry Commoner :11/1;. The
.irst law is that <$,erythin" is connected to e,erythin" else.> Two o. the other rules also
hi"hli"ht interdependence- <$,erythin" must "o somewhere> and <There is no such thin"
as a .ree lunch.> The last o. CommonerDs rules* <@ature nows best*>
emphasi8es the
incompleteness o. human nowled"e* an important point .or Carson and Leopold as well.
Both interdependence and incomplete nowled"e rein.orce the wisdom o. the
Precautionary Principle H i. e,ery action has potentially momentous conse6uences* and
we cannot now all the possible conse6uences o. any action* then caution and humility
should be our "uidin" principles.
Carson and Leopold wrote primarily as scientists* drawin" on their pro.essional
e4perience and trainin" as the .oundations o. their moral attitudes toward the nonhuman
world. $colo"ical science remains central to en,ironmental ethics today* which is
"enerally dominated by scholars trained in humanistic disciplines such as philosophy*
reli"ious studies* and history. These scholars draw on the wor o. earlier thiners include
Transcendentalists such as Thoreau and $merson* Muir :who was in.luenced by the
Transcendentalists;* and a host o. reli"ious thiners* includin" Saint Francis and Buddhist
and Taoist scriptures* amon" many others. Many o. the secular philosophical approaches
discussed in Chapter Three* includin" pra"matism* utilitarianism* and ri"hts theories*
ha,e also .ound their way into contemporary en,ironmental ethics.
'ne o. most important documents in the de,elopment o. en,ironmental philosophy is a
contro,ersial article* <The Aistorical Coots o. 'ur $colo"ic Crisis*> by Lynn 9hite Jr.* a
historian o. science. In his essay* published in 11+/ in the 5ournal Science* 9hite ar"ued
that human ,alues deeply condition human practices* and speci.ically that reli"ion deeply
conditions en,ironmental practices. 9hite made this claim in the course o. his criti6ue
o. Christianity and its in.luence on deleterious en,ironmental practices throu"hout
history. 9hite claimed that Christianity is the most anthropocentric reli"ion in the world*
as some mani.estations o. the reli"ion hold that it is (odDs will .or humans to dominate
and subdue the earth. Creation was made to ser,e human purposes* which 5usti.ied
increasin" e4ploitation o. nature as technolo"y ad,anced o,er time. In li"ht o. the stron"
correlation between certain deleterious Christian ideas o. nature and en,ironmental
de"radation in certain historically Christian societies* 9hite asserts that <9hat people do
about their ecolo"y depends on what they thin about themsel,es in relation to thin"s
around them. Auman ecolo"y is deeply conditioned by belie.s about our nature and
destiny 77 that is* by reli"ion.>
At the root o. 9hiteDs thesis is that en,ironmental practice is inherently a reli"ious issue*
e,en .or those who are not reli"ious* because reli"ion has so per,aded history and society
that it cannot become disentan"led .rom "eneral ,iews on nature. <9hat we do about
ecolo"y depends on our ideas o. the man7nature relationship. More science and more
technolo"y are not "oin" to "et us out o. the present ecolo"ic crisis until we .ind a new
reli"ion* or rethin our old one.>
9hite thus posed en,ironmental problems as
essentially social and moral problems rather than scienti.ic and technical ones. The
attitudes and principles that "uide our scienti.ic research and technolo"ical de,elopments*
in other words* are more important than the science and technolo"y themsel,es. This has
become one o. the central claims o. en,ironmental ethics- there can be no purely
technical solution to en,ironmental problems. The best way to approach these moral
issues* howe,er* is sub5ect to much debate.
$n,ironmental ethics shares many common themes and approaches with other sub.ields
within ethics and draws upon many o. the same thiners. 9hat distin"uishes
en,ironmental ethics or philosophy is that attention is directed primarily toward
nonhuman nature. Thus the lens and the resources o. philosophical ethics are brou"ht to
bear upon an area that* some ar"ue* challen"e certain .oundational assumptions o.
9estern philosophy. In other words* part o. what maes 9estern :especially
$nli"htenment7based; philosophy distincti,e is its humanism* which en,ironmental
ethics 6uestions and sometimes re5ects outri"ht. Because o. this* some philosophers
ar"ue that en,ironmental ethics* at least in its ecocentric* or ecosystem7based ,ersions*
represents what land ethicist Baird Callicott an e..ort <to build* .rom the "round up* new
ethical :and metaphysical; paradi"ms.>
$n,ironmental ethics* in this ,iew* does not
merely add a new topic but rather trans.orms established ways o. thinin" about ethics.
Tain" nonhuman nature seriously is such a radical step that traditional philosophical and
moral models are inade6uate to the tas* and entirely new approaches are necessary.
It is not clear whether the same is true .or the ethics o. sustainability* which ,alues
nonhuman nature and inte"rates those with more traditional moral concerns such as social
5ustice and economic e6uity. $n,ironmental ethics is* as we ha,e been ar"uin"* one o.
three distinct ethical .ields that are brou"ht to"ether in an ethic o. sustainability.
Precisely because sustainability inte"rates en,ironmental and social concerns* more
anthropocentric :human oriented; ethics are "enerally more con"enial than ecocentric
approaches* which are harder to inte"rate with some o. the social and economic ,alues
that are also central to sustainability. 9e will discuss this 6uestion in more detail below
when we turn to the relations between en,ironmental and sustainability ethics. In this
section* our "oal is to outline some o. the ma5or theoretical approaches that ha,e emer"ed
in en,ironmental ethics* as a necessary .oundation .or understandin" its role in and
relationship to the ethics o. sustainability.
All ethics pose the 6uestion o. <9hat is o. primary moral concernE> In en,ironmental
ethics* this 6uestion is .irst and .oremost about the ,alue o. nonhuman nature. Aowe,er*
this .ocus allows .or many di..erent approaches. 'ne o. the most important ,ariables .or
thinin" about the moral dimensions o. nonhuman nature H and .or human social li.e H is
whether the main unit o. concern is indi,iduals or lar"er collecti,es. For some thiners*
the indi,idual bein" is the only measurable unit that can be accounted .or in any moral
e6uations. This is especially true .or many ad,ocates o. animal wel.are* who .ocus on the
ri"hts or interests o. indi,idual sentient bein"s. Both ri"hts7based :deontolo"ical; and
utilitarian :conse6uentialist; approaches ha,e been used in ar"uments about the moral
status o. indi,idual nonhuman animals. Precisely because o. this indi,idual .ocus*
animal wel.are is sometimes considered an issue separate .rom en,ironmental
philosophy. Aowe,er* animalsD moral status is lined to thinin" about the ,alue o.
nonhuman nature more "enerally* and thus it must be addressed in any consideration o.
en,ironmental ethics. This is especially true .or re.lections on the ethical dimensions o.
sustainability* because sustainability entails economic and social issues in which the .ate
o. nonhuman animals is ine4tricably cau"ht up with that o. humans.
In contrast to the indi,idual7based morality common to many :thou"h not all; treatments
o. animal wel.are* a number o. en,ironmental philosophers adopt a more holistic
approach. 'ne o. the most in.luential holistic models is LeopoldDs land ethic* especially
as interpreted by J. Baird Callicott. Callicott claims that the land ethic is compatible*
with sli"ht scienti.ic and philosophical modi.ications* with contemporary scienti.ic
models o. ecolo"y and is the most appropriate model .or contemporary en,ironmental
ethics. Callicott has de,eloped a .orm o. the land ethic that is e,olutionary in nature and
ecolo"ically holistic- the ecosystem is primary and the indi,idual is simply an outcome o.
the interaction o. that species in a niche in an ecosystem. There.ore indi,iduals are o.
much less concern than the more primary and important cate"ories o. with ecosystems
and species. $colo"ical holism has been critici8ed .or subordinatin" the interests o.
indi,iduals or minorities to those o. the lar"er "roup* a criticism also le,eled at holistic or
ma5oritarian ethics more "enerally* includin" utilitarianism.
'ne o. the most thorou"hly and e4plicitly holistic types o. en,ironmental ethic is %eep
$colo"y* a strain o. en,ironmentalism that was .irst de,eloped in the 11/2s by
@orwe"ian philosopher Arne @`ss. @aess was already well7nown both as a
mountaineer and a philosopher when* in the 11+2s* he became a radical en,ironmentalist
H in.luenced* he said* by Silent Spring. Ais systematic re.lections on en,ironmentalism
be"an with a 11/# article* <The shallow and the deep* lon"7ran"e ecolo"y mo,ements*>
in which he de.ined <deep ecolo"y> o,er and a"ainst <shallow ecolo"y.> @aess de.ined
shallow ecolo"y* which he saw as the predominant trend in en,ironmentalism* as the
anthropocentric practice o. protectin" resources and .i"htin" pollution primarily .or the
sae o. the 6uality o. li.e o. the <well7o..> in society. Aere the natural world is seen as
the en,ironment in which humans operate* and the "oal o. its protection is human well7
bein". @`ss contrasted this ,iew with deep ecolo"y* an ecocentric :nonanthropocentric;
,enture that places humans s6uarely in the natural world as bein"s who are
interdependent with and morally e6ual to other li.e .orms on the planet. Accordin" to
@aessDs <biospherical e"alitarianism*> all or"anisms ha,e an e6ual ri"ht to li,e and
%eep ecolo"y is thus more holistic* ,iewin" nature as a lar"e community that
must be protected and ,alued .or its own sae because it has intrinsic ,alue* rather than
the instrumental ,alue o. shallow ecolo"y.
@aess and the many subse6uent ad,ocates o. %eep $colo"y ar"ue that humans should
li,e in harmony with nature by reali8in" their sel,es in relation to nonhuman nature.
9ith an e4panded sense o. sel.* humans are de.ined not by isolated indi,idualism but by
their interactions and relations with the many .acets o. nature. In this* some ha,e seen
the parallels between deep ecolo"y and certain .orms o. reli"ion* such as Buddhism and
@ew A"e reli"ions. @aess himsel. was in.luenced by Buddhism* as are later %eep
$colo"ists such as the Australian John Seed and the American Joanna Macy. %eep
ecolo"y is considered a .orm o. radical en,ironmentalism and e4ists today in a number o.
.orms that are distin"uished accordin" in relation both to spirituality and to political
Another .orm o. radical en,ironmentalism is eco.eminism* which ar"ues that human
destruction o. nature is lined to "endered dynamics o. dominion* subordination* and
power. Just as men ha,e subordinated women* humans :particularly males; ha,e
subordinated and dominated the natural world* especially in the 9est. Carolyn Merchant
helped launch eco.eminism with her 110# boo The eath of .ature* which documented
parallels in the history o. patriarchy and the domination and subordination o. nature.
Today eco.eminism taes many di..erent .orms* includin" some with a stron" spiritual
bent and others that are more philosophically or politically oriented. Lie other
en,ironmental ethicists* eco.eminists draw on lon"standin" philosophical schools
includin" ri"hts theories and utilitarianism* while also looin" to more recent intellectual
de,elopments such as .eminist care ethics* which .inds moral "uidance in relationships
and emotions* as well :or sometimes instead; o. reason and abstract principles.
$co.eminism tends to be .airly ecocentric in orientation* a..irmin" ecolo"ical
interdependence and the intrinsic ,alue o. nonhuman nature. Cather than prioriti8e either
"ender ine6uities or ecolo"ical problems* eco.eminists o.ten belie,e that both emer"e
.rom the same problematic ways o. thinin" and actin"* and there.ore must be analy8ed
and resol,ed to"ether.
Alon" with eco.eminism and deep ecolo"y* another radical branch o. en,ironmental
philosophy is social ecolo"y. Social ecolo"y has roots in anarchism* socialism* and other
le.t social 5ustice mo,ements. Its most important .oundin" thiner is Murray Boochin*
an anarchist who be"an writin" about these issues in the 11+2s. Boochin and other
social ecolo"ists ar"ue that en,ironmental problems are rooted in un5ust* hierarchical
social* economic* and political relations. Because it tends to prioriti8e social causes and
solutions to en,ironmental problems* social ecolo"y tends to be more anthropocentric
than %eep $colo"y or eco.eminism. In this sense it is more ain to sustainability than
these more ecocentric approaches to en,ironmental ethics. Aowe,er* .ew sustainability
ad,ocates adopt social ecolo"yDs radical criti6ue o. economic and social institutions.
A less radical way to lin social principles to en,ironmental concerns has been de,eloped
by thiners worin" within the pra"matist tradition o. philosophy. As discussed in
Chapter #* pra"matism was de,eloped in the early 1122s by American philosophers John
%ewey* C. S. Peirce* and 9illiam James* who emphasi8ed moral pluralism and practical
"oals in an e..ort to o,ercome some o. the problems o. monistic philosophical thou"ht.
Philosophical monism presents a uni,ersal ethical .ramewor* which pro,ides the only
:true or accurate; way to loo at all .ormulations and situations. Many o. the ma5or
models in en,ironmental ethics* includin" deep ecolo"y* eco.eminism* and social
ecolo"y* tend toward monism as they attempt to e4plain en,ironmental problems
:and sometimes social and "ender dynamics; throu"h the lens o. one o,erarchin"
analytical lens.
In contrast* pluralistic approaches such as pra"matism e4plore a number o. theories and
,alues* with the understandin" that more than one model or .ormulation o. ethics may
pro,ide the best solution. Pra"matism is a concrete and particularistic .orm o. ethics that
loos at indi,idual circumstances in order to e,aluate the best possible route to achie,in"
the o,erarchin" "oals. For this reason* it is especially ,aluable .or sustainability* which
is less a sin"le analytical approach than it is an attempt to achie,e practical "oals.
$n,ironmental pra"matists such as Bryan @orton ar"ue that people whose reasons
:philosophical .oundations; .or action can still wor to"ether .or the same "oals.
Pra"matists acnowled"e that en,ironmentalists o.ten disa"ree about the bases .or
en,ironmental action and practices. Some claim* .or e4ample* that nature has ,alue in
itsel. :inherent ,alue; while others ar"ue that nature is simply here .or human use.
Aowe,er* in these opposed ,iews* there o.ten reside similar "oals* such as preser,in" a
par or eepin" water clear o. chemical runo... $n,ironmental pra"matists ar"ue that
these "oals are important in and o. themsel,es* and that the search .or shared theoretical
.oundations is o.ten unnecessary and e,en destructi,e. Another important en,ironmental
pra"matist* also mentioned in Chapter Three* is Ben Minteer* who has de,eloped a <ci,ic
philosophy> in which social* economic* and political concerns are central to
en,ironmental ethics.
Pra"matism has become increasin"ly in.luential within
en,ironmental ethics because o. its emphasis on concrete action and policy* its ad,ocacy
o. democratic deliberation* and its respect .or scienti.ic e,idence.
Another "rowin" and action7oriented approach within en,ironmental ethics is
biore"ionalism* which asserts that many o. the en,ironmental and social problems we
.ace today* especially in the ?nited States* stem .rom our re.usal to li,e within local
ecolo"ical limits. This re.usal is lined to a re5ection o. local cultural nowled"e*
includin" nowled"e about nati,e animals and plants* a"ricultural traditions* and
landscape .eatures. Such local nowled"e is thou"ht to ha,e enabled some @ati,e
American tribes* alon" with other small7scale indi"enous societies* to ha,e cultural
practices more adapted to local resources. This local nowled"e was not important to
$uropean immi"rants* who rarely learned about or cared .or their local places* accordin"
to biore"ionalist critics. Instead* they li,ed accordin" to a <.rontier mentality> that has
had disastrous en,ironmental and social conse6uences* ar"ues 9endell Berry in his
in.luential 11// boo The /nsettling of 2merica* a .oundin" biore"ionalist te4t. ?nlie
most @ati,e Americans* accordin" to Berry* $uropean immi"rants <did not loo upon the
land as a homeland.>
Biore"ionalists call .or people H especially Americans H to become nati,e to their <little
places> as a necessary .irst step toward becomin" nati,e to H and li,in" sustainably in H
their lar"er place.
Li,in" as much as possible within the limits o. a biore"ion both
reduces ener"y and resource usa"e and increases nowled"e* care* and e..icacy. Further*
be"innin" at the local le,el maes it possible to sol,e en,ironmental and social problems
that are o,erwhelmin" at lar"er scales. As prominent biore"ionalist thiner 9es Jacson
asserts* <the ma5ority o. solutions to both "lobal and local problems must tae place at the
le,el o. the e4panded tribe* what ci,ili8ation calls community.>
Biore"ionalists ar"ue
that operatin" in terms o. the local is the only way to maintain and repair ecolo"ical
systems and human communities. A .ocus on the local enables people to de,elop both
nowled"e o. and attachment to their particular re"ion* includin" the land and its
nonhuman inhabitants as well as local human cultures.
'ne criti6ue o. biore"ionalism is that it has parochial or insular tendencies H encoura"in"
people to .ocus on local problems while i"norin" the lar"er conte4ts in which those
problems ha,e de,eloped. Some en,ironmental thiners ha,e called .or a cosmopolitan
biore"ionalism* as Mitchell Thomashow puts it* that is concerned and in.ormed about the
wider world while li,in" accordin" to local ecolo"ical constraints and cultural
Biore"ionalist thiners ha,e paid special attention to .ood and a"riculture. The mo,e
away .rom local nowled"e and culture* and away .rom the ecolo"ical constraints o. a
particular watershed* is especially in peopleDs .ood production and distribution and eatin"
habits. Most Americans today eat .oods that ha,e been transported many miles* burnin"
.ossil .uels and other resources in both production and transportation. They do not eat
what is "rown locally and in season* but e4pect year7round a,ailability o. many products.
These products are "rown not only .ar away .rom their ultimate destinations but also* in
many cases* with methods that are not sensiti,e to local conditions. Mass7produced and
transported .ood is o.ten "rown in lar"e .arms with a sin"le crop :monocrop;* usin" hi"h
doses o. arti.icial pesticides and .ertili8ers. The local .ood :<loca,ore>; mo,ement that is
"rowin" in the ?.S. draws hea,ily on biore"ionalist ideas.
Biore"ionalists and loca,ores o.ten ad,ocate not only en,ironmental but also economic
and cultural shi.ts* toward .arms and businesses that are not only locally oriented but also
smaller in scale and more di,ersi.ied. Similar ,alues are important to the @ew A"rarian
mo,ement * which lie biore"ionalism emphasi8es the importance o. land and place.
A"rarianism* accordin" to one o. its leadin" ad,ocates* <is a deliberate and intentional
way o. li,in" and thinin" that taes seriously the .ailures and successes o. the past as
they ha,e been reali8ed in our en"a"ement with the earth and with each other. Authentic
a"rarianism* which should not be con.used with .armin" per se . . . represents the
sustained attempt to li,e .aith.ully and responsibly in a world o. limits and
Lie biore"ionalism* contemporary a"rarianism loos to the ,alues o.
local rural cultures* based on reliance and connection to the land* as appropriate .or urban
as well as rural dwellers today. Aowe,er* a"rarianism may hi"hli"ht cultural and moral
issues more e4plicitly* especially with its .ocus on the dual character o. culti,ation-
culti,ation o. the land and culti,ation o. character. A"rarians rail a"ainst the destructi,e
popular commercial .armin" practices o. the 9est* citin" the dama"e that monocultures
and synthetic chemicals ha,e caused across the "lobe. For a"rarians* one o. the most
sustainable li.estyles is a sel.7su..icient* communal* and <simple> li.e that re,ol,es
around hard wor and respect .or nature as well as attachment to nei"hbors and local
Both biore"ionalism and a"rarianism are rele,ant to sustainability in particular because
they e4plicitly lin social* economic* and en,ironmental problems and solutions in the
li"ht o. an o,erarchin" moral analysis. They .rom many other en,ironmental
ethics in that they tae social and economic problems 5ust as seriously as ecolo"ical ones.
Issues such as .ood and a"riculture show how en,ironmental* social* and economic
systems and ,alues are connected* su""estin"* accordin" to biore"ionalist and a"rarian
analyses* that they cannot be sol,ed separately. 9hile not all sustainability ethics share
the local orientation that is central to biore"ionalism and a"rarianism* these approaches
are important models .or any ethic that aims to brin" to"ether the social* economic* and
en,ironmental dimensions in a coherent way.
'ne additional type o. en,ironmental ethics that re6uires attention here is the reli"ious*
already discussed abo,e in relation to Lynn 9hiteDs in.luential 11+/ essay. More
recently* a number o. en,ironmental scholars ha,e ar"ued that attitudes and practices
re"ardin" nature are deeply conditioned by reli"ious belie.s. Celi"ion* they assert* holds
a sin"ular place .or many people as an o,erarchin" narrati,e that "uides and shapes both
belie.s and practices. This speculation is upheld by empirical research that has .ound that
e,en indi,iduals who do not in,oe (od in other conte4ts do so in order to tal and thin
about nature. In particular* researchers .ound* people use the concept o. di,ine creation
to <e4press the sacredness o. nature. Ce"ardless o. whether one actually belie,es in
biblical Creation* it is the best ,ehicle we ha,e to e4press this ,alue.>
More "enerally*
the ways that reli"ious narrati,es de.ine the human position in relation to nature o.ten
ha,e a dramatic impact on peopleDs en,ironmental attitudes and practices.
Some reli"ions* includin" the anthropocentric .orms o. Christianity condemned by 9hite*
encoura"e destructi,e attitudes* includin" a notion o. humans as lords and masters o,er
the natural world. Aowe,er* as 9hite himsel. noted* there are alternati,e ,iews o. nature
within Christianity* with more positi,e attitudes toward nonhuman nature. 9hite himsel.
su""ested Saint Francis o. Assisi as the <patron saint o. ecolo"y*> a title .ormally
bestowed by Pope John Paul II in 11/1. Amon" the many other en,ironmentally
bene.icent approaches to nature within Christianity* perhaps the most important is
stewardship. Stewardship sees creation as belon"in" to (od* and humans are thus not the
owners or masters o. nature but rather are entrusted to care .or the planet as de,otion or
response to (od. Many Christian eco7theolo"ies adopt a stewardship perspecti,e* which
tends to prioriti8e human "oods while also constrainin" human .reedom to act in
destructi,e or despotic ways. The "reat ,alue o. stewardship ethics* as secular
philosopher Baird Callicott e4plains* is that they sol,e the problem o. where natureDs
inherent ,alue comes .rom H (odDs act o. creation H while at the same time
acnowled"in" humansD special role in the creation. This special role re6uires people to
treat nature respect.ully* as "ood caretaers* rather than as despots.
'ther theolo"ians hi"hli"ht ecolo"ical interdependence* includin" James (usta.son* who
describes humans as <interacti,e participants in the orderin" o. the natural world.>
Althou"h (usta.sonDs ethic is theocentric :(od7centered; rather than ecocentric* his less
e4alted ,iew o. human importance is* in some ways* more ain to %eep $colo"y than to
Christian stewardship ethics- <I. there is a sense o. di,inity* it has to include not only
dependence upon nature .or beauty and .or sustenance* but also .orces beyond human
control which destroy each other and us. I. (od saw that the di,ersity (od created was
"ood* it was not necessarily "ood .or humans and .or all aspects o. nature.>
(usta.sonDs re5ection o. anthropocentrism is not typical o. mainstream Christian
approaches to nature but does echo themes .ound in some non79estern and indi"enous
reli"ions. These traditions ha,e not in.luenced modern 9estern :especially @orth
American; cultures as stron"ly as Christianity has* they distincti,e approaches
toward nonhuman nature which are important both to academic en,ironmental ethics
Some ecolo"ically7concerned theolo"ians and philosophers ha,e turned to indi"enous
and non79estern reli"ions* which o.ten encoura"e people to thin o. themsel,es as part
o. a lar"er web o. li.e and thus .oster more humble and modest use o. natural resources.
For e4ample* the Buddhist concept o. the interdependent sel. de7centers humans* 5ust as
Buddhist principles o. compassion and non,iolence may encoura"e more carin" and
enli"htened respect .or humans and nature alie. Similarly* many en,ironmental
philosophers .ind promise in @ati,e American cultural emphases on <walin" li"htly> on
$arth and respectin" the a"ency o. other creatures. The problem posed .or an ethic o.
sustainability is how these ideas* ,aluable as they may be* can ha,e a si"ni.icant impact
in contemporary 9estern societies.
Celi"ious ideas* practices* and institutions ha,e undoubtedly had a power.ul in.luence on
attitudes toward nature H and about social and economic issues H throu"hout the world*
includin" supposedly <seculari8ed> 9estern societies such as the ?.S. People interested
in achie,in" a more sustainable society must tae reli"ion seriously as a power.ul shaper
o. ,alues* re"ardless o. their own personal con,ictions. For many scientists and
technolo"y pro.essionals* howe,er* as .or many en,ironmental philosophers* scienti.ic
principles are the most important .actor in determinin" ideas about nature and the world
in "eneral.
The approaches to en,ironmental ethics discussed here do not by any means e4haust the
,ariations within the .ield. 9e ha,e not discussed a number o. theoretical models*
includin" some that are ,ery in.luential within en,ironmental philosophy* because they
are e4ceedin"ly abstract and thus less rele,ant to sustainability. Many introductions to
en,ironmental philosophy are a,ailable which outline the di..erent inds o. ethics* ma5or
thiners and wors* and central issues.
The relationship between ecolo"ical science and en,ironmental ethics is intimate and
comple4. $colo"y is the study o. the interactions between li,in" or"anisms :plants and
animals; and their surroundin"s* includin" physical landscape .eatures and climate. It
be"an as a serious scienti.ic endea,or the nineteenth century* with the wor o. Ale4ander
,on Aumboldt :1/+1710)1;* Charles Lyell :1/1/710/);* and Cussel 9allace
:10!#7111#;* amon" others. The history o. ecolo"ical science re.lects not a sin"le
unchan"in" a"reement but rather both continual debates within an e,er7chan"in"
historical consensus. In his in.luential boo .ature5s Economy% 2 ,istory of Ecological
Ideas* historian o. science %onald 9orster documents both the de,elopment o. scienti.ic
ideas in ecolo"y and their interactions with wider cultural .orces. Amon" the earlier
models that 9orster describes is the <Comantic> ,iew that stresses harmony and balance
in nature* an approach that was displaced when the wor o. Lyell* Aumboldt* and %arwin
brou"ht con.lict and competition to the .ore.ront. In the early twentieth century* the wor
o. Frederic Clements :10/&711&); helped shape a new approach* .ocused on the
dynamics o. ecolo"ical succession in plant community :9orster 111&- !21;. 9hile these
models ha,e been subsumed in many ways* all ha,e contributed elements to
contemporary ecolo"ical science. @ewer themes that are important .or ecolo"y include
wor in physics on comple4ity* resilience* unpredictability* and chaos.
All these approaches ha,e ethical implications. The way that people percei,e nature to
operate o.ten ser,es as a model* e,en a standard* .or human actions and society. This is
ob,ious in re"ards to themes such as competition and con.lict* which H e4a""erated and
o.ten distorted .rom their scienti.ic ori"ins H ha,e .ed into <Social %arwinism>
The e4chan"e between ecolo"ical ideas and popular attitudes toward nature has been
mutual. Aowe,er* it is possible to identi.y themes .rom ecolo"ical science that ha,e had
a special impact on en,ironmental ,alues. Perhaps the most important is the principle o.
interdependence and mutual causality* which are central .or Leopold alon" with many
contemporary scholars* and probably the most important element o. ecolo"ical
understandin" .or the "eneral public.
This popular understandin" is well re.lected in
CommonerDs Laws o. $colo"y* which hi"hli"ht interdependence H <e,erythin" is
connected to e,erythin" else*> <e,erythin" "oes somewhere*> and <There is no .ree
lunch.> These <laws> do not necessarily re.lect cuttin" ed"e ecolo"ical science but are
important as popular interpretations o. the science that ha,e clear ,alue implications.
9idely publici8ed en,ironmental problems o. recent decades* includin" o8one depletion*
insecticides* and now "lobal warmin"* rein.orce the emphasis on interdependence.
emphasis supports a number o. the ,alues o. sustainability* includin" the Precautionary
and Ce,ersibility principles. I. e,erythin" is connected to e,erythin" else* and
e,erythin" "oes somewhere* then all o. our actions ha,e ecolo"ical conse6uences* about
which we now relati,ely little.
$colo"ical science sheds li"ht not only on the interdependence amon" di..erent elements
o. an ecosystem but also on the historical de,elopment o. these relationships o,er time H
a study hea,ily in.luenced by theories o. e,olution by natural selection. $,olution has
not been central to popular or philosophical interpretations o. ecolo"y* e,en thou"h
%arwin is <the sin"le most important .i"ure in the history o. ecolo"y o,er the past two or
three centuries*> as %onald 9orster ar"ues.
Amon" the most important themes o.
e,olutionary science are continuity and connection amon" species.
The abo,e themes are also central to contemporary philosophical wor on the ,alue o.
nonhuman animals. The e,olutionary continuity amon" species su""ests that species
share not only physiolo"ical but also beha,ioral similarities* as well as intertwined
histories and .utures. I. nonhuman animals share many o. the same capacities and
.eelin"s* some ar"ue* their moral status cannot always be sharply distin"uished .rom that
o. humans. This raises 6uestions about many o. the ways that both wild and domestic
animals are treated* in conte4ts includin" a"riculture* scienti.ic laboratories* par
mana"ement* and e,en urban de,elopment and buildin" construction. The philosophical
debates about human treatment o. nonhuman animals is related to discussions about the
natural en,ironment more "enerally but also include a number o. speci.ic issues* mostly
re"ardin" the moral ,alue o. indi,idual creatures.
$thical thinin" about indi,idual animals is o.ten ,ery di..erent .rom that about the
en,ironment more "enerally. Perhaps most important* en,ironmental ethicists are
historically more concerned with ecolo"ical wholes* while those concerned with the
interests o. nonhuman animals are "enerally more concerned with indi,idual bein"s.
Moral considerability* some ar"ue* cannot be attributed to "eneralities such as
ecosystems* but rather inheres in indi,iduals H whose interests are o,erlooed in holistic
perspecti,es. More speci.ically* ,alues come .rom indi,idual characteristics such as
intelli"ence or the capacity to and social relationships amon" indi,iduals. The
moral ,alue o. indi,idual creatures may be described* in deontolo"ical perspecti,es* in
terms o. ri"hts* as de,eloped in the writin"s o. Tom Ce"an.
'ther philosophers
approach the topic .rom the perspecti,e o. ?tilitarianism* most notably the in.luential
Australian philosopher Peter Sin"er. Sin"er ar"ues that indi,idual sentient animals ha,e
an interest in a,oidin" pain and in ha,in" their basic needs met :e.".* .or .ood and
shelter;* re"ardless o. species. Sin"er uses the term <speciesism> to su""est a parallel
between racial discrimination amon" humans and the e6ually arbitrary :to Sin"er;
discrimination amon" species. 9hile Sin"er and Ce"an disa"ree about philosophical
.oundations* they share a common commitment to the wel.are o. indi,idual animals and
an opposition to holistic approaches to ethics.
The wor o. Ce"an and Sin"er hints at the di,ersity and comple4ity o. debates about the
moral status o. animals. $6ually li,ely are the debates between ad,ocates o. animal
wel.are and en,ironmental ethicists. Many philosophers in both camps percei,e the two
sub.ields as not 5ust distinct but con.lictin"* due to the indi,idualistic .ocus o. most
animal ethics and the holism o. many en,ironmental philosophies. These distinctions
raise a number o. issues that are rele,ant .or sustainability. Some o. these entail .airly
abstract 6uestions about matters such as the role o. science in ethics or the ,alidity o.
ri"hts theories. 'ther issues are more concrete* such as those in,ol,in" the relations
between domestic :or .eral; and wild species in a "i,en ecosystem or the en,ironmental
conse6uences o. particular a"ricultural methods. Many o. these practical issues in,ol,e
social and economic problems as well. An ethic o. sustainability mi"ht help sort throu"h
debates about* .or e4ample* the relati,e social* economic* and en,ironmental bene.its o.
a"ricultural methods that are more humane .or the domestic animals in,ol,ed* such as
.ree7ran"e or"anic .armin".
This leads us to some o. the additional 6uestions raised when we thin about domestic
animals and their social and economic* as well as en,ironmental* roles. For all o. our
speciesD history* human communities ha,e included both wild and domestic animals and
plants. $n"lish philosopher Mary Mid"ley uses the notion o. a <mi4ed community> as
the conte4t .or human cultural e,olution.
Mid"ley ar"ues that because humans are
biolo"ically similar to other animals and ha,e e,ol,ed to"ether with them* we ha,e a
direct capacity <.or attendin" to* and to some e4tent understandin"* the moods and
reactions o. other species.>
Thou"h this capacity is somewhat limited* we are "ranted
with a uni6ue capacity o. ,iewin" animals as members o. our moral community* a
position that has some similarities with en,ironmental stewardship ethics. The .act that
we participate in di..erent communities* many o. which include other animals* can help
mediate the apparent con.licts between holistic ecolo"ical ethics and animal wel.are*
accordin" to Mid"ley. All the communities to which we belon" ha,e some moral claims
on us* e,en thou"h they are not all the same. 9e need not* Mid"ley ar"ues* thin about
these moral claims as merely competin". 9hile it is true that we are naturally more
inclined toward our own .amilies and species* we are not emotionally or rationally
limited in the ran"e o. our morality. The mi4ed community ideal calls .or a mo,e
beyond abstractions o. animals as a whole or humanity as a whole and a reconsideration
o. the e4istence o. actual* concrete animals and humans li,in" to"ether in a mi4ed
Mid"leyDs wor pro,ides a crucial resource .or Baird Callicott in his e..orts to resol,e the
con.lict between animal and en,ironmental ethics. Callicott ori"inally critici8ed animal
ri"hts theories as both philosophically wea and <utterly unpracticable*>
ar"uin" instead
.or a holistic land ethic that does not prioriti8e the wel.are o. indi,idual or"anisms. More
recently* howe,er* he has come to belie,e that <it would be .ar wiser to mae common
cause a"ainst a common enemy H the destructi,e .orces at wor ra,a"in" the nonhuman
world H than to continue s6uabblin" amon" oursel,es.>
Callicott sees <a moral theory
that embraces both pro"rams and that pro,ides a .ramewor .or the ad5udication o. the
,ery real con.licts between human wel.are* animal wel.are* and ecolo"ical inte"rity.>
Ae unco,ers "rounds .or such a theory in Mid"leyDs concept o. the mi4ed community*
which he .inds compatible with LeopoldDs land ethic. Callicott ar"ues that <we are
members o. nested communities each o. which has a di..erent structure and there.ore
di..erent moral re6uirements.>
9e are sub5ect to the claims o. close relationships* with
people and with domestic animals such as pets* and also to the claims o. lar"er wholes*
such as those articulated in ecocentric ethics. These ,aried claims do not cancel each
other out* e,en thou"h they may re6uire that we prioriti8e and sometimes mae hard
Mid"leyDs notion o. moral communities* and CallicottDs e4tension o. this idea* are
important not only because it helps us thin about the speci.ic issues raised by nonhuman
animals but also because it pro,ides a .ramewor .or inte"ratin" multiple moral claims H
the central challen"e o. an ethics o. sustainability. Callicott and Mid"ely remind us that
di..erent types o. moral claims may be e6ually ,alid* e,en thou"h we cannot always
.ul.ill them all. This is true not only o. the claims o. indi,idual creatures and ecolo"ical
wholes but also o. di..erent types o. claims based on social* en,ironmental* and
economic criteria. 9hen it is impossible to "i,e e6ual priority to all the thin"s we ,alue*
ethics can pro,ide resources to e,aluate* prioriti8e* and choose. :It can also help us now
when a dilemma is truly una,oidable* as discussed in Chapter #.; In order to reach
positi,e resolutions* we must thin clearly about the di..erent ,alues that we and other
people brin" to a problem or situation H meanin" we must be clear about what we ,alue*
why* and how our di..erent ,alues are related to each other.
$n,ironmental and social ethics are distinct components o. an en,ironmental ethic* but
they also come to"ether in many situations* when social ,alues and en,ironmental ,alues
cannot be easily separated* or e,en distin"uished. In other words* there are situations in
which it is not a 6uestion o. balancin" social ,ersus en,ironmental concerns but rather a
6uestion o. identi.yin" and upholdin" ,alues that are both social and en,ironmental at the
same time. This is especially true in relation to en,ironmental 5ustice* which addresses
the 6uestion o. who bene.its or riss harm in en,ironmental decisions. $n,ironmental
5ustice ad,ocates are particularly concerned with the ways that pollution* to4ic wastes*
land use* climate chan"e* urban sprawl* and other ecolo"ical problems disproportionately
a..ect poor and minority communities. These issues are crucial to sustainability* both as
practical problems and as situations that re6uire an inte"rated sustainability .ramewor.
9hen en,ironmental 5ustice ad,ocates assert that the "oals o. social 5ustice and
en,ironmental protection a"ree* they are usually speain" .rom a distincti,e ethical
perspecti,e* one which tends to be more anthropocentric than ecocentric in relation to
nonhuman nature. Their en,ironmental ,alues* in other words* center upon the protection
o. natural resources and places that support the 6uality o. li.e .or particular human
communities. Thus en,ironmental 5ustice usually .ocuses upon urban problems such as
to4ic waste and other en,ironmental ha8ards to human health. This is re.lected in the
ori"ins o. the en,ironmental 5ustice mo,ement in the ?.S.* usually identi.ied with the
acti,ism o. Lois (ibbs in the Lo,e Canal nei"hborhood o. @ia"ara Falls* @ew 3or.
The blue7collar nei"hborhood and school had been built on a chemical waste dump*
which caused a number o. health and reproducti,e problems. In 11/0* (ibbs be"an
or"ani8in" her nei"hbors* an e..ort that led to the e,acuation o. 022 .amilies* the cleanup
o. the site* and* ultimately* to the Comprehensi,e $n,ironmental Cesponse*
Compensation* and Liability Act :C$CCLA; o. 1102* more commonly nown as the
<Super.und> bill. The principles on which (ibbs be"an her campai"n H that poor and
worin" class .amilies are entitled to the same en,ironmental and health protection as all
Americans H remain central to the en,ironmental 5ustice mo,ement* which has spread to
@ati,e American* A.rican American* and Latino communities throu"hout the ?.S.* in
addition to many international mani.estations.
9ith its usual .ocus on urban problems* en,ironmental 5ustice does not concern itsel.
with <nature .or natureDs sae> or the intrinsic ,alue o. nature* but is more concerned
with instrumental ,alues H the ways natural places and resources ser,e :or pre,ent;
human "oods. As a result* en,ironmental 5ustice approaches sometimes con.lict with
more ecocentric ethics* especially in re"ards to wilderness protection. In a number o.
cases in the ?.S. and elsewhere* indi"enous people ha,e challen"ed policies and
restrictions re"ardin" their access to protected wilderness areas* either .or permanent
homes or .or huntin" or .ishin"* citin" ,alues o. en,ironmental 5ustice as well as nati,e
so,erei"nty. Sometimes @ati,e communities ha,e come into con.lict with
en,ironmentalists seein" to preser,e <pristine> wilderness areas* .ree o. any human
inter,ention or use. Increasin"* howe,er* en,ironmental 5ustice and wilderness ad,ocates
see to wor to"ether to permit sustainable uses o. wildlands while preser,in" their
ecolo"ical inte"rity.
Se,eral philosophical models shed li"ht on the relations between* and possible inte"ration
o.* the "oals o. social 5ustice and ecolo"ical protection H both central to sustainability.
'ne* discussed abo,e* is based on Mid"leyDs notion o. nested communities. Applyin"
this model to en,ironmental 5ustice* we mi"ht aim to protect the health o. .amilies and
nei"hbors* while also reco"ni8in" the claims o. nonhuman animals and places* which are
also threatened by many o. the same ha8ards. Many to4ic chemicals* .or e4ample*
ran"in" .rom deliberately applied pesticides to discarded PCBs* are dan"erous to humans
and nonhuman animals* as well as destructi,e to soil and water. It may well be possible
to protect the interests o. all these constituencies or nested communities H .or e4ample*
throu"h systematic clean ups such as those supported by the Super.und H without ha,in"
to choose between competin" ,alues.
The en,ironmental ethics associated with a biore"ionalist perspecti,e can also
help.ul tools .or thinin" about en,ironmental 5ustice. The local .ocus o. biore"ional
:and a"rarian; thou"ht encompasses social and natural "oods. 9hat is "ood .or nature in
a "i,en place* in other words* is o.ten "ood .or humans* both in terms o. community
,alues and in terms o. economic security. Small scale* di,ersi.ied .arms* .or e4ample*
usin" en,ironmentally sounds methods and ser,in" a local economy* can both protect
local watersheds and stren"then the 5ustice and economic security o. the human
community. As 9endell Berry ar"ues* <nature and human culture* wildness and
domesticity* are not opposed but are interdependent.>
The ey to stren"thenin" both
natural and human ,alues is to maintain a proper scale* thereby a,oidin" the destructi,e
conse6uences o. mass production* homo"eni8ation* and what Berry calls the
<monocultures> o. industrial ci,ili8ation* which suppresses both cultural and natural
di,ersity and democratic processes.
Biore"ionalism and en,ironmental 5ustice are but two o. the ,arious approaches to
en,ironmental ethics that aim to inte"rate social and ecolo"ical ,alues H or at least*
certain inds o. social and ecolo"ical ,alues. Lois (ibbsDs passionate ad,ocacy .or
worin" class .amilies and 9endell BerryDs criti6ue o. industrial capitalism both re.lect
distincti,e moral stances* which 5usti.y particular social positions* such as the obli"ation
o. "o,ernment to protect ,ulnerable communities or the demand to trans.orm modern
a"ricultural methods. It is possible to inte"rate social* economic* and en,ironmental
,alues in a wide ,ariety o. ways* some o. which can be considered as ethics o.
sustainability. 9e turn now to a discussion o. what distin"uishes the ethics o.
sustainability and its relationship to en,ironmental ethics.
$arlier we de.ined en,ironmental ethics as an important dimension o. the ethics o.
sustainability but not the only or determinin" one. In order to de,elop an ade6uate ethics
o. sustainability* it is necessary to understand the de,elopment and main themes o.
en,ironmental ethics* 5ust as it is necessary to ha,e an o,er,iew o. social and economic
ethics* as outlined in Chapter #. It is important to understand that en,ironmental ethics
encompasses a wide ran"e o. perspecti,es* with di..erin" positions on many o. the
theoretical and practical issues in,ol,ed in sustainability. $specially important are the
distinctions amon" more and less ecocentric and anthropocentric .ramewors* the role o.
science in ,arious approaches* and the ways some models ha,e inte"rated social and
en,ironmental ,alues.
'ne o. the most important 6uestions to answer in re"ards to the relationship between
en,ironmental and sustainability ethics is whether one* the other* or both are in,ol,ed in
a "i,en situation. Aere the challen"e .or the sustainability ethicist is how to identi.y what
,alues are at stae and how to address them. This is true o. some technolo"y and science
issues* which mi"ht raise 6uestions about en,ironmental ,alues but not sustainability* or
,ice ,ersa. Ar"uably* some o. the 6uestions surroundin" wilderness* includin" the
preser,ation o. endan"ered species and ecolo"ical restoration* are primarily
en,ironmental* at least in their ethical dimensions H and economic or social
considerations come into play primarily as practical rather than philosophical concerns.
'n the other hand* some uses o. technolo"y in,ol,e mainly social or economic issues*
because the en,ironmental impact o. ,arious choices is either ne"li"ent or the same in
e,ery option. And* o. course* some scienti.ic processes entail ethical concerns that are
not really about the natural en,ironment or sustainability. This is true .or some o. the
moral issues that arise concernin" the treatment o. nonhuman animals or humans in
medical or scienti.ic e4periments* .or e4ample. Thus the 6uestion o. whether
en,ironmental ethics* sustainability ethics* or both are in,ol,ed must be decided be.ore
the relationship between the two can be analy8ed.
Sustainability ad,ocates ha,e adopted a wide ran"e o. en,ironmental ethics* and as noted
earlier* sometimes sustainability and en,ironmental are used almost as synonyms .or each
other. In "eneral* howe,er* the .ramewor .or thinin" about en,ironmental ,alue that is
most common and probably most .ittin" within sustainability ethics is .airly
anthropocentric. More human7oriented approaches can accommodate the other ,alues
that must also be brou"ht into play. $cocentric ethics* in contrast* prioriti8e the claims on
nonhuman nature* and especially o. ecolo"ical wholes* necessarily subordinatin" at least
some human ,alues. An ethic o. sustainability can be de.ined as an ethic that coherently
inte"rates en,ironmental* social* and economic ,alues without consistently prioriti8in"
any sin"le one.
Accordin" to this de.inition* some en,ironmental philosophies can be considered
sustainability ethics. This is especially true o. pra"matist* biore"ionalist* and a"rarian
approaches* some but not all o. which emphasi8e social and economic as well as
ecolo"ical concerns. A "ood e4ample is the wor* discussed earlier* o. Ben Minteer*
whose en,ironmental ci,ic philosophy is hi"hly pra"matic and anthropocentric* placin"
as much emphasis on social* political* and economic concerns as on nonhuman nature.
:In contrast* the wor o. MinteerDs .ellow pra"matist Bryan @orton de.ines sustainability
as abo,e all the e..ort to protect ecolo"ical wholes and would not be readily classi.ied as
an ethic o. sustainability accordin" to our de.inition* despite @ortonDs use o. the term.;
Some biore"ionalists and a"rarians ha,e also de,eloped inte"rated sustainability ethics*
althou"h others within those streams o. thou"ht prioriti8e ecolo"ical concerns abo,e
social ones. The same is true* as discussed abo,e* o. some wor in eco.eminist and
social ecolo"ical perspecti,es. In contrast* ,ery .ew philosophers writin" in the tradition
o. land ethics or %eep $colo"y ha,e made social and economic concerns central to their
This raises the 6uestion o. the relations amon" di..erent ,alues. 9hile an ethics o.
sustainability must inte"rate social* economic* and en,ironmental concerns* it is not clear
that these must be considered e6ually in e,ery circumstance. More "enerally* e,en when
we acnowled"e the ,alidity o. di..erent moral claims* it is not always possible or e,en
desirable to treat e,ery claim the same. Thus in a sustainability ethic that includes
en,ironmental* social* and economic ,alues* there are times and circumstances when one
particular ind o. ,alue H social* economic* or en,ironmental H mi"ht be most important.
The 6uestion is how to determine what is called .or in a particular situation. Aere the
wor o. economic ethicist 9arren Copeland
is help.ul. Copeland ar"ues that we can
,alue di..erent 6ualities* such as e6uality* indi,idual liberty* and social solidarity* while
also emphasi8in" one o. these ,alues o,er others in a particular settin". It is not
necessary to pic a sin"le ,alue o,er all others* and in .act philosophies that ha,e only
one .oundational concern o.ten become irrele,ant in comple4* chan"in" settin"s.
Copeland ad,ocates .irst identi.yin" the ,alues o. primary concern* then care.ully
analy8in" the particular problem or situation to e,aluate how these ,alues are bein"
enacted* or not* and how they mi"ht be better .ul.illed. In any "i,en situation* it is liely
that one ,alue is more .ully de,eloped than others* which means that principles o.
balance and compensation should be in,oed.
In concrete political terms* Copeland
ar"ues* we should ad,ocate .or whate,er is most missin".
This sheds some li"ht on e..orts to balance and inte"rate di,erse ,alues in the ethics o.
sustainability. In analy8in" a particular problem H in,ol,in"* .or e4ample* a laboratory
e4periment* the construction o. a buildin"* or a public policy H we should .irst identi.y
the social* en,ironmental* and economic ,alues that are most important* then as to what
e4tent each o. these is bein" enacted and how it mi"ht be more .ully implemented. This
approach will not satis.y many en,ironmental ethicists and ad,ocates* who want to
prioriti8e the claims o. nonhuman nature consistently. Aowe,er* it is certainly possible
to ar"ue* in many situations* that ecolo"ical concerns recei,e much less e..ecti,e
attention than social and economic ones and thus* accordin" to CopelandDs "uidelines*
should recei,e more attention in order to achie,e better balance.
It is also important to note that some en,ironmental philosophers :and some economic
and social ones; assert that their philosophical .ramewors do tae into account all
important moral .actors. %eep ecolo"ists* .or e4ample* would interpret economic*
political* and social issues in li"ht o. their understandin" o. ecolo"ical interdependence*
which maes all human problems by de.inition natural ones as well. $colo"ical
interdependence is not only the primary ,alue here but also the .irst and most important
e4planatory .actor .or other problems. Thus there is no need to <balance> social*
economic* and en,ironmental concerns* since attendin" to ecolo"ical problems in the
proper way will ine,itably resol,e other* secondary issues. This sin"le7minded approach
is .ar .rom uni6ue to %eep $colo"ists. There are philosophers and acti,ists who place
their .aith in the e4planatory power o. economic* racial* "ender* or other dynamics and
subordinate all other concerns to these. 9e do not need to decide or e,en debate these
issues here* but merely to point out that .or the ethics o. sustainability* no sin"le ,ariable
will Sustainability is not a sin"le "oal* and it cannot be understood in li"ht o. a
sin"le issue or achie,ed by attendin" to only one ind o. problem.
The emphasis on interdependence o. some ecolo"ical ethics is worth serious attention
.rom those interested in sustainability* perhaps less .or the substance than .or the
theoretical model it pro,ides. The sustainability .ramewor not only aims .or social*
en,ironmental* and economic "oals but also asserts that these "oals are related. @ot only
should social e6uity not be achie,ed at the cost o. economic or ecolo"ical collapse* but H
accordin" to the ethics o. sustainability H the ,alues o. social 5ustice* en,ironmental
preser,ation* and economic security should rein.orce each other. It should not and need
not be a 6uestion o. choosin" amon" them. Some o. the practicalities o. this inte"ration*
in re"ards to economics* are the topic o. the ne4t chapter* which e4plores ecolo"ical
Berry* 9endell. 11//. The /nsettling of 2merica% Culture G 2griculture. San Francisco*
Sierra Club Boos.
Berry* 9endell. 1102. ,ome Economics. @ew 3or- Farrar* Strauss X (irou4.
Callicott* J. Baird. 1101a. In efense of the &and Ethic% Essays in En$ironmental
Philosophy. State ?ni,ersity o. @ew 3or Press.
Callicott* J. Baird. 1101b. Animal Liberation- A Trian"ular A..air.> In The 2nimal
)ightsHEn$ironmental Ethics ebate* ed. $u"ene Aar"ro,e. Albany- State
?ni,ersity o. @ew 3or Press.
Callicott* J. Baird. 1101c. <Animal Liberation and $n,ironmental $thics- Bac To"ether
A"ain.> In The 2nimal )ightsHEn$ironmental Ethics ebate* ed. $u"ene
Aar"ro,e. Albany- State ?ni,ersity o. @ew 3or Press.
Callicott* J. Baird. 111&. Earth5s Insights. Bereley- ?ni,ersity o. Cali.ornia Press.
Carson* Cachel. 11+!. Silent Spring.
Commoner* Barry. 11/1. The Closing Circle% .ature! Man! and Technology. @ew 3or-
Copeland* 9arren. 1100. Economic #ustice% The Social Ethics of /.S. Economic Policy.
@ash,ille- Abin"don Press.
(usta.son* James. 111&. 2 Sense of the i$ine% The .atural En$ironment from a
Theocentric Perspecti$e. Cle,eland- Pil"rim Press.
Jacson* 9es. 111&. (ecoming .ati$e to this Place. Le4in"ton- ?ni,ersity Press o.
Kempton* 9illettL James S. BosterL and A. Aartley. 111). En$ironmental @alues
in 2merican Culture. Cambrid"e* Mass.- MIT Press.
Leopold* Aldo. 11&1. 2 Sand County 2lmanac.
Merchant* Carolyn. 110#. The eath of .ature% 1omen! Ecology! and the Scientific
)e$olution. San Francisco- AarperCollins.
Mid"ley* Mary. 110#. 2nimals and 1hy They Matter. Athens- ?ni,ersity o. (eor"ia
Minteer* Ben. !22+. The &andscape of )eform% Ci$ic Pragmatism and En$ironmental
Thought in 2merica. Cambrid"e- MIT Press.
Muir* John.
@aess* Arne. 1101. .ature! Community! &ifestyle. Trans. %a,id Cothenber". Cambrid"e-
Cambrid"e ?ni,ersity Press.
@aess* Arne. 11/#. <The shallow and the deep* lon"7ran"e ecolo"y mo,ements*> In=uiry
1+- 1)7122.
@orton* Bryan. Towards /nity 2mong En$ironmentalists.
Peterson* Anna. !221. (eing ,uman% Ethics! En$ironment! and Our Place in the 1orld.
Bereley- ?ni,ersity o. Cali.ornia Press.
Plumwood* Ual. 111#. Feminism and the Mastery of .ature. London and @ew 3or-
Ce"an* Tom. !22&. The Case for 2nimal )ights. Bereley- ?ni,ersity o. Cali.ornia Press.
Thomashow* Mitchell. V444. <Cosmopolitan Biore"ionalism.> In (ioregionalism* ed.
Michael Uincent Mc(inniss. Bereley- ?ni,ersity o. Cali.ornia Press.
9hite* Lynn Jr. 11+/. <The Aistorical Coots o. our $colo"ic Crisis.> Science ...
9ir8ba* @orman. !22&. <Introduction- 9hy A"rarianism Matters H $,en to ?rbanites.>
In The Essential 2grarian )eader% The Future of Culture! Community! and the
&and* ed. by @orman 9ir8ba. Le4in"ton- ?ni,ersity Press o. Kentucy* !22#.
9orster* %onald. 111&. .ature5s Economy% 2 ,istory of Ecological Ideas. Second
edition. Cambrid"e- Cambrid"e ?ni,ersity Press.
Leopold 11&1* p. !#1.
Leopold 11&1* p. !)#.
Leopold 11&/* p. !+!.
:John Muir Cite;
:Barry Commoner Cite;
9hite 11+/* p.
9hite 11+/* p.
Callicott 1101* &.
@aess 1101* !0.
Minteer !22+.
Berry 11//* &.
Jacson 111&* #.
Jacson 111&* !.
:Thomashow cite;.
9ir8ba !22&* &.
Kempton et al. 111)* 12* 1!.
Callicott 111&* !17!!.
(usta.son 111&* )0.
(usta.son 111&* &&.
Kempton et al. 111)* +2.
Kempton 111)* !11.
9orster 111&* 11&.
Ce"an !22&.
Mid"ley 110#.
Mid"ley 110#* 11&.
Callicott 1101b* +2*
Callicott 1101c* !&1.
Callicott 1101c* !)1.
Callicott 1101c* !)+.
Berry 1102* 1171!.
Berry 1102* 1)1.
Copeland* 1100.
Copeland 1100* 1/.
A new economic theory* ecological economics* is e,ol,in" to support sustainability and
plays such a ey role that it is sometimes re.erred to as the science of sustainability.
$colo"ical economics emer"ed in the late 1102Ds a.ter two decades o. "estation as an
economic theory whose principles support sustainability.
Capitalism* the dominant
economic system in the world* clashes with the concept o. sustainability o,er se,eral
issues* but especially o,er the role o. the "lobal ecosystem in the economy. Conse6uently
the contemporary economic theory underpinnin" capitalism* neoclassical economics* is
de.icient when sustainability is bein" used as the "uidin" .ramewor .or shi.tin" to a state
in which the economy produces "oods and ser,ices* yet also protects and nurtures natural
and social systems.
The contemporary economic system is dominated by capitalism. Capitalism is a
relati,ely simple concept H it is based on pri,ate ownership o. capital* assets that can be
used to produce yet more assets. Capital has se,eral .orms- .inancial capital or moneyL
physical capital such as buildin"s or machineryL human* social* and cultural capital*
assets that include nowled"e* cooperation and collaboration* and the important arti.acts
o. society that may include art* music* architecture and traditionsL and natural capital*
which may be thou"ht o. as nature* the en,ironment* and ecosystems. Capitalism .ocuses
principally on the .irst two types o. capital- .inancial and physical. Sustainability* while
considerin" all .orms o. capital* maintains that natural capital must not be de"raded.
9here ecolo"ical economics ,alues nature as one o. the ey .actors in the 6uality o. li.e
.or .uture "enerations* capitalism treats nature as simply a .actor o. production.
@eoclassical economics models the production system as a blac bo4 with inputs and
outputs. It considers nature and natural resources to be unbounded and in.inite while
ecolo"ical economics understands the $arth to be .inite with limited resources and .ra"ile
ecolo"ical systems that are critical .or the sur,i,al o. all .orms o. li.e. @eoclassical
economics assumes the $arth has in.inite capacity .or absorbin" the waste "enerated .rom
production and consumptionL ecolo"ical economics considers that nature has a limited
capacity to absorb some types o. waste while others are unacceptable because they pose a
threat to li.e.
The .ocus o. ecolo"ical economics is on the important role that nature and natural
systems play in the economy. In a paper by Cobert Costan8a and his collea"ues in 111/*
they estimated the economic ,alue o. the worldDs ecosystems. Published in .ature* the
article estimated this ,alue as F## trillion* with a ran"e .rom F1+ trillion to F)& trillion at
a time when the total "lobal (ross %omestic Product was F!/ trillion.
This result meant
that the ,alue o. the worldDs ecosystems at that time was 1.0 times "reater than "lobal
economic output. A wide ran"e o. ecosystem ser,ices are .ree and would ha,e to be
replaced with hi"h cost technolo"y i. the ecosystem were dama"ed to the point where
these ser,ices were compromised. For e4ample* the pollination o. wine "rapes by bees in
$urope was estimated as a .ree ser,ice worth F! billion because that would be the labor
cost o. manually pollinatin" the .lowers.
In comparin" ecolo"ical and neoclassical economics* the ma5or di..erences are-
1. $colo"ical economics ,iews human society as a subset o. the sustainin" "lobal
ecosystem. @eoclassical economics i"nores both systems and .ocuses only on human
production and consumption.
!. $colo"ical economics acnowled"es that the "lobal ecosystem* includin" humans*
obeys the physical laws o. thermodynamics :which physicists to as the supreme
laws o. nature; as well as the laws o. ecolo"y. @eoclassical economics is silent on
physics and ecolo"y but does mae e4tensi,e use o. mathematical models which treat the
economy as a blac bo4 o. inputs and outputs.
#. $colo"ical economics reco"ni8es that the "lobal ecolo"ical7economic system is hi"hly
comple4* non7linear and continually e,ol,in" and that simple answers or models to
di..icult 6uestions rarely e4ist. @eoclassical economics does not address the role o. the
ecolo"ical system in the economy.
&. $colo"ical economics re6uires a systems approach to economic theory and decision
main" in order to address modern economic challen"es and opportunities. @eoclassical
economics is .airly simplistic* .ocusin" on one issue* business. Milton Friedman* an
American winner o. the @obel Memorial Pri8e in $conomics in 11/+* clearly articulated
its relati,ely simple outloo when he said* <The business o. business is business.>
This chapter will de.ine and describe ecolo"ical economics* its history* the ey
principles* and its current state* and its role as in supportin" sustainability. The
emer"ence o. Corporate Social Cesponsibility is also described because it do,etails with
the intent o. sustainability and the principles o. ecolo"ical economics.
$conomics emer"ed in the latter hal. o. the 10
century durin" a time o. "reat social
chan"e and scienti.ic disco,eries. Science brou"ht with it the potential .or new
technolo"ies and impro,ed 6uality o. li.e* particularly in a material sense. And the result
was a con.lict between lar"er social "oals and the ability o. indi,iduals to "ain material
security. The .irst 6uestions addressed by economics were moral 6uestions re"ardin" the
ri"hts o. the indi,idual to material "ains ,ersus the "reater social "ood. Thus the notion
o. the <in,isible hand*> by which marets "uide indi,idual beha,ior to achie,e the
common "ood* emer"ed. $conomics was one o. the .irst e4amples o. transdisciplinary
scholarship in which social science and scienti.ic pro"ress were e4amined to"ether to
"ain a better understandin" o. the .unctionin" o. the system o. e4chan"in" "oods and
ser,ices. $colo"ical economics has its roots in classical economic theory but did not
emer"e as a separate discipline until the late !2
century when the de,elopment o.
ecolo"ical theory .lourished.
The wor o. Thomas Malthus and %a,id Cicardo* both o.
whom su""ested limited resources and limited 6uality a"ricultural land would set limits
on the human population* mar the be"innin" o. an alternati,e ,iew o. economics which
e,entually e,ol,ed into ecolo"ical economics. In the mid711
Century John Stuart Mill
ar"ued that the economy had to be based on rules or property use and a sense o. social
responsibility that .a,ored the common "ood. Karl Mar4 added to the debate by
critici8in" capitalism .or the accumulation o. land and capital by a small .raction o. the
population. 9. Stanley Je,ons was one o. the .irst economists to reco"ni8e the role o.
ener"y in the economy. Also in the later 11
Century* the science o. ecolo"y emer"ed
with $rnst Aaecel pro,idin" the .irst de.inition in 10/2. $colo"y emer"ed as a practical
science in the .irst two decades o. the !2
Century. Both ecolo"ical systems and the
interaction o. humans with ecolo"ical systems were addressed* particularly the
interaction o. the economy with nature. In the 11!2s Lota was the .irst to
inte"rate ecolo"y and economics in a scienti.ic manner* ar"uin" that nothin" could be
understood without understandin" the entire system o. biotic and abiotic components*
includin" those produced by humans. Based on the wor o. Lota and others* Arthur C.
Pi"ou articulated the concept o. e4ternalities* .orces that are e4ternal to marets and do
not a..ect how they operate* but ha,e impacts on society and nature. The lo"ic o.
e4ploitation o. resources was e4plained by Aoward Aotellin" and the conditions under
which conser,ation or depletion would occur. The .ollowin" para"raphs pro,ide a more
detailed e4planation o. the wor o. these ey .i"ures in the history o. ecolo"ical
economics* alon" with brie. description o. the wor o. ey contemporary .i"ures in the
e,olution o. ecolo"ical economics such as Kenneth Bouldin"* Aerman %aly* and Cobert
The A)-ent of Econo*ics1 A)a* S*ith >&C%7/&CDE?
Adam Smith* who was a moral philosopher* is "enerally considered to be the .ounder o.
modern economics and was the ori"inator o. the <in,isible hand> metaphor about how
marets .unction. The ey ethical 6uestion he attempted to address was whether or not
indi,idual "reed could be in the best interest o. society. Ae reasoned that i. two
indi,iduals main" a transaction were .ully in.ormed o. the conse6uences o. their
decisions* then both would be better o.. because both were achie,in" a desired outcome.
Thus the <in,isible hand> was posited to be in the bac"round* an e4tension o. the
Almi"hty* "uidin" the economic system .or the "ood o. society. Althou"h Adam Smith
was a moral philosopher* his concept o. economics made morality less important as
indi,iduals were .ree to pursue their "reed. An impro,ed materials well7bein" had an
important ne"ati,e e..ect* the detachment o. indi,iduals .rom their supportin"
communities. Prior to this era the indi,idual depended on community and their
relationships with others in the community .or their sur,i,al. 9ith the ad,ent o.
essentially unbridled pursuit o. indi,idual well7bein" and 6uality o. li.e* community
relationships were less important. And with the breadown o. these relationships came
the breadown o. humanityDs relationship with nature because the pursuit o. wealth
permitted the e4ploitation o. e,erythin" needed to increase wealth and material
At the start o. the !1
Century the sustainability .ramewor is still stri,in" to reinstate
nature and community as ,ital lins to 6uality o. li.e and community.
Ca,,yin+ Ca(acity1 Tho*as R3 althus >&CBB/&F7:?
Another important .i"ure in early economic thinin" was Thomas C. Malthus who .or the
.irst time su""ested that .amine and war were not the result o. %i,ine pro,idence* but
could instead be traced to human beha,ior and thinin". Ais basic ar"ument was that
human population could not continue to increase at an e4ponential rate because .ood and
other items needed .or human sur,i,al would 6uicly pro,e to be inade6uate to support a
lar"e and rapidly "rowin" human population. $,en thou"h he assumed that the .ood
supply could be e4panded somewhat* he su""ested that due to technolo"ical ad,ances*
the supply could only "row arithmetically* unable to eep up with the e4ponential
e4pansion o. human numbers. The end result would be wars o,er .ood and other
resources and the human population would be .orced to shrin until it could be supported
by a,ailable resources. MalthusD model has ne,er been .ully demonstrated on a "lobal
basis but there ha,e been se,eral re"ional e4amples where population outstripped the
resource base and went throu"h a period o. decline. The (reat Aun"er in Ireland in the
10&2s and the ci,il war in Cwanda in the late 1102s were at least in part due to
o,erpopulation and local .ood shorta"es. Ais model in.luenced the de,elopment o.
economic theory H .or e4ample* John Maynard Keynes used it to e4plain the rise and .all
o. the business cycle and the control o. product in,entories. MalthusD model is important
.rom a sustainability perspecti,e because it emphasi8es the .inite si8e o. the earth* its
limited resources* and the impacts o. population and consumption on the planetDs health.
It also introduced the concept o. carryin" capacity .or the .irst time* still an important
concept that is central to the sustainability concept.
Resou,ce 2uality1 Da-i) Rica,)o >&CC%/&F%7?
%a,id Cicardo introduced another model o. economic system beha,ior that related to the
en,ironment. Ais model was an attempt to 5usti.y how landowners recei,ed a WrentD or
income .rom land ownership due to the ,alue o. the crops "rown on the land. Ae
modeled how the more .ertile and ,aluable land would be .armed .irst and recei,e a
hi"her rent because it could produce the most output .or the least labor input. Less
producti,e land that would be .armed later as ,aluable land was depleted would re6uire
.ar more labor and there would be less o. a mar"in between the rent and the ,alue o. the
crops. The model showed how increasin" population would .orce people to .arm in less
.a,orable areas* and how pre,iously undisturbed land would be e,entually .armed. It also
pro,ided insi"hts into how technolo"y such as pesticides and .ertili8ers would e,entually
be needed to maintain production to 5usti.y the rents. Ais wor showed how chan"es in
.ood prices could lead to new .arms* .arm .ailures* and the .armin" o. mar"inal land. It
also described the interplay between population "rowth and .ood prices* and the role o.
ecolo"ical systems in human sur,i,al. CicardoDs wor also .oreshadowed the con.lict
between neoclassical economics* which lar"ely i"nored the role o. ecolo"ical systems in
the economic system* and ecolo"ical economics .or which nature and the en,ironment
are central to a healthy economy. It also set up the battle between the unlimited
economic "rowth mindset o. con,entional economic thiners and the .inite planet and
resource assumptions built into ecolo"ical economics. 9hile Malthus su""ested the
concept o. carryin" capacity* Cicardo carried this thinin" a step .urther by su""estin"
that the ne4t a,ailable resources would be o. lower 6uality. The result o. their 5oint wor
was the labelin" o. economics as the <dismal science.>
The Stea)y State1 6ohn Stua,t ill >&FEB/&FC7?
The son o. social philosopher James Mill* John Stuart Mill was one o. the early
economists. Ais notion was that the common "ood was o. the utmost importance and that
the economy had to be based on rules o. property use and social responsibility. Ae also
belie,ed that material prosperity should not be an end in itsel. and that continuous "rowth
in material well7bein" was impossible. Ae understood that natural capital had to be
protected and that humans had to mind.ul about con,ertin" natural capital into .inancial
or manu.actured capital. Ae also ar"ued .or the protection o. biodi,ersity and su""ested
that a steady7state economy was possible in which the economy stopped "rowin" and the
e4traction o. natural capital was maintained at a le,el consistent with the ability o. nature
to pro,ide renewable resources. The notion o. a steady7state economy was later
elaborated by Aerman %aly in the 1102s. Mill was also concerned with the social ills o.
the time* particularly the sub5u"ation o. women* considerin" it to be both immoral and an
enormous waste o. talent. Ais wor and thinin" .oreshadowed the current concept o.
sustainability as the balancin" o. $arthDs natural* social and economic systems.
O8ne,shi( of Resou,ces1 "a,l a,0 >&F&F/&FF7?
Karl Mar4 is best nown .or his many criti6ues o. capitalism and one o. the issues he
addressed in these criti6ues was resource ownership and resource distribution. Mar4
su""ested that the concentration o. capital in the hands o. the .ew was not sustainable and
would ha,e conse6uences* the ultimate conse6uence bein" the decay o. capitalism. 'ne
o. his ma5or contributions to economic theory was the &abor Theory of @alue in which he
ar"ued that the ,alue o. commodities was tied to the ,alue o. the labor needed to produce
them. Contrary to popular belie. he did not belie,e that labor was the only ,alue. Mar4
noted that nature was also an important source o. ,alue- <Labor is not the source o. all
wealth. @ature is 5ust as much a source o. use ,alues :and it is surely o. such that material
wealth consists^; as labor which is itsel. only the mani.estation o. a .orce o. nature*
human labor power.>
Ae wrote that one o. the conse6uences o. misdistribution o.
resources would be poor .armers worin" the property o. rich land owners* without any
moti,ation to tend to the lon" term health o. the land because it was not theirs. The
landowner would then ha,e to in,est considerable resources to monitor the .armer* either
e4pendin" their own time or di,ertin" mana"ement resources to ensure the producti,ity
o. the property is maintained. Mar4 maintained that .or there to be social 5ustice* the
e6uitable distribution o. resources must be considered to be ,ery important* both initially
and in the allocation o. resources o,er time.
Resou,ce Sca,city1 !3 Stanley 6e-ons >&F7A/&FF%?
9. Stanley Je,ons is an important .i"ure in the emer"ence o. ecolo"ical economics
because o. his reco"nition o. the critical importance o. ener"y in the economy. In 10+)
Je,ons wrote the The Coal Iuestion which drew attention to the "radual e4haustion o.
BritainDs ener"y supplies in the .orm o. coal. It was in this wor that he coined the phrase
#e$ons5 Parado* :also called the #e$ons Effect;. $n"landDs increased consumption o. coal
a.ter the introduction o. James 9attDs more e..icient coal7.ired steam en"ine led to an
increase :rather than a decrease; in the rate o. consumption o. coal. In e..ect* the Parado4
called attention to the counter7intuiti,e result that increasin" the e..iciency o. resource
use can lead to its accelerated depletion. This phenomenon is now called the rebound
effect and it has been obser,ed in the increased consumption o. "asoline due to the
introduction o. hi"hly .uel e..icient hybrid cars.
Some research indicates that one o. the
.orces dri,in" the increase in the si8e o. the American home has been impro,ements in
heatin"* coolin"* and li"htin" technolo"ies which permit the operation o. a lar"er house
at relati,ely low cost. Althou"h Je,onsD Parado4 and the rebound e..ect ha,e been
applied to ener"y resources* it is thou"h that the "eneral e..ect also "o,erns
impro,ements in the e..icient use o. resources in "eneral.
The E*e,+ence of Ecolo+y1 E,nst Haec5el >&F7:/&D&D?
$rnst Aaecel is credited with coinin" and de.inin" the concept o. ecology in 10++- <By
ecolo"y we mean the body o. nowled"e concernin" the economy o. natureTthe
in,esti"ation o. the total relations o. the animal both to its inor"anic and to its or"anic
en,ironment includin" abo,e all* its .riendly and inimical relations with those animals
and plants with which it comes directly or indirectly into contactTin a word* ecolo"y is
the study o. all those comple4 interrelations re.erred to by %arwin as the conditions o.
the stru""le .or e4istence.> Aaecel noted that ecolo"y is the study o. the economy o.
nature* while economics was the study o. the ecolo"y o. humans. Uarious de.initions o.
ecolo"y e,ol,ed o,er time* with the e,entual .ocus bein" on the relationships o.
or"anisms to their en,ironment. Aaecel* a trained physician who abandoned his practice
in 10)1 and later became a pro.essor o. comparati,e anatomy in 10+!* was also .amous
.or ha,in" disco,ered* described* and named thousands o. new species* mappin" a
"enealo"ical tree relatin" all li.e .orms* and coinin" many popular terms in biolo"y still
in use today.
Syste*s Thin5in+1 Alf,e) Lot5a >&FFE/&D:D? Lota had a broad ran"e o. interests includin" chemistry* physics* biolo"y and
economics and is primarily nown today .or .ormulatin" the Lota7Uolterra e6uations o.
population dynamics* also nown as the predator7prey e6uations.
These e6uations* a
pair o. .irst7order* non7linear* di..erential e6uations* were introduced by Lota in order to
describe the dynamics o. biolo"ical systems in which two species interact3 Ae was the
.irst o. his time to attempt to inte"rate ecolo"ical and economic systems in 6uantitati,e
and mathematical terms. Ais ,iew o. the world as biotic and abiotic components actin"
as a system* where e,erythin" was lined to"ether and nothin" could be understood
without an understandin" o. the whole system* in.luenced both ecolo"ists and economists
o. his time. Lota is also well nown .or his de,elopment o. systems criteria to dri,e
e,olution* also called LotaDs ener"y principle or LotaDs power principle* statin" that
systems sur,i,e by ma4imi8in" their ener"y .low. Accordin" to Lota* <The principle o.
natural selection re,eals itsel. as capable o. yieldin" in.ormation which the .irst and
second laws o. thermodynamics are not competent to .urnish. The two .undamental laws
o. thermodynamics are* o. course* insu..icient to determine the course o. e,ents in a
physical system. They tell us that certain thin"s cannot happen* but they do not tell us
what does happen.> Aoward T. 'dum* a systems ecolo"ist* used LotaDs wor to
de,elop The Ma4imum Power Principle which 'dum and others claimed was essentially
the Fourth Law o. Thermodynamics. LotaDs ener"y principle .oreshadowed the
de,elopment o. "eneral systems theory as well as the later reinte"ration o. ecolo"y and
a,5et Failu,e1 A3C3 Pi+ou >&FCC/&DAD?
A.C. Pi"ou is best nown .or his wor with wel.are economics. Ais 1ealth and 1elfare*
published in 111!* drew attention to wel.are economics and con,eyed his perception that
"o,ernments could internali8e e4ternalities throu"h implementin" a combination o. ta4es
and subsidies in order to correct maret .ailures. Pi"ouDs wor is described below in the
section* Shi.tin" the Burden- Internali8in" the $4ternalities.
The Efficient Use of Resou,ces o-e, Ti*e1 Ha,ol) Hotellin+ >&FDA/&DC7?
Aarold Aotellin" was a mathematical statistician who de,eloped a model that e4amined
and described the conditions "o,ernin" resource conser,ation or depletion. Ae was
particularly interested in what he called e*haustible or non-renewable resources.
Aotellin" described a situation where an owner o. land containin" mineral resources
could choose either to mine the resource or to lea,e it in the "round to be mined in the
.uture. For a rational owner* the decision o. when to mine is a .unction o. the ban
interest rate ,ersus the appreciation o. the resource. I. the percei,ed appreciation in the
,alue o. the resource is "reater than the interest rate* the prudent owner would choose to
lea,e the resource in the "round. Similarly i. the interest rate was thou"ht to be "reater
than the .orecasted appreciation rate* the owner would liely mine the resource and put
the money in the ban. For renewable resources Aotellin"Ds model describes a similar
scenario. For low interest rates* owners o. a renewable resource such as trees in a .orest
would increase the rate o. har,est as the interest rate increases. At some point the rate o.
har,est* dri,en by increasin" interest rates* will e4ceed the re"eneration rate o. the .orest*
resultin" in its decline. Clearly the e4pected interest rate and e4pected .uture price o. a
resource are crucial in decipherin" how biolo"ical resources should be mana"ed. Ai"h
interest rates may lead to depletion and the loss o. biodi,ersity while low interest rates
.a,or a conser,ation strate"y. Accordin" to Aotellin"Ds model* a species that is not
"eneratin" a .low o. ser,ices at a rate "reater than the rate o. interest <should> be
depleted. This raised 6uestions amon" many economists as the concept o. e4tinction is
certainly a hi"hly contro,ersial outcome. The debate o,er the impact o. capital maret
strate"ies on resource depletion continues as does the role o. discount rates in decisions
about resource conser,ation ,ersus har,estin".
Ene,+etics an) Syste*s1 $eo,+escu/Roe+en >&DEB/&DD:?
(eor"escu7Coe"en is best nown .or his contribution to ecolo"ical economics throu"h
his ma"num opus* The Entropy &aw and the Economic Process :11/1;. (eor"escu7
Coe"en claimed* based on the Second Law o. Thermodynamics* that the economy .aces
limits to "rowth* an assault on one o. the ey tenets o. neoclassical economics. By
sub5ectin" the economy to the constraints posed by the Second Law* he challen"ed the
assumption o. unlimited economic "rowth* deemin" it impossible based on the laws o.
physics. Ais insi"hts "a,e birth to a new discipline called e$olutionary economics* a
school o. thou"ht inspired by e,olutionary biolo"y* which stressed comple4
interdependencies and resource constraints.
S(aceshi( Ea,th1 "enneth Boul)in+
The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth :11++; by Kenneth Bouldin" described a
shi.t in thinin" about human wel.are.
In this paper Bouldin" contrasted the <cowboy
economy> which ,iews the economy as e4istin" in an open and unlimited system* to the
starer reality o. a <spaceman economy> in which the economy resides in a closed
system* similar to a spaceship. In the cowboy economy* consumption and production are
"ood* resources are unlimited* and success is measured by throu"hput* that is* the "reater
the rate o. consumption and production* the more success.ul the approach. In the cowboy
economy* the concept o. (ross %omestic Product :(%P; measures throu"hput* unable to
discern the conse6uences o. resource depletion and waste "eneration. For e4ample* the
$44on Ualde8 disaster in March 1101 resulted in an oil spill o. 11 million "allons which
contaminated 1*#22 miles o. coastline. The cleanup cost o. F1.# billion increased (%P
by that amount. In the spaceship model* the planet is .inite* resources are limited* and the
waste resultin" .rom production and consumption a..ects li.e and health. In the latter
metaphor the $arth is liened to a spaceship with humanity as the crew* the only
resources are those onboard* and any waste will a..ect the occupants unless recycled into
use.ul products. Bouldin"Ds thinin" which emphasi8es an economy powered by
renewable ener"y* materials .rom renewable resources and recyclin"* and the care.ul
consideration o. the impacts o. waste* has become an important aspect o. ecolo"ical
E*e,+ence of Ecolo+ical Econo*ics1 He,*an Daly >&D7F / ?
Perhaps Aerman %alyDs most reco"ni8ed contribution to ecolo"ical economics is his
Steady State Economics :11/#; which acnowled"ed that the earth is materially .inite and
the economy is a subset o. this .inite system. %aly also .urther e4panded the transition in
the concept o. economics by discussin" economics as a li.e science rather than a physical
science. This .undamental chan"e in the perception o. what economics entails led to a
new perspecti,e re"ardin" resource conser,ation and biolo"ical conser,ation.
#aluin+ Natu,e1 Robe,t Costan=a >&DAE / ?
Cobert Costan8a is well nown in the .ield o. ecolo"ical economics .or his wor .ocusin"
on the inter.ace between ecolo"ical and economic systems. Ais research e4pands on this
inter.ace at lar"er temporal and spatial scale and includes landscape le,el spatial
simulation modelin"* analysis o. ener"y and material .lows throu"h economic and
ecolo"ical systems* ,aluation o. ecosystem ser,ices* biodi,ersity* and natural capital* and
analysis o. dys.unctional incenti,e systems and ways to correct them. Throu"hout his
publications Costan8a discussed the local politics o. "lobal sustainability and outlined
"oals* a"enda and policy recommendations .or ecolo"ical economics. 'ne o. his main
e..orts has been to encoura"e the inte"ration o. the natural and social sciences amon"
decision maers.
$colo"ical economics is a transdisciplinary .ield that draws .rom neoclassical economics*
ecolo"y* and physics. Conse6uently the still emer"in" theory o. ecolo"ical economics
re.lects the in.luence o. these .ields. ?nlie neoclassical economics which treats the
en,ironment as an e4ternal .actor o. production* with unlimited resources and in.inite
waste assimilation capacity* ecolo"ical economics maes natural systems the central
issue o. economics* with particular emphasis on the limits to natureDs producti,ity and its
ability to absorb the debris .rom human production and consumption. It addresses the
,alue o. nature to the economy by ,irtue o. the wide ran"e o. essentially .ree ser,ices
pro,ided by nature. It also e4amines the connections o. en,ironment and economy to
carryin" capacity* health* biodi,ersity* po,erty* population* and 6uality o. li.e* to name
but a .ew. The .ollowin" para"raphs describe the theory and ma5or principles that are
part o. the .abric o. ecolo"ical economics.
The $lobal Ecosyste* an) the Econo*ic Syste*
A "ood startin" point .or rethinin" economic theory to ali"n it with sustainability* is the
reality that the economy does not e4ist as an independent* open system 5ust with
production inputs and product outputs. The economy resides in a system* the $arth*
which is lar"ely closed e4cept .or solar ener"y and some incomin" matter in the .orm o.
meteors and other space debris. All o. the matter and most o. the ener"y that are inputs
to the neoclassical blac bo4 model o. the economy come .rom the "lobal ecosystem and
e,en the wor.orce .actor o. production is totally dependent on the health and
producti,ity o. nature. The depletion o. resources and "eneration o. waste .rom
e4traction o. resources* disposal o. waste and end o. li.e products* ener"y and chemical
intensi,e a"riculture* and the emissions .rom power production and .actories all de"rade
natural capital. The main acti,ity o. the economy is the trans.ormation o. the earth and
natural production by its inputs and outputs. And as currently operated the economy is
not capable o. preser,in" intact the producti,ity o. nature. %e"radation o. natural capital
can only lead to hi"her costs .or capitalism and reduced pro.its. The economyDs
de"radation o. its own means o. production is clearly a contradiction because it cannot
"row .ore,er while destroyin" ey inputs. In his boo* The Enemy of .ature% The End of
Capitalism or the End of the 1orld?* Joel Ko,el describes an ecolo"ical crisis resultin"
.rom the economyDs de"radation o. its own conditions o. production at an e,er increasin"
scale. Ae notes that* MThis de"radation will ha,e a contradictory e..ect on pro.itability
itsel....either directly* by so .oulin" the natural "round o. production that it breas down*
or indirectly* throu"h the reinternali8ation o. the costs that had been e4pelled into the
Aerman %aly describes this contradiction by contrastin" the $mpty 9orld ,ersus the Full
9orld model. In the $mpty 9orld* the economy is relati,ely small and it resides in the
"lobal ecosystem with relati,ely small e..ects* creatin" what economists call wel.are or
6uality o. li.e .or people. As the economy "rows it occupies more and more o. the "lobal
ecosystem until it reaches the physical limits o. resources and waste disposal* the result
bein" that production drops o.. and wel.are decreases. The problem posed by ecolo"ical
economics is how to determine the scale o. the economy relati,e to the "lobal ecosystem
such that wel.are is ma4imi8ed.
Natu,al Ca(ital an) Substitutability
In neoclassical economics* capital is one o. se,eral .actors o. production* the others bein"
labor* land* or"ani8ation* and mana"ement. Capital is not 5ust money but also .actories*
machinery and in.rastructure. In the past se,eral decades the notion o. capital has
e,ol,ed to include human capital* social capital* and cultural capital. $colo"ical
economics adds a .orm o. capital to economics that was not pre,iously considered*
namely natural capital. @atural capital can be de.ined as any stoc o. natural resources or
en,ironmental assets* such as oceans* .orests or a"ricultural land* that yields a .low o.
use.ul "oods and ser,ices now and in the .uture. 'ne o. the problems .or the concept o.
natural capital is that* unlie the other .orms o. capital used in production* it has no
monetary ,alue. As noted earlier* in 111/* a "roup led by Cobert Costan8a attempted a
,aluation o. the "lobal ecosystem and concluded that the ,alue o. the ser,ices pro,ided
by natural systems was about F## trillion. Aal. o. the ,alue went to nutrient cyclin". The
open oceans* continental shel,es* and estuaries had the hi"hest total ,alue* and the
hi"hest per7hectare ,alues went to estuaries* swampsG.loodplains* and sea"rassGal"ae
Clearly natural capital does ha,e ,alue but the 6uestion o. how much o. this critical asset
must be maintained is a di..icult and unresol,ed 6uestion. In addressin" this issue* there
are two e4treme points o. ,iew. At one pole is 9ea Sustainability* the pro,ince o.
neoclassical economics* whose adherents su""est there are substitutes .or natural capital
and that what is important is to maintain the combined total stoc o. human7made and
natural capital. At the other pole is Stron" Sustainability whose proponents ar"ue that
other .orms o. capital cannot replace natural capital and that* e,en more importantly*
some .orms o. natural capital are critical and truly irreplaceable. The o8one layer
protectin" the $arth .rom ultra,iolet li"ht is an e4ample o. what may be called critical
natural capital. Conse6uently proponents o. Stron" Sustainability ad,ocate that the stoc
o. natural capital must be maintained and must not be de"raded.
The issue o. substitutability o. physical capital .or natural capital is an important issue
ecolo"ical economics. @eoclassical economics su""ests that the substitution o. one .orm
o. capital .or another is doable* .or e4ample natural resource assets can be replaced with
produced assets* such as human and physical capital* on a dollar .or dollar basis.
Aowe,er natural capital is not only a .actor o. production in an economic sense* it also is
o.ten the ,ery basis o. societies and the well7bein" o. the society. The loss o. natural
capital* .or e4ample an entire ecosystem* surely cannot be made up with an increase in
physical capital. A"riculturally producti,e prime .armland displaced by de,elopment
and co,ered with buildin"s and in.rastructure has no real substitutes that are not
e4tremely costly and ener"y intensi,e. Some .orms o. natural capital are indeed critical
and it would be prudent .or society to hed"e its bets by implementin" policies that are
,ery protecti,e o. all natural systems. As Cobert Costan8a and Aerman %aly noted* <A
minimum necessary condition .or sustainability is the maintenance o. the total natural
capital stoc at or abo,e the current le,el. 9hile a lower stoc o. natural capital may be
sustainable* society can allow no .urther decline in natural capital "i,en the lar"e
uncertainty and the dire conse6uences o. "uessin" wron". This Wconstancy o. total
natural capitalD rule can thus be seen as a prudent minimal condition .or assurin"
sustainability* to be rela4ed only when solid e,idence can be o..ered that it is sa.e to do
The Scale of the Econo*y an) Ca,,yin+ Ca(acity
The si8e o. the economy directly a..ects the "lobal en,ironment and ecosystems because
,irtually all the materials and ener"y resources needed .or economic production ha,e
their ori"ins in nature or in "eolo"ic structures which underlie and support natural
systems. In "eneral* the rate o. destruction o. natural systems and structures is directly
proportional to the scale o. the economy* the lar"er scale* the "reater the mass o.
materials mo,ement. %eterminin" the upper boundary o. the si8e o. the economy is an
important issue .or ecolo"ical economics because at some point the natural systems
which support li.e may be so se,erely impacted that the deli,ery o. important ser,ices
such as clean air* potable water* and .ood may be compromised. 9hen the scale o. the
economy is bein" addressed* the scale o. the human population is also an important issue
because more people place more demand on resources. The $arthOs human population
carryin" capacity* .irst addressed by Thomas Malthus* is a central concern o. ecolo"ical
economics because* by de.inition* e4ceedin" this limit indicates the onset o. se,ere
destruction o. natural systems* not to mention se,ere conse6uences .or humanity.
A "ood inde4 o. the scale o. human impact on nature is the percenta"e o. photosynthetic
production that has been appropriated .or human use. The term* net primary production
:@PP;* can be used to help determine the scale o. these impacts. @PP is the amount o.
solar ener"y captured by primary producers* less that used in their "rowth and
reproduction. Accordin" to a 110+ study led by Peter Uitouse* humans were
appropriatin" about !)R o. total @PP :includes both terrestrial and a6uatic production;.
'. the terrestrial @PP* humans were appropriatin" about &2R o. the total production.
Since the appropriation o. @PP is liely proportional to population* with one doublin" o.
the then human population o. &.1 billion* almost all the terrestrial @PP would be used by
one species* humans.
9hen world population reaches /.2 billion the liely human
appropriation o. terrestrial @PP will be about +2R. The problem o. course is that no one
can predict the conse6uences o. this cooption on "lobal ecosystems. Aowe,er* it is liely
that the di,ersion o. terrestrial and a6uatic resources .or human use is contributin" to the
widespread e4tinction o. species and "enetically distinct populations* and the "enetic
impo,erishment o. many others. It should be noted that @PP appropriation is
proportional to per capita income* with richer countries consumin" .ar more @PP per
capita than poorer countries.
Aumans are also appropriatin" enormous 6uantities o. the natural .low o. water on the
planet .or their uses* much o. it connected to the economy. In 111+* a research pro5ect
led by Sandra Postel .ound that total sustainable potable water a,ailable to the earthDs
land mass was about 112*222 m
* comprised o. /2*222 m
o. e,apotranspiration :$T;
by plants and &2*222 m
o. runo.. :C;. '. the C portion* only 1!*)22 m
is actually
a,ailable :AC; .or human use due to temporal and "eo"raphic .actors. At the time o. the
research it was .ound that humans were appropriatin" !+R o. $T and )&R o. AC .or
their own uses* or about #2R o. all the potable water powered by the natural water cycle.
Because water consumption is rou"hly proportional to population it is liely that at
present &2R o. $T and +2R o. AC are bein" used to meet human needs.
@on7renewable resources are ey in"redients o. the human economy* .rom .ossil .uels
such as coal* oil* and natural "as to metals such as iron* copper* and aluminum. Some
non7renewables are indeed bein" re"enerated* but at a rate so slow that .or all practical
purposes the re"eneration rate is 8ero. Fossil .uels are an e4ample o. this latter case.
@on7renewable resources are all dwindlin" and as the rich deposits are depleted* e,er
more ener"y is re6uired to remo,e more dilute* lower concentrated* and distant deposits.
The e4traction o. iron ore* .or e4ample* re6uires the remo,al o. o,erburden and the
e4traction o. the roc containin" the iron ore. As the rich deposits o. iron ore are
e4ploited* the remainin" sources ha,e lower concentrations o. ore* re6uirin" e,en more
o,erburden and roc remo,al. A concentration o. 2.1R iron ore re6uires 12 times more
materials mo,ement than a deposit with a concentration o. 1.2R iron ore. Thus the
combination o. economic "rowth and the e4haustion o. hi"h concentration deposits
results in an e4ponential rise in materials mo,ement and natural system destruction. The
phenomenon o. mass materials mo,ement to e4tract non7renewable resources is
sometimes re.erred to as the ecological rucksack. The ecolo"ical rucsac o. a material
is de.ined as the total mass o. materials mo,ement re6uired to obtain a unit mass o. the
material. For e4ample* the ecolo"ical rucsac o. aluminum is 0) because 0) ilo"rams
o. materials must be e4tracted and processed to produce 1 ilo"ram o. aluminum. In
comparison the ecolo"ical rucsac o. recycled aluminum is #.) while that o. "old
e4tracted .rom ores is #)2*222.
Cenewable resources are also inputs to the economy and the desired utili8ation o. these
resources to maintain a sustainable economy is to e4tract them at a rate that is e6ual to
the re"eneration rate o. the resource. Sustainable .orestry* .or e4ample* relies on "ood
mana"ement practices in which wood is e4tracted .rom the .orest not only at its
re"eneration rate* but also in a manner that will not cause dama"e to the ecosystems o.
which the .orest is a part. Sir John Aics* a winner o. the @obel Pri8e in economics*
de.ined sustainable income* sometimes re.erred to as ,icksian Income* as the ma4imum
amount that can be produced and consumed in the present without comprisin" the ability
to do liewise in the .uture. Ae speci.ically de.ined sustainable income as the ma4imum
amount that a person or a nation could consume o,er some time period and still be as
well o.. at the end o. the period as they were at the be"innin".
9hen applied to
renewable resources this could be interpreted as usin" the surplus or interest o. the
natural system* rather than consumin" the core o. the natural system itsel..
'. course the economy consumes both renewable and non7renewable resources and by
de.inition non7renewable resources are bein" depleted while renewable resources* with
sustainable mana"ement can be consumed inde.initely. In the conte4t o. sustainability*
there are practical and ethical 6uestions about the consumption o. non7renewable
resources in the sense that* once consumed* they are una,ailable .or .uture "enerations.
$,en with a""ressi,e recyclin" pro"rams* non7renewable resources are lost in each cycle
o. recyclin"* dissipatin" into the en,ironment at their bac"round concentration. J.
Aartwic su""ested that some o. the income .rom the sale o. non7renewable resources
should be in,ested in the e4pansion o. renewable resources.
This is commonly
For e4ample* a country such as Saudi Arabia with lar"e deposits o. oil* could in,est some
o. the income .rom its sale into the education o. its citi8ens* thus creatin" a renewable
resource* an educated population that can de,elop a di,erse economy to substitute .or one
based on a .inite resource.
Shiftin+ the Bu,)en1 Inte,nali=in+ the E0te,nalities
Production produces pollution and waste* almost always with ne"ati,e and o.ten
unintended and initially unnown conse6uences .or people and the en,ironment. Air*
water* and solid emissions a..ect health and contribute to the de"radation o. ecosystems.
@eoclassical economics presumes that the "lobal WcommonsD are .ree with respect to
emissions and waste and thus they are not .actored into the cost o. production. In
ecolo"ical economics these emissions are o.ten re.erred to as e*ternalities or ne"ati,e
impacts o. an acti,ity on a third7party without compensatin" them. In a broader sense
e4ternalities can impact ecosystems as well* .or e4ample the de"radation o. .orests by
acid rain. ?ntil relati,ely recently* companies were unconcerned about their dischar"es*
their waste disposal* or the conse6uences on communities or ecosystems. Auman history
is littered with e4amples o. this pattern o. beha,ior* .rom the Lo,e Canal in @ew 3or
where !1*222 tons o. buried to4ic chemicals which were disco,ered in the late 11/2s* to
the Bhopal accident in which +*222 people were illed in India in the 1102s* the $44on
Ualde8 accident o. 1101 which caused untold dama"e to the ecosystems o. Prince
9illiam Sound in Alasa* not to mention past episodes with %%T* PCBs* and a wide
,ariety o. other to4ic chemicals. And o. course there is the continuin" problem o. routine
emissions o. sulphur dio4ide* particulates* and nitrous o4ides .rom coal7burnin" power
plants* radioacti,e waste .rom nuclear power plants* and chemicals .rom .actories*
wastewater treatment plants* metal platin" operations* steel mills* paper pulp plants* and a
host o. other sources.
The problem with e4ternalities is how to compensate those ne"ati,ely impacted by
emissions. The problem o. how to 6uanti.y all the social costs o. the e4ternalities o. an
acti,ity such as a petrochemical plant is a di..icult one as is how to compensate those
a..ected. Cesearch on emissions pro,ides some insi"ht into determinin" health costs*
dama"e to in.rastructure and buildin"s* .orests* and other systems a..ected by the
emissions. The problem o. determinin" the le,el o. compensation .or people a..ected by
e4ternalities can at least to some de"ree be 6uanti.ied and the costs o. a unit o. emissions
can be determined. Con,erted into a ta4 or .ee* the e4ternalities can internali0ed* that is*
included in the cost o. production.
Ta4es that attempt to internali8e e4ternalities are
sometimes re.erred to as Pigou$ian Ta*es* a.ter A.C. Pi"ou. Ae de.ined an e4ternality as
a phenomenon that is e4ternal to marets and hence does not a..ect how marets operate
when in .act it should. Pi"ou su""ested that by internali8in" pre,iously e4ternal costs*
that is* main" them a..ect how the marets operate* the e4ternal costs could be
compensated .or. For e4ample* in the case o. a coal7.ired power plant* its emissions
could be ta4ed and the resultin" re,enue could be used to restore dama"ed .orests and
compensate those whose health has been a..ected. Pi"ou also su""ested that the ,alue o.
biodi,ersity could be protected since it is not included in the maret si"nals that "uide the
economic decisions o. producers and consumers. 'ne proposal re"ardin" how to protect
the ,alue o. critical natural resources has been to desi"nate responsibility and ri"hts o.
these resources to pri,ate parties. The potential problem with this su""estion is that in
some circumstances it may encoura"e indi,iduals to char"e consumers hi"her prices in
order to "enerate money that would be directed to the conser,ation o. the resource. In
other circumstances char"in" too little would result in inade6uate .or protectin" the
resource. This could then actually ccelerate the deterioration or e,en e4tinction o. certain
resources rather than the conser,ation o. them unless other controls are placed on
resource use. Furthermore* because there is no ne"ati,e rein.orcement in the .orm o.
ta4es o. penalties .or the depletion o. a resource or species* there is no disincenti,e .or
consumption. By placin" an economic ,alue on species and a..ectin" current maret
si"nals* the loss in biodi,ersity could be decreased. Ualuation o. ecosystems and
biodi,ersity could pro,e to be a bene.icial tool in encoura"in" people to protect these
natural assets by assessin" the costs and bene.its o. de,elopment.
The Pollute, Pays P,inci(le
The Polluter Pays Principle :PPP; is simple in concept and s6uarely addresses the
problem o. how to internali8e e4ternalities by re6uirin" that the costs o. pollution be
borne by those who cause it. PPP was ori"inally aimed at determinin" how the costs o.
pollution pre,ention and control should be allocated based on the concept that those
causin" the impacts should pay to compensate those impacted by their acti,ities. Its
immediate "oal is internali8in" the en,ironmental e4ternalities o. economic acti,ities and
ensurin" the prices o. "oods and ser,ices .ully re.lect the costs o. production. Bu""e
:111+; identi.ied .our di..erent interpretations o. the PPP-
1. the PPP as an economic principleL a principle o. e..iciencyL
!. the PPP as a le"al principleL a principle o. 5ust distribution o. costsL
#. the PPP as a principle o. international harmoni8ation o. national
en,ironmental policyL and
&. the PPP as principle o. allocation o. costs between states.
In its interpretation as an economic principle* the purpose o. the PPP is to reduce
pollution by internali8in" its social costs. The pollution char"es could also be seen in the
conte4t o. the PPP as a le"al principle in which the costs o. pollution are e..iciently and
5ustly allocated amon" those causin" the pollution and redistributed to those a..ected by
The scope o. the PPP has e,ol,ed o,er time to include accidental pollution* control and
clean7up costs* in what is re.erred to as the e*tended Polluter Pays Principle. Today the
PPP is a "enerally reco"ni8ed principle o. International $n,ironmental Law* and it is a
.undamental principle o. en,ironmental policy o. both the 'r"anisation .or $conomic
Co7operation and %e,elopment :'$C%; and the $uropean ?nion.
The PPP is "enerally implemented throu"h command7and7control and maret7based
approaches. Command7and7control approaches include per.ormance and technolo"y
standards that set ma4imum pollution le,els .or ,arious acti,ities. In the case o. a power
plant* "o,ernment re"ulations re6uirin" scrubbers and other technolo"ies to be installed
in the plant to limit emissions to ma4imum le,els is an e4ample o. a command and
control approach. Maret7based instruments include pollution ta4es* tradable pollution
permits and product labelin". Cap and trade schemes in which carbon dio4ide is allocated
and traded on a carbon e4chan"e are e4amples o. a maret7based instruments. The
elimination o. subsidies is also an important part o. the application o. the PPP. At the
international le,el the Kyoto Protocol is an e4ample o. the application o. the PPP.
Si"natories to the Protocol a"reed that they ha,e an obli"ation to reduce their "reenhouse
"as emissions and must bear the costs o. reducin"* throu"h pre,ention and control* their
carbon dio4ide emissions.
Beneficia,y Pays P,inci(le
Cost sharin" is the application o. the bene.iciary pays principle :BPP; to the solution o.
the problem o. e4ternalities. The basic concept is that each entity that is liely to
.rom sol,in" a problem contributes to the costs o. sol,in" the problem in proportion to
hisGher "ains. For e4ample* the rapid destruction o. Ama8onian rain.orest in Bra8il
to"ether with the reco"nition that the loss o. this rich store o. biodi,ersity would be an
international tra"edy has resulted in su""estions to Bra8il that they not only stop but also
re,erse its destruction. Aowe,er protectin" and restorin" the rain.orest means that Bra8il
would not only .or"o the e4traction o. resources and de,elopment o. a"riculture* but also
ha,e to mae a si8able in,estment in re"eneratin" the destroyed ecosystems. Because the
international community stands to .rom the restoration o. the rain.orest and as a
result will .rom not only the preser,ation o. biodi,ersity but also .rom the
se6uestration o. carbon* Bra8il should be compensated .or the loss o. economic
de,elopment and the .unds in,ested in the rain.orest. Another application o. the BPP is
re6uirin" industriali8ed countries to compensate resource7poor .armers in tropical
countries .or adoptin" soil carbon mana"ement practices.
In each case the contribution o. the bene.iciary is based on their percei,ed bene.its.
Another e4ample is the cooperation o. ranchers by main" e..orts* includin" .or"oin"
production* to help maintain hi"hly ,alued landscapes as di,erse as alpine meadows* the
AellOs Canyon in 're"on and A.rican sa,annahs. In the case o. AellDs Canyon the threat
to landscape and biodi,ersity was the proposed de,elopment o. hydroelectric power
installation. Those who .rom the recreational opportunities pro,ided by these
protected landscapes should compensate the ranchers .or the on"oin" costs o. landscape
maintenance. For e4ample* the opportunity cost o. wildli.e conser,ation in protected
areas o. Kenya* measured in terms o. .or"one li,estoc and a"ricultural production* has
been estimated to be around F!2# million per year* or !.0 percent o. total (%P* while
re,enues .rom wildli.e tourism and .orestry contribute only around F&! million per year
to the national economy :@orton7(ri..iths and Southey* 111);. The authors ar"ue that*
"i,en the "lobal nature o. the bene.its o. KenyaOs conser,ation e..orts* it is 6uite
appropriate that the international community bear some o. the costs o. conser,ation.
The BCP applies to a wide ,ariety o. situations where it is appropriate .or those
.ore"oin" economic opportunities .or en,ironmental
1. Carbon se6uestration and stora"e* .or e4ample a (erman electricity company payin"
.armers in the tropics .or plantin" and maintainin" additional treeL
!. Biodi,ersity protection where conser,ation donors pay local people .or settin" aside
natural areas.
#. The restoration o. natural areas to create a biolo"ical corridor* paid .or by
communities that were built in a manner which resulted in the remo,al o. the corridor.
&. 9atershed protection where downstream water users pay upstream .armers .or
adoptin" land uses that limit de.orestation* soil erosion* and .loodin" riss.
). Protectin" landscape beauty* .or e4ample a tourism operator payin" a local community
not to hunt in a .orest bein" used .or touristsD wildli.e ,iewin".
E0ten)e) P,o)uce, Res(onsibility
The concept o. $4tended Producer Cesponsibility :$PC; was .irst .ormally introduced in
Sweden by Thomas Lindh6,ist in a 1112 report to the Swedish Ministry o. the
$n,ironment. The .ormal de.inition o. $PC is that it is an en,ironmental protection
strate"y desi"ned to decrease the total en,ironmental impact o. a product by main" the
manu.acturer responsible .or the entire li.e7cycle o. the product and especially .or the
tae7bac* recyclin" and .inal disposal o. the product. $PC initiati,es include product
tae7bac pro"rams* deposit re.und systems* product .ees and ta4es* and minimum
recycled7content laws. $PC puts the onus upon the manu.acturer and to many* represents
a mandatory approach.
$4tended Producer Cesponsibility :$PC; uses political means to hold producers liable .or
the costs o. mana"in" their products at the end o. li.e. This tactic attempts to mae the
transition .rom traditional end7o.7pipe waste Odi,ersionO pro"rams :.unded by local
"o,ernment and there.ore the public* and o. no responsibility to the producer; to Ocradle
to cradleO recyclin" systems desi"ned* .inanced* and mana"ed by the producers
themsel,es. $PC promotes that producers :usually brand owners; ha,e the "reatest
control o,er product desi"n and maretin" and there.ore ha,e the "reatest ability and
responsibility to reduce to4icity and waste.
The ma5or impetus .or $PC came .rom northern $uropean countries in the late 1102s and
early 1112s* as they were .acin" se,ere land.ill shorta"es. $PC is "enerally applied to
post7consumer wastes which place increasin" physical and .inancial demands on
municipal waste mana"ement. $PC is based on the PPP* main" manu.acturers
responsible .or the entire li.ecycle o. the products and paca"in" they produce. 'ne aim
o. $PC policies is to internali8e the en,ironmental costs o. products into their price.
Another is to shi.t the economic burden o. mana"in" products that ha,e reached the end
o. their use.ul li.e .rom local "o,ernment and ta4payers to product producers and
consumers. In (ermany* $PC is bein" implemented ,ia "o,ernment policy* and has
reduced paca"in" waste about &R per year .or se,eral years a.ter its implementation in
1111. The $uropean ?nion has le"islated that automobile manu.acturers must pro,ide
.ree tae7bac locations .or waste automobiles* re.erred to as $nd7o.7Li.e Uehicles or
$LUs* and must recycle a minimum o. 02R o. the mass o. the ,ehicle.
A related approach* Product Stewardship* is "ainin" in popularity because o. its less
re"ulatory nature and its reco"nition that other parties ha,e a role to play. Product
Stewardship means that all parties 7 desi"ners* suppliers* manu.acturers* distributors*
retailers* consumers* recyclers* and disposers 7 in,ol,ed in producin"* sellin"* or usin" a
product tae responsibility .or the .ull en,ironmental and economic impacts o. that
product. An e4ample o. Product Stewardship is a pro"ram in 're"on in which the
manu.acturers o. paint sold in 're"on* or a stewardship or"ani8ation representin"
manu.acturers* are re6uired to set up and run a con,enient* statewide system .or the
collection o. post7consumer architectural paint.
Full Cost Accountin+. Full Cost P,icin+. an) Life Cycle Costin+
Another terminolo"y related to internali8ation is full cost accounting AFC2B.
includes not only the internali8ed costs o. the e4ternalities produced by production but
also includes the li.e cycle costs o. the product or acti,ity. FCA applies to a wide ran"e
o. accountin" systems* .rom national to business or "o,ernment. At national le,el* FCA
re6uires a modi.ication to (ross %omestic Product :(%P; as a measure o. per.ormance
to include other societal and en,ironmental impacts. This ad5ustment results in what are
sometimes re.erred to as Alternati,e Measures o. 9el.are which modi.y (%P to account
.or en,ironmental impacts* such as pollution* and social costs o.* .or e4ample* prisons
and people not co,ered by health insurance.
For enterprise or "o,ernment accountin" systems* the ?S $PA de,eloped a .our tier
system .or mana"ement to use to account .or the en,ironmental costs portion o. FCA-
Tier :% Con$entional Capital and Operating Costs
These are the normal costs o. a pro5ect and include capital e4penditures such as
buildin"s* e6uipment utilities* and supplies plus operatin" and maintenance e4penses
such as materials* labor* trainin"* insurance* and permittin".
Tier 4. ,idden Costs
There are a number o. en,ironmental costs that may not be accounted .or as such as
monitorin"* paperwor and reportin" re6uirements. These include up.ront en,ironmental
costs* re"ulatory or ,oluntary en,ironmental costs* and bacend en,ironmental costs :see
Table 1;. ?p.ront costs are incurred prior to the operation o. the process or .acility and
related to the sitin" o. .acilities* 6uali.ication o. suppliers* e,aluation o. alternati,e
pollution control e6uipment etc. Ce"ulatory and ,oluntary en,ironmental costs include
items such as en,ironmental insurance* permittin" costs* en,ironmental monitorin" and
testin"* recordeepin"* ,oluntary audits* remediation* recyclin" acti,ities etc. These costs
are o.ten assi"ned to o,erhead accounts rather than allocated to departments o. products
directly. Bacend en,ironmental costs are usually also i"nored in current decision
main" as they are not incurred at the present time. Such costs include the .uture costs o.
decommissionin" a laboratory* or product tae7bac re6uirements.
Tier 8. Contingent Costs
Contin"ent costs are costs that may or may not be incurred at some point in the .uture and
include penalties* .ines* and .uture liabilities. They can only be estimated in probabilistic
terms 7 their e4pected ,alue* or the probability o. their occurrence. $4amples are personal
in5ury claims related to product use* .uture remediation costs* and .ines or penalties.
Tier >. &ess tangible Costs
These are the di..icult to estimate costs associated with maintainin" corporate ima"e*
"ood relationships with in,estors* employees* and customers etc. These costs would
include the costs o. en,ironmental outreach acti,ities :annual community cleanup days or
tree plantin" days .or e4ample;* and publication o. en,ironmental reports* to name a .ew.
The ultimate "oal o. FCA is actually what mi"ht be called Full Cost Pricing in which the
.ull social and en,ironmental costs o. a product are included in the price paid by the
consumer. The consumer is then main" a decision based on a price .or which these
costs ha,e been paid.
Indicators .or measurin" the well7bein" and standard o. li,in" are important .or assessin"
chan"es in the 6uality o. li.e o. a nation. In this section we describe standard macro7
economic indicators such as (%P that are used as an indicator o. a societyDs wel.are and
other so7called alternati$e measures of welfare that are desi"ned to pro,ide a more
accurate assessment o. the health o. a society.
The P,oble* 8ith $,oss Do*estic P,o)uct >$DP?
The most well reco"ni8ed macro7economic indicator is (%P which was de,eloped by
Simon Ku8nets. (%P is widely used by economists and policymaers .or assessin" a
nationDs economic per.ormance and is de.ined as the maret ,alue o. all .inal "oods and
ser,ices made within the borders o. a nation in a year. Its purpose is to pro,ide a
measure o. the economic production and "rowth .or a "i,en nation and allows some le,el
o. comparison between countries.
There are two approaches used .or calculatin" (%P* the income and e4penditure
methods. The income method includes total compensation to employees* "ross pro.its .or
incorporated and non7incorporated .irms* and ta4es less subsidies. The e*penditure
method calculates (%P by totalin" consumption* "ross in,estment* "o,ernment spendin"*
and net e4ports. $ither approach should yield appro4imately the same ,alue. TodayDs
economists di,ide consumption into the two cate"ories o. pri$ate consumption and public
sector spending. In order to mae comparisons o. annual economic per.ormance more
con,enient* (%P is reported in both current dollar and constant dollar .orms. The
constant dollar method in,ol,es con,ertin" current economic data into some standard era
dollar* such as 111/ dollars. It is important to note that (%P does not tae into account
"oods and ser,ices produced by a nationDs companies operatin" in .orei"n countries.
(ross @ational Product :(@P; is an indicator which includes both the domestic and
.orei"n acti,ities o. a nationDs companies.
(%P is the most commonly used indicator o. an economyDs economic per.ormance.
Thou"ht to be a direct indicator o. an economyDs health* some relate the concept o. (%P
to the nationDs standard o. li,in" or wel.are. Althou"h chan"es in this indicator are o.ten
simultaneous with chan"es in mar"ins* stoc prices* unemployment* and wa"e
chan"es* is not actually a "ood "au"e o. a nationDs standard o. li,in" or wel.are because
there are se,eral other tan"ible and intan"ible .actors that are not accounted .or in the
calculation o. (%P which a..ect indi,idual wel.are. There are many problems associated
with linin" (%P and wel.are but perhaps the "reatest .allacy is thinin" that when a
maret per.orms well* people and this contributes to the "reater wel.are o. a
nation. (%P was not ori"inally intended to measure well7bein" but rather economic
producti,ity. @ational income is not necessarily a measurement o. wel.are. Some critics
e,en ar"ue that "rowth o. (%P has been costly in psycholo"ical* sociolo"ical and
ecolo"ical terms. Aowe,er there has been no real consensus an alternati,e to (%P as a
measure o. wel.are and thus it continues to be used .or this purpose. And some would
ar"ue that i. (%P does i"nore social costs* then by de.inition it tends to o,erestimate
(%P does not tae into account the under"round economy and has also been critici8ed
because it does tae into account "o,ernment spendin" that could be the result o. natural
disaster dama"e miti"ation* prisons supportin" more criminals* a society burdened with
more health care costs due to unhealthy citi8ens* acts o. terrorism* other accidents or
corporate .raud. 9hile each o. these costs contributes to spendin"* it seems
counterintuiti,e to lin these costs with an increased 6uality o. li.e or wel.are* yet usin"
(%P as an indicator o. wel.are does 5ust that. A.ter 1G11* billions o. dollars were spent in
rescue* cleanup and related costs alone co,erin" only the short7term impacts o. this
tra"edy. Should this spendin" be included in the calculation o. an indicator measurin"
wel.areE Another e4ample o. spendin" that is included in the calculation o. (%P but
perhaps should not be is the cost o. the depletion o. natural resources. The more oil we
pump the more depletion o. a ey natural resource* yet (%P increases. (%P also
e4cludes the entire sector o. ,olunteer ser,ices includin" acti,ities such as mentorin"*
child and elder care* and many other acti,ities that actually do enhance wel.are. (%P has
also been critici8ed .or bein" e4tremely insensiti,e to the distribution o. income within
nations. Countries with ,ery di..erent percenta"es o. po,erty could ha,e similar (%Ps
based on a combination o. other di..erin" .actors.
Another important note to mae re"ardin" (%P is its reliance on imports. As a
community becomes more independent and sel. reliant* thus decreasin" its imports and
increasin" local commerce* (%P decreases.
easu,e of Econo*ic !elfa,e >E!?
9illiam @ordhaus and James Tobin proposed the Measure o. $conomic 9el.are :M$9;
in 11/!* as an alternati,e measure o. wel.are to (%P. M$9 ad5usts total national output
and includes only the consumption and in,estment items that contribute directly to
economic well7bein". This indicator is calculated main" additions to (@P such as the
,alue o. leisure time and the under"round economy as well as deductions such as
en,ironmental dama"e. The ad5ustments to (%P to determine M$9 ha,e three
cate"ories- 1; reclassi.ication o. (@P e4penditures as consumption* in,estment* and
intermediate* !; imputation .or the ser,ices o. consumer capital* .or leisure* and .or the
product o. household wor* #; correction .or some o. the disamenities o. urbani8ation*
such as the loss o. producti,e .armland.
The most si"ni.icant issue addressed by M$9 is the reco"nition that (@P is a measure
o. production* while economic wel.are is a measure o. consumption. @ordhaus later
commented on the comparison o. (@P ,ersus M$9 data* su""estin" that both indicators
are inaccurate and e,en a.ter ad5ustin" .or the main issues concernin" (@P* M$9 is 5ust
as de.icient.
In)e0 of Sustainable Econo*ic !elfa,e >ISE!?
Another o. the best nown alternati,e measures o. wel.are is the Inde4 o. Sustainable
$conomic 9el.are :IS$9;* created in 1101 by Aerman %aly and John Cobb based on
@ordhaus and TobinDs concept o. M$9 with the intention to de,elop a more
sophisticated indicator o. wel.are. The IS$9 balanced consumer e4penditure with
.actors such as income distribution and costs associated with pollution and other .orms o.
en,ironmental de"radation. IS$9 can be calculated by addin" personal consumption*
public non7de.ensi,e e4penditures* capital .ormation and ser,ices .rom domestic labor
and subtractin" pri,ate de.ensi,e e4penditures* costs o. en,ironmental de"radation and
depreciation o. natural capital.
9hen de,elopin" IS$9* %aly and Cobb too into account ma5or .actors such as net
capital "rowth* .orei"n ,ersus domestic capital* natural resource depletion* en,ironmental
dama"e* the ,alue o. leisure and the ,alue o. unpaid household labor. 'ne o. the ma5or
di..erences o. this inde4 compared to others is that its base is deri,ed .rom personal
consumption rather than production. Althou"h some belie,e this is a more e..ecti,e
indication o. wel.are than production* its interpretation has limitations. There has also
been criticism re"ardin" the relationship between economic wel.are and happiness as
well as the relationship between absolute wealth or consumption ,ersus the relationship
between relati,e wealth or consumption.
'ther limitations to this inde4 include the e4clusion o. many cate"ories o. additions and
deductions such as income .rom the under"round economy* chan"es in worin"
conditions and certain e4penditures 6uestionable in their contribution to economic
wel.are. As is the case when de,elopin" any inde4* certain assumptions were made* in
this case re"ardin" the estimation o. 6uantities that are inherently immeasurable* such as
the cost o. natural resource depletion and lon"7term en,ironmental dama"e.
$enuine P,o+,ess In)icato, >$PI?
The concept o. IS$9 led to the idea o. the (enuine Pro"ress Indicator :(PI;* created by
Cede.inin" Pro"ress in 111).
This concept* perhaps the most pro"ressi,e indicator
de,eloped to date* is based on "reen and wel.are economics and attempts to measure
economic pro"ress while distin"uishin" between worthwhile "rowth and economic
"rowth that causes a decline in the 6uality o. li.e. (PI was desi"ned to indicate whether a
countryDs "rowth and the increased production o. "oods and e4pandin" ser,ices ha,e
actually yielded a "reater well7bein" or not. ?nlie other alternati,e measures o. wel.are*
the calculation o. (PI does not be"in with (%P as its base but rather with the e4traction
.rom the national accounts o. the transactions deemed directly rele,ant to human well7
The calculation o. (PI includes the addition o. the .ollowin" items- 1; personal
consumption e4penditure* !; ser,ices yielded by consumer durables* #; ser,ices yielded
by roads and hi"hways* &;ser,ices pro,ided by ,olunteer wor* ); ser,ices pro,ided by
non7paid household wor* as well the subtraction o. the .ollowin" items- 1;cost o.
consumer durables* !; cost o. noise pollution* #; cost o. commutin"* &; cost o. crime* );
cost o. underemployment* +; cost o. lost leisure time* /; the cost o. household pollution
abatement* 0; the cost o. ,ehicle accidents* 1; the cost o. .amily breadown* 12; loss o.
.armland* 11; cost o. resource depletion* 1!; cost o. o8one depletion* 1#; cost o. air
pollution* 1&; cost o. water pollution* 1); cost o. lon"7term en,ironmental dama"e* 1+;
loss o. wetlands* 1/; loss o. old7"rowth .orests. The .ollowin" items are subtracted .rom
the (PI- 1; inde4 o. distributional ine6uality* !; net capital in,estment* #; net .orei"n
lendin"Gborrowin". 9hen comparin" the calculation o. IS$9 ,ersus (PI* the items used
to arri,e at the .inal inde4 could be e4actly the same dependin" on when the inde4es were
calculated and how each inde4 has been updated and per.ected o,er time.
9hen comparin" data re.lectin" (%P and (PI calculations .rom 11)2 throu"h !22&* the
trend in (%P shows a .airly steady increase in "rowth throu"hout the years* while the
trend in (PI shows a pea somewhere in the 11/2s with ,irtually no "rowth since. Some
belie,e the data .ound usin" (PI is perhaps more indicati,e o. our nationDs economic
state today ,ersus in the 11/2s than the data .ound usin" (%P.
Hu*an De-elo(*ent In)e0 >HDI?
Mahbub ul Aa6Ds Auman %e,elopment Inde4 :A%I;* an important alternati,e to (%P*
consists o. standard o. li,in" :(%P per capita;* li.e e4pectancy at birth and nowled"e :a
composite measure o. education* literacy and school enrollment;.
This inde4 is used to
measure a nationDs human de,elopment* which is considered to be indicati,e o. the
e4pansion o. opportunities .or people re"ardin" education* health care* income and
employment. A%I is published on an annual basis in the Auman %e,elopment Ceports
:A%Cs; throu"h the ?nited @ations %e,elopment Pro"ramme :?@%P;.
The calculation o. the nowled"e component o. this .ormula is de,ised by measurin"
adult literacy* with two7thirds wei"htin"* and the "ross enrollment rate* with one7third
wei"htin". The standard o. li,in" component is measured usin" the natural lo"arithm o.
(%P per capita.
A%I has been the center o. much scrutiny* mostly re"ardin" its e4clusion o. any
ecolo"ical .actors. A%I .ocuses primarily on national per.ormance and is perhaps 5ust
another inde4 similar to (%P in that it .aces much o. the same criticism and issues as
many others. The ?@ annually rans its members and these ranin"s are o.ten used to
hi"hli"ht national insu..iciencies. 9hether or not this inde4 has actually pro"ressed
towards a model more indicati,e o. social wel.are remains to be seen but the impact o.
economic policies on 6uality o. li.e is e,ident. This inde4 has also been critici8ed .or its
.ocus solely on national per.ormance rather than "lobal de,elopment as well.
Othe, easu,es of !elfa,e
Another alternati,e measure o. wel.are is Tim JacsonDs Measure of omestic Progress
:M%P;* which ad5usts pre,ious theories accountin" .or climate chan"e and resource
depletion. The =uality-of-life inde* :P]LI;* constructed by Morris %a,id Morris in the
mid 11/2s* is computed by a,era"in" basic literacy rate* in.ant mortality rate and li.e
e4pectancy at a"e one :all e6ually wei"hted;. Still other inde4es* such as the ,uman
Po$erty Inde* which .ocuses e4plicitly on po,erty* and the ,appy Planet Inde* which
consists o. indicators such as li.e satis.action* li.e e4pectancy* happy li.e years and
ecolo"ical .ootprint* ser,e as more accurate indicators .or certain countries.
$colo"ical economics is a ey discipline in what mi"ht be called the science o.
sustainability. @eoclassical economics is the antithetical to sustainability because it treats
nature only as a .actor o. production and does not account .or the broader role o. nature
in supportin" li.e in "eneral and 6uality o. li.e .or humanity. Additionally it does not
acnowled"e that economic "rowth is ultimately limited in scale and this limitation is due
to the scale o. the "lobal ecosystem in which the economy is contained. Finally
neoclassical economics pre.ers to i"nore the laws o. physics* particularly the Second Law
o. Thermodynamics* which also limits the scale o. the economy. $colo"ical economics
reco"ni8es that the scale o. the economy is a .unction o. natural system producti,ity and
that economic "rowth must ha,e limits because o. the .inite si8e o. the $arth and its
ecosystems. In ecolo"ical economics* natural capital has e6ual importance with other
.orms o. capital* and some natural capital is critical and must not be destroyed.
Substitutability o. other .orms o. capital .or natural capital is limited and the scale o. the
economy is limited because some scale o. natural capital must be protected to maintain
the ser,ices pro,ided by natural systems. $colo"ical economics re6uires that e4ternalities
be internali8ed* and that e4ternalities be reduced to the absolute minimum. The Polluter
Pays Principle is an implementation o. internali8ation and .i4es the responsibility .or the
parties responsible .or the impacts o. emissions. Similarly other principles such as the
Bene.iciary Pays Principle* $4tended Producer Cesponsibility* Full Cost Accountin"* and
li.e cycle costin"* pro,ide a .ramewor .or internali8ation and decision main".
$colo"ical economics also .osters alternati,e ways o. assessin" how well a countryDs
economy is per.ormin" thou"h the use o. alternati,e measures o. wel.are such as the
Aappy Planet Inde4* (PI* and the A%I.
Brodsy* %. and %. Codri. 1101. <Indicators o. %e,elopment and %ata A,ailability-
The Case o. the P]LI>* 1orld e$elopment* 1:/;* pp. +1)7+11.
Costan8a* Cobert* $d. 1111. Ecological Economics% The Science and Management of
Sustainability. @ew 3or- Columbia ?ni,ersity Press.
Costan8a* Cobert* et al. 111/. MThe ,alue o. the worldOs ecosystem ser,ices and natural
capital*> .ature #0/* pp. !)#7!+2.
Costan8a* Cobert* John. A. Cumberland* Aerman %aly* Cobert (oodland* Cichard B.
@or"aard. 111/. 2n Introduction to Ecological Economics* St. Lucie Press.
Costan8a* C. and %aly* A.$. 111!. <@atural capital and sustainable de,elopment*>
Conser$ation (iology +:1;* pp. #/7&+.
%aly* Aerman $. and J. Cobb* 1101. For the Common "ood% )edirecting the Economy
toward Community! the En$ironment! and a Sustainable Future. Beacon Press* Boston.
%aly* Aerman $. . The Steady State Economy.
%aly* Aerman $. 1111. <?neconomic (rowth and the Built $n,ironment- In Theory and
In Fact*> in )eshaping the (uilt En$ironment* Charles J. Kibert* $d.* 9ashin"ton* %.C.-
Island Press.
%aly* Aerman $. and Joshua Farley. !22&. Ecological Economics% Principles and
Aartwic* J. 11//. <Inter"enerational e6uity and the in,estin" o. rents .rom e4haustible
resources*> 2merican Economic )e$iew ++* pp. 1/!7/&
Ko,el* Joel. !22! . The Enemy of .ature% The End of Capitalism or the End of the
1orld. Second $dition. London- [ed Boos* Limited.
Lawn* P. !22#. <A theoretical .oundation to support the Inde4 o. Sustainable $conomic
9el.are :IS$9;* (enuine Pro"ress Indicator :(PI;* and other related inde4es>*
Ecological Economics &&:1;* February* pp.12)7110.
@ordhaus* 9illliam and James Tobin. 11/!. Is "rowth Obsolete? Columbia ?ni,ersity
Press* @ew 3or.
Mar4* Karl. 10+#. Criti=ue of the "otha Programme.
@orton7(ri..iths* Michael and Cli,e Southey. 111). <The opportunity costs o.
biodi,ersity conser,ation in Kenya*> Ecological Economics 1!:!;* February* pp. 1!)7
Postel* Sandar* (retchen C. %ailey and Paul $hrlich. 111+. <Auman Appropriation o.
Cenewable Fresh 9ater*> Science !/1* pp. /0)7/00.
Cape* In"e. !22&. <The $arly Aistory o. Modern $colo"ical $conomics*> Ecological
Economics )2* pp. !1#7#1&.
Sa"ar* A. and @a5am* A. 1110. <The human de,elopment inde4- a critical re,iew>*
Ecological Economics !):#;* June* pp. !&17!+&..
Uitouse* Peter* Paul $hrlich* Anne A. $hrlich* and Pamela A. Matson* 110+. <Auman
Appropriation o. the Products o. Photosynthesis*> (ioScience #&:+;* pp. #+#7#/#.
Cobert Costan8a calls ecolo"ical economics the science o. sustainability in a ,olume he edited on the
sub5ect- Ecological Economics% The Science and Management of Sustainability :1111;.
$colo"ical economics could be said to ha,e been .ounded in 1100 with the appearance o. the Journal o.
$colo"ical $conomics. A paper by In"e Cape :!22&; describes the early history o. ecolo"ical economics
and the in.luences o. ecolo"ists* economists* en,ironmentalists* and others on its e,olution.
As described in a paper by Costan8a et al :111/;.
The de,elopment o. economics and the emer"ence o. ecolo"ical economics are deri,ed .rom an e4cellent
boo on ecolo"ical economics* 2n Introduction to Ecological Economics* by Cobert Costan8a :111/; and
se,eral collea"ues* includin" Aerman %aly* one o. the ey .i"ures in the de,elopment o. ecolo"ical
Karl Mar4 clari.ied his thinin" on the ,alue o. nature in Criti=ue of the "otha Programme :10+#;.
A discussion o. the rebound e..ect relati,e to the Je,ons Parado4 can be .ound at
These e6uations were .irst described in his boo in his 11!) boo* Elements of Physical (iology.
This .amous paper was presented at the Si4th Cesources .or the Future Forum on $n,ironmental ]uality
in a (rowin" $conomy in 9ashin"ton* %.C. on March 0*11++.
From The Enemy of .ature% The End of Capitalism or the End of the 1orld? by Ko,el :!22!;.
The $mpty 9orld ,ersus Full 9orld models are described by %aly :1111;.
As stated in <@atural capital and sustainable de,elopment> by Cobert Costan8a and Aerman %aly
Auman appropriation includes direct use o. @PP .or .ood* .uel* .iber* and timber plus reduction in
potential due to ecosystem de"radation caused by humans.
From <Auman Appropriation o. the Products o. Photosynthesis*> by Uitouse et al. :110+;.
Summari8ed .rom <Auman Appropriation o. A,ailable Fresh 9ater> by Sandra Postel* (retchen %ailey*
and Paul $hrlich :111+;.
The ecolo"ical rucsac was in,ented by Friedrich Schmidt7Blee o. the 9uppertal Institute in (ermany
in the mid71112s.
An e4cellent description o. the broader concepts associated with Aicsian Income can be .ound in 2n
Introduction to Ecological Economics by Costan8a et al :111/;.
As described in <Inter"enerational e6uity and the in,estin" o. rents .rom e4haustible resources> by J.
Aartwic :111/;.
In economics* e4ternalities can ha,e positi,e or ne"ati,e bene.its. For e4ample* an automobile can ha,e
the positi,e e4ternality o. mobility .or people* main" them more e..icient and impro,in" their 6uality o.
li.e. Automobiles also ha,e the e4ternality o. air pollution which has ne"ati,e social impacts. In ecolo"ical
economics* e4ternality re.ers e4clusi,ely to ne"ati,e impacts.
$uropean ?nion %irecti,e !222G)#G$C spells out the re6uirements .or $LU reco,ery and recyclin". The
02R recyclin" rate increases to 12R in !21).
True cost accountin" :TCA; is a terminolo"y sometimes used as an alternati,e to .ull cost accountin".
The $PADs .ull cost accountin" process is described at www.epa."o,GwasteGconser,eGtoolsG.caGinde4.htm
The rationale .or the M$9 is co,ered in @ordhaus and Tobin :11/!;.
The desi"n o. the IS$9 is described in For the Common "ood by %aly and Cobb :1101;.
Lawn :!22#; describes the theoretical basis .or (PI and IS$9 in <A theoretical .oundation to support the
Inde4 o. Sustainable $conomic 9el.are :IS$9;* (enuine Pro"ress Indicator :(PI;* and other related
The A%I is described by A Sa"ar and A. @a5am :1110; in <The human de,elopment inde4- a critical
As the .irst chapters su""ests* we are at a turnin" point. The modern* con,entional models o.
economic de,elopment and business that ha,e catapulted many nations out o. a"ricultural
subsistence and into the lu4ury o. industrial production and consumption ha,e also taen
ad,anta"e o. a,ailable resources with little re"ard .or ecosystem limits o. e4traction and nutrient
cyclin" or human ri"hts. 9hile we ha,e "enerated an incredible ,ariety o. technolo"ies to
.acilitate our li.e on earth* we do not ha,e a lon" history o. reco"ni8in" <"ood> technolo"y .rom
@o one sets out to mae a <bad> decision* o. course. The tobacco industry enabled many small
landowners in the Appalachian .oothills to scratch out a li,in" and built themsel,es and their
stocholders a .ortune by creatin" a hi"hly desirable product. The Aswan %am held the promise
o. better control o. @ile .loodwaters .or irri"ation durin" drou"ht. In hindsi"ht* both ci"arettes
and lar"e7scale dams ha,e created additional* un.oreseen problems that challen"e their ideali8ed
ima"e. The litany o. disasters and current problems* howe,er* su""ests that we do not ha,e a
"ood system o. ,ettin" proposed products or tain" into account both the .actors that must be
considered and the le,el o. uncertainty that hides unnown conse6uences. And e,en i. a .ew
people are capable o. reco"ni8in" decisions that lead to more sustainable practices* the
challen"es o. communicatin" those ideas and con,incin" others may o,erwhelm their ability to
steer us into a new direction.
This boo de.ines ethics as a discipline that "uides us to main" "ood decisions. As Chapters #7/
e4plain* when it comes to matters o. sustainability* the practice o. considerin" en,ironmental*
social* and economic conse6uences in the conte4t o. the .uture* other humans* and other species
will mae these decisions more ethical. A "reat many decisions .all into this broad realm* .rom
which product should we mae to what we should eat. The .ormer represents pro.essional
decisions that will be addressed in Chapter 1 while the latter represents personal 6uandaries that
will be the basis o. Chapter 12. It may be temptin" to belie,e that e,ery decision is co,ered
under this umbrella* but there are challen"es we do not intend to address. %ecisions that sit
s6uarely in the realm o. 5ust one o. the pillars o. sustainability- en,ironment* economic* or
society* are not the concern o. this boo* such as which person should you as to dinner or at
which interest rate should you increase your in,estment in a bond .und. In many cases* howe,er*
we contend that decisions which historically belon"ed in only one cate"ory should consider the
conse6uences to each dimension and that any issue in the en,ironmental sphere probably has
economic and societal implications i. we learn to loo .or them.
This chapter co,ers the process o. decision main" and will use e4amples o. both pro.essional
and personal decisions in the mental process o. arri,in" at a decision* the challen"es o. main"
"ood decisions* and the strate"ies that should help us mae better decisions.
9e mae decisions e,ery dayTso many that we probably do not reco"ni8e most o. them as
decisions. 9hat we wear* what we eat* which route to tae to wor* which supplies we order .or
a 5ob* what pro5ects we tacle .irst* whether we spea at a meetin"* and who we hire are some
e4amples o. decisions we mae in our personal and pro.essional worlds. Common* daily
decisions are o.ten made without a "reat deal o. attention or introspectionL they are o.ten
"o,erned by habit* personality* or pre,ious e4perience. Bi"* special* or new decisions* howe,er*
usually re6uire thou"ht so the process o. decision main" is more ob,ious. Both types o.
decisions use basically the same process and usin" an e4ample o. each will illustrate how we
mae decisions. For simplicityDs sae* consider the steps o. buyin" cereal and the process o.
buyin" a car.
For many o. us* buyin" cereal re6uires little thou"ht or attention* which enables us to .ocus on
the more important aspects o. our "rocery list. 9e either purchase the same tried7and7true cereal*
or we ,enture into the unnown .ollowin" the promise o. an ad,ertisement or a .riendDs
recommendation. In either case we unconsciously list the characteristics we desire and match
them to the set o. cereals that con.orm to our e4pectations. I. se,eral cereals match our need .or
nutrition* sweetness* or crunch* .or e4ample* we be"in to consider which ,ariables are more
important to us. Is the banana .la,or more appealin" than blueberryE %o whole "rain s6uares a better resistance to mil :that so""iness .actor; than nu""etsE All thin"s bein" e6ual* we
tend to pic the cheapest bo4 and mo,e on to peanut butter. And it all happens in a blin o. an
This basic process is called rational decision main" or rationality by economists* who use it
.re6uently to model decisions. The theory su""ests that people mae choices that ma4imi8e their
interests. They do this by assemblin" all the in.ormation about the choices* prioriti8in" and
wei"hin" the characteristics* and selectin" the choice that scores the hi"hest on the important
.eatures. The process can wor well i. the assumptions are metTi. the decision maer has all the
in.ormation needed about all the rele,ant .eatures and i. the best option can be calculated. I.
someone only cares about three .actors in cereal* perhaps ,itamin B content* whole wheat* and
price per ounce* it can be a strai"ht.orward process to collect the rele,ant in.ormation and mae
a decision. Cereal bo4es and "rocery shel,es in the ?nited States pro,ide this in.ormation* since
many people want to now. And since e,eryone does not share the same priorities .or ideal
cereal* a ,ariety o. combinations are strate"ically o..ered to aim to please e,eryone.
But what happens when we mae a more complicated decision* and particularly one with
conse6uences .or sustainabilityE For most people* a car is a si"ni.icant enou"h purchase that it
deser,es care.ul consideration* and our transportation choices clearly ha,e economic :6uality*
ser,ice* price* new or used;* en,ironmental :.uel* hybrid or traditional en"ine* emissions;* and
societal :?S7based industry* labor unions; dimensions. Choosin" to share a car* rent a car* or use
public transportation should also be considered* o. course. For those who settle on ownin" a
personal ,ehicle* it taes a bit o. time to read up on the current models* compare loan paca"es*
consider milea"e and .uel options* and recall the characteristics you desire or dislie about
automobiles. 3ou collect in.ormation. 3ou compare options and .i"ure out whether you want
headroom in the bacseat or a trun that is easy to load. 3ou thin about whether you can .ind
biodiesel .uel and how o.ten each model needs repair. 3ou loo at your ban account and thin
about the ris associated with buyin" a used ,ehicle. 3ou then prioriti8e the options you care
about based on what matters to you. I. se,eral options are basically the same* you pic <the
best*> which is probably the cheapest. And you happily dri,e away.
3ou may not ha,e made a completely rational decision* howe,er. The assumption o. per.ect
in.ormation* .or e4ample* is rarely met. 9e do not now when the braes will need to be
replaced or the mu..ler will .all o... 9e may not ha,e read the consumer ratin"s to now how
the car compares to others. Critics o. rationality su""est i. we do not ha,e all o. the in.ormation*
we must not be main" a thorou"hly rational decision. The .act that we still mae a decision
su""ests there are other strate"ies at wor.
Followers o. rationality say that we calculate the probability o. unnown thin"s happenin". Aow
liely are the braes to .ail in the .irst )2*222 miles* and how much would it cost to replace them
i. we .ollow the manu.acturerDs recommendationsE I. a consultin" .irm were biddin" .or the
desi"n o. a new pro5ect* they would certainly aim to predict e,ery possible scenario and cost out
all concei,able problems. The more comple4 the decision* the more .actors are included. 9e
would use a computer model and reams o. historic in.ormation to impro,e the accuracy o. our
prediction. The mathematical study o. rational decision main" in,ol,es calculatin" probabilities
and determinin" when people are success.ul rational actors.
But to add additional ,ariables into the e6uation or to compare dissimilar components :such as
milea"e e..iciency and com.ort; we ha,e to translate them into a common measure* usually
money* and decide which ,ariables are most important. And as any decision mo,es .rom the
realm o. one pillar to consider other aspects o. sustainability* more ,ariables are added. Some
comparisons are easier than others- 9hat does better "as milea"e costTboth in terms o. the
initial in,estment o. a more e..icient en"ine and in the increased sa,in"s while purchasin" less
"as .or e,ery 1222 miles dri,enE 9hich is better in the lon" run* a new car that is more e..icient
or an older* cheaper carE But what i. you cannot "et both a 6uieter ride and a smaller trunE At
some point we mae a selection and con,ince oursel,es it is 5ust a car and does not deser,e such
a"ony. And that decision is not liely to be rational.
Aerbert Simon* a psycholo"ist* was one o. the .irst to su""est that at the indi,idual le,el people
do not mae decisions accordin" to this ideal rational model because they do not ha,e the
necessary in.ormation or in.ormation7processin" capacities.
Instead* we use bounded rationality
which allows people to merely do the best they can under the circumstances. As e4perts ha,e
since reali8ed* people do not tae the time or ha,e the mental horsepower to calculate the
probabilities o. all the options* wei"hted by all the pre.erences* as in the car purchase abo,e. 9e
may not e,en reco"ni8e our de.icits because some ,ariables may appear to be more attracti,e or
important. In addition* we do not e,en intuiti,ely mae the best decisions because o. the
co"niti,e shortcuts :which psycholo"ists call <heuristics> or <rules o. thumb>; we use to
appro4imate the rationality.
These shortcomin"s tend to re,ol,e around in.ormation retrie,al*
probability* o,ercon.idence* and uncertainty. And .inally* there is the issue o. comple4ityTwe
tend to be better at sol,in" simple problems and there.ore tacle comple4 ones by simpli.yin" or
dissectin" them. Because sustainability issues are "enerally comple4 and our access to complete
in.ormation is limited* these co"niti,e shortcuts do not help us mae more rational decisions.
The ,ery notion o. sustainability may be so co"niti,ely uncom.ortable that we mi"ht choose to
i"nore the comple4ity and .ocus on the .amiliar realm o. our .a,orite pillar. 'n the other hand*
understandin" and addressin" our co"niti,e limitations may help mae more clear how decisions
could be approached so that we learn to o,ercome these limits.
Lac5 of Info,*ation
Perhaps the most ob,ious problem with rationality is the lac o. in.ormation that we now we
need and the lac o. in.ormation that we may not now to loo .or. (rocery shel,es rarely re,eal
where the .ood was "rown* .or e4ample. ?nless we ha,e a third7party certi.ication system*
consumers may not now i. the worers were really paid a .air wa"e as they created sneaers or
bicycle seats. Main" rational sustainability decisions ou"ht to include ha,in" in.ormation about
the resources and labor practices that were used to create the product.
Some a,ailable in.ormation may be misleadin". Blow driers mounted in public restrooms
proclaim this is a pollution7.ree de,ice and we should be happy to sa,e the trees that would ha,e
produced paper towelin". 3et electricity usually is not "enerated without en,ironmental and
social costs* and most o. us now that. The label on the drier* howe,er* maes it easier to a,oid
thinin" about the reality o. mountain7top remo,al* en,ironmental 5ustice* dammed ri,ers* acid
rain* or nuclear waste repositories.
In addition* we tend to selecti,ely reco"ni8e and process the a,ailable in.ormation that meets our
e4pectations. 9e see what we e4pect to .ind* which is why ha,in" a mental picture o. what you
see is a "ood strate"y .or reco,erin" lost items. But it also means you will not see what you are
not looin" .or. It is what Albert $instein meant when he said* <It is 6uite wron" to try .oundin"
a theory on obser,able ma"nitudes alone. In reality the ,ery opposite happens. It is the theory
which decides what we can obser,e.>
9e also do not pay attention to what we do not need to
see. I. ased to describe a ?.S. one dollar bill* .or e4ample* .ew people could "et beyond (eor"e
9ashin"ton* pyramid* eye* the number 1* and the words one dollar. It is not that we are
un.amiliar with what a dollar bill loos lie* but that we are .amiliar. 9e do not need to .ocus on
e,ery detail because a 6uic "limpse at (eor"e tells us what we need to now. Aa,in" a "eneric
dollar already in our heads enables us to .unction because we do not ha,e to inspect e,ery bill we
handle to now its ,alue. As a result we may not see the or"anic ,e"etables or .air trade in
the "rocery store unless we consciously loo .or these products. Similarly* i. we do not as
oursel,es what other .actors we should consider be.ore selectin" a new product* we will continue
to .ollow com.ortable patterns o. decision main".
9e may not reco"ni8e when the circumstances are not .amiliar and we need to pay closer
$,en when we build the monitorin" systems to "i,e us important .eedbac* we ha,e
to learn to pay close attention to potentially important chan"es. For e4ample* two papers
published in 11/& predicted the erosion o. the o8one layer as a .unction o. chlorine atoms which
could be traced to chloro.luorocarbons :CFCs;. The papers tri""ered additional research on
atmospheric chemistry* de.ensi,e postures by industry* and international monitorin" pro"rams.
In 110& British scientists reported a &2R decrease in o8one o,er Antarctica. Althou"h they had
seen a steady decrease .or 12 years* they did not belie,e the reports because the computer models
predicted a decline o. only a .ew percent in o8one. Their data did not con.orm to their
e4pectations* so they assumed there was an error. The scientists published their .indin"s only
when they .ound con.irmin" reports .rom a monitorin" station about 1222 miles .rom theirs.
@ASA scientists were perple4ed* howe,er* since the @imbus / satellite had ne,er reported an
o8one hole* and it had been tain" measurements since 11/0. A.ter checin" they disco,ered that
the computers were pro"rammed to re5ect ,ery low readin"s since they were liely to indicate
instrument error. Incorporatin" the re5ected data into the analysis resulted in .indin"s that
paralleled the British results and mapped an enormous hole* the si8e o. the continental ?.S.
In the midst o. a decision* we ou"ht to tae the time to as about our data* our assumptions* and
our assumptions about the data. ?n.ortunately* it is more typical to be under pressure .or a
speedy decision or to rely upon in.ormation that is easily accepted and e4pected.
Co+niti-e Heu,istics
The wor o. %aniel Kahneman and Amos T,ersy* two psycholo"ists who de,eloped a series o.
insi"ht.ul e4periments to test decision7main" processes* helps clari.y the heuristics that a..ect
our decision7main" capacity.
Interestin"ly* Kahneman was awarded the @obel pri8e in
economics .or his wor challen"in" rationality in !22!. Ae could only share the pri8e with his
partner in spirit* un.ortunately* as T,ersy died in 111+ and the award is not "i,en
posthumously. Se,eral o. their heuristics insi"hts into decision7main" around issues o.
2$ailability ,euristic
Se,eral o. Kahneman and T,ersyDs e4periments re,ol,e around our ability to use in.ormation
stored in memory. In.ormation is a,ailable when it is easily recalled* and the easier it is to
remember* the more liely we will thin it is. 9hen .aced with a 6uestion about the .uture
lielihood or .re6uency o. an e,ent* .or e4ample* people tend to .a,or the choice that is easiest to
ima"ine or recall.
The more .amiliar we are with one option :or the more recently it occurred;*
the more a,ailable this in.ormation is in our brain* and the more liely we are to belie,e it will
happen a"ain. This shortcut wors well in cases when .re6uently occurrin" e,ents eep
happenin". It causes us to err* howe,er* when the easier to recall in.ormation is actually more
rare. I. we re"ularly dri,e by a home with solar panels ,isible on the roo.* we may belie,e they
are common* 5ust because we see that roo. e,ery day. Similarly* we mi"ht belie,e that 5ets crash
more .re6uently than they do because o. the e4tensi,e media co,era"e on the relati,ely rare
The a,ailability heuristic has a ,ariety o. applications. I. we want people to recall in.ormation*
we can lin it to somethin" else people .ind memorable. 9hen tele,ision ads showed Meryl
Streep e4plainin" the health ris o. apple products to babies* because apples are typically
sprayed with the Alar to delay ripenin"* and later "a,e testimony to Con"ress* there was an
immediate drop in apple 5uice consumption. ?niroyal* the maer o. Alar* remo,ed the chemical
.rom the ?.S. maret. This publicity campai"n succeeded e,en thou"h $PA studies and reports
.ailed to a..ect the manu.acturerDs production o. the chemical.
I. we can describe in.ormation in ,i,id* ima"inable terms* we build a picture in our minds that
helps us recall that in.ormation more easily. Ui,id in.ormation is more easily remembered* more
6uicly retrie,ed .rom memory* and more meanin".ul. This maes such in.ormation more
power.ul in decision7main". To those who are able to easily ima"ine problems associated with
mountain climbin"* the ad,enture may seem more dan"erous than it actually is. Similarly* the
in.ormation we "et .rom nei"hbors or .riends is o.ten more a,ailable than what we read in
newspapers. In terms o. main" rational decisions that mo,e us toward sustainability* i. the
in.ormation is not readily a,ailable in our memory or i. the data are described unima"inably :as
in descriptions o. water7borne chemicals in parts per million;* we will ha,e a more di..icult time
rememberin"* retrie,in"* and usin" that in.ormation appropriately. As @isbett and Coss
summari8e* <The problem with the use o. the ,i,idness criterion is simply stated- The ,i,idness
o. in.ormation is correlated only modestly* at best* with its e,idential ,alue. By accident or by
the desi"n o. the communicator* ,i,id in.ormation is o.ten misleadin"* particularly when duller
but more probati,e in.ormation is cast aside in its .a,or.>
2nchoring and O$erconfidence
T,ersy and Kahneman also demonstrated that people tend to anchor their belie.s on an initial
.act and do not ad5ust their perceptions enou"h to re.lect additional data. In one study* they ased
respondents to estimate the answer to a .actual 6uestion and then to pro,ide a ran"e within which
they thou"ht the correct answer would .all. %espite an opportunity to create a ,ery lar"e ran"e*
hal. o. the respondents chose upper and lower estimates that did not include the true ,alue. The
ran"es were anchored by their initial "uess* and that .irst impression made it co"niti,ely di..icult
to consider other possibilities. This may be a substantial component o. the di..iculties ad,ersaries
ha,e in modi.yin" their initial position durin" a ne"otiation. 'nce ad,ocates ha,e established
their position and 5usti.ied it with the .actors they consider to be important* it may be hard to
chan"e their minds. As a result o. this heuristic* people tend to be more con.ident o. their ideas
than they should be. First impressions or ideas tend to create an anchor that a..ects .uture ideas.
Perhaps that is one reason why people do not readily continue to mae pro"ress toward ener"y
e..iciency and stop with their initial acti,ities.
Problems with Probability
'ur ability to use lo"ic and probability .ails us when we see patterns inappropriately. A coin* .or
e4ample* has a )2R chance o. landin" either heads or tails e,ery time it is thrown. But a.ter a
coin lands heads7up nine times in a row* most people will bet that the tenth toss will be tails. The
.act that we thin we <are due .or tails> is an e4ample o. this heuristic. I. we e4pect a random
beha,ior and see a pattern* we thin it is more liely than the lo"ical )2G)2 chance that the ne4t
occurrence will brea the pattern. This heuristic may be responsible when people thin a wild.ire
will not occur in the same ,icinity twice. Indeed* i. all the .uel has been burned by the .irst .ire*
the chances o. another are slim. But "i,en enou"h time .or ,e"etation to return* or i. the area was
not completely burned by the .irst .ire* the conditions that led to one .ire may .a,or a second. But
people are not liely to see it that way. @either will residents o. a .loodplain community e4pect
to e4perience two 1227year .loods in the same decade. $,en thou"h we are all e4posed to chance
e,ents* humans ha,e not learned how to use nowled"e about probability e..ecti,ely.
The certainty heuristic su""ests that people a,oid probabilities and uncertainty where possible
and tend to select scenarios that certain results. @ot only do people lean toward in.ormation
that promises certainty* but there are stron" co"niti,e pre.erences and desires .or certainty.
Since reco"ni8in" uncertainty maes people uncom.ortable* they may deny it to reduce an4iety.
9hile some psycholo"ists su""est this tendency comes .rom a desire to ha,e control in uncertain
situations* others belie,e people desire opportunities to participate in meanin".ul ways to mae a
Both e4planations would lead people to a,oid circumstances where their input
would be hopeless because uncertainty is "reat. 9e may want to spend our ener"y to wor on
issues where we stand a better chance o. bein" success.ul. The recent responses to climate
chan"e pro5ections demonstrate how di..icult it is .or people to use in.ormation that includes
elements o. uncertainty.
?n.ortunately* most predictions o. .uture impacts o. "ood and bad technolo"y in,ol,e some
element o. uncertainty* and this alone maes it di..icult to understand and communicate with
decision maers and the public. As a conse6uence* naysayers who wish to derail the technolo"y
employ e4a""erations and .ear tactics to draw attention to the possibility o. calamity or .ocus on
the lac o. certainty to help the public .ocus attention elsewhere. Althou"h the .ear strate"y and
debate attract media* research su""ests people rarely act on threatenin" messa"es unless
ade6uate strate"ies .or reducin" ris are also pro,ided.
Most people reco"ni8e mental o,erload. Comple4 problems with a lar"e number o. ,ariables can
lead people to con.usion and a,oidance beha,iors. 'ne reason .or this response is that the
in.ormation comes in to our brains throu"h our worin" memory and worin" memory has
limits. Psycholo"ists su""est we ha,e the capacity to handle .i,e to se,en units o. di..erent
in.ormation at the same time be.ore we start .or"ettin" some o. them.
People can wor with
lar"er amounts o. in.ormation* o. course* i. similar items are chuned to"ether. Phone numbers*
.or e4ample* are ten di"its* but the area code is usually remembered as a sin"le unit. That lea,es
se,en random di"its to remember. 'ur in.ormation stora"e capacity* howe,er* is not limited by
worin" memory and has hu"e capacity. The limitation is with how much in.ormation we can
wor with at the once.
The limits o. mental capacity are reached not 5ust when a lar"e number o. ,ariables are
presented* but also when a lar"e number o. relationships* components* perspecti,es* or attitudes
are considered. These comple4 systems are o.ten de.ined by .eedbac loops where ,ariables can
in.luence each other in balancin" or rein.orcin" relationships. Keepin" trac o. the many
elements and the conse6uences o. employin" alternati,e decisions can easily create an
o,erwhelmin"ly comple4 problem. The more e4pertise someone has in any one area* the better
he or she is able to chun that in.ormation* put a boundary around it* and set it aside. Then the
e4pertDs attention can .ocus on the pieces that are harder to understand because o. a lac
9e ha,e se,eral choices to address our inability to thin about comple4ity. An e4pert can put a
mental boundary around an uncom.ortably wea re"ion o. her nowled"e o. the problem
because she trusts that another e4pert has that piece co,ered* or she can be"in to learn what she
needs to now to "ain a better understandin". %ecision7main" processes that en"a"e a ,ariety
o. staeholders o.ten be"in with a len"thy process o. learnin" what e4pertise others brin" and
de,elopin" an atmosphere that can allow people to share what they now and care aboutTo.
buildin" trust.
@ot only are a ,ariety o. e4perts typically in,ol,ed in comple4 and uncertain decisions* but their
areas o. e4pertise may be so dissimilar that they ha,e ,ery little shared lan"ua"e or assumptions.
]uestions o. sustainability automatically in,ol,e areas that e4perts are less .amiliar because they
o.ten span the distinctly di..erent disciplines o. natural science* social science* and humanities. A
decision about sitin" a land.ill should in,ol,e "eolo"ists and hydrolo"ists* who can liely tal to
each other* but can they understand the waste mana"ement e4perts* city administrators* haulers*
nei"hbors* and en,ironmental 5ustice sociolo"istsE @ew sites will in,ol,e sur,eys .or endan"ered
species and "roundwater mo,ement patterns* plus discussions about wei"ht limits on roads*
acceptable noise le,els* and deterrents to nuisance birds and mammals. Few e4perts share a
common lan"ua"e across en,ironmental* economic* and social components* and .ewer
indi,iduals ha,e e4pertise that crosses these boundaries. Mana"in" the number o. ,ariables and
the hu"e ,ariety o. concerns mae decisions about sustainability comple4.
This brie. summary o. co"niti,e biases and limits to rationality illustrates some o. the ways that
people mae predictable mistaes when retrie,in" in.ormation and main" decisions in the
conte4t o. uncertainty :see Table 0.1;. In e4periments* e,en when people are "i,en plenty o. time
.or calculations and rewards .or correct answers* they donDt do si"ni.icantly better. 9hile most
o. these heuristics and biases had important bene.its .or .unctionin" e..iciently at one point in
time* they e,ol,ed in a ,ery di..erent en,ironment than we li,e in today.
'ur mental shortcuts o,erride rational thinin" which may result in main" a poor decision. It is
easy to see that sippin" o,er some in.ormation and attachin" "reater importance to other
in.ormation could result in poor decisions. Similarly* a,oidin" situations that are con.usin" or
uncertain and belie,in" that we now more than we do will also mae it di..icult i. not
impossible to accept new ideas and beha,iors. 9e would be liely to associate an announcement
about a new e..icient ener"y technolo"y with our e4pectation that the manu.acturer is a
:and pro.itable; industry that i"nores en,ironmental and social considerations* which could result
in i"norin" potentially worthwhile in.ormation.
In a simpler world* past e4perience and the stories o. nei"hbors were e4cellent "uides to sol,in"
problems. Problems that may ha,e been new to an indi,idual were liely .aced by someone else*
or mi"ht not ha,e been much di..erent .rom the old problems. But in todayDs world* where new
Table F3&1 Su**a,y of Li*its to Rationality
technolo"ies and comple4 situations are "enerated in less than one "eneration* nei"hbors and
past e4perience are rarely help.ul .or main" decisions. The heuristics that helped us .ind .ood*
build shelters* and care .or children put us at a disad,anta"e when wrestlin" with disposin" o.
to4ic material or enablin" de,elopin" nations to pro,ide health care and education to all
residents. The .ollowin" discussion o. ris and e4ample mae these limitations more clear.
Many sustainability 6uestions that in,ol,e new technolo"ies include some le,el o. ris. I. we are
not completely certain about the .uture impacts and outcomes o. a "enetically7modi.ied or"anism
or the to4icolo"y o. pesticide* there is a ris to usin" it. That ris could in,ol,e ecosystem or
human health* with some indi,iduals at "reater ris than others :usually worers* in.ants* and
elderly;. In these cases* 6uestions o. ris tend to in,ol,e two i. not all three areas o.
sustainability. ]uestions that in,ol,e ris are a particularly di..icult challen"e because o. the
co"niti,e heuristics and problems mentioned abo,e. By de.inition* ris is the product o. the
probability o. an outcome :usually a ne"ati,e outcome; and the impact o. that outcome. A hi"h
probability o. an e,ent that only a..ects a .ew people could carry as lar"e a ris as an e,ent with
a low probability o. impactin" an entire nation. 'ur discom.ort with uncertainty is the .irst
hurdleL we mi"ht rather i"nore than tal about ris. 'ur intuiti,ely bad approach to probability
means that we ha,e to thin hard about how to wei"h riss and what they mean. Aow the media
con,ey in.ormation* what memories are recalled* and how the issue is .ramed will mae a "reat
May not e4ist Selecti,e
pre,ents us .rom
seein" it
!. Aeuristics A,ailability-
may not be
easily retrie,ed
.rom our
Anchorin" X
First "uesses* no
matter how
wron"* con.ine
Probability- 9e
donDt intuiti,ely
thin in
9e a,oid
situations o.
Limits to
memory :)7/
?n.amiliar with
the di,ersity o.
aspects o.
problems o.
challen"es as we
tal to people
who now these
di,erse aspects
deal o. di..erence to how the public responds to warnin"s and en"a"es in discussions. 9e are
re"ularly o,ercon.ident o. our nowled"e and may not reco"ni8e the true .re6uency o. relati,ely
rare riss. These .actors mean that people will not usin" all the in.ormation that is a,ailable
when they approach a 6uestion o. ris.
$4perts are re"ularly .rustrated by the publicDs o,erreaction to some minimal riss* such as o. a
nuclear plant meltdown* and their apparent lac o. concern o,er "reater riss* such as li"htnin"
stries or radon contamination.
It is clear .rom the limits to rationality* howe,er* that the public
is not "i,en in.ormation in a way that helps them o,ercome the biases that we all ha,e.
Aow Con"ress chose to re"ulate chemical additi,es in .ood pro,ides a window on the world o.
ris communication* decision main"* and sustainability.
9ith the "rowth o. the chemical
industry a.ter 9orld 9ar II* in 11)0 the %elaney Amendment was added to the Food* %ru"s and
Cosmetics Act o. 11#0 to protect consumers .rom .ood additi,es <.ound to induce cancer in man*
or* a.ter tests* .ound to induce cancer in animals.> 'ne can see se,eral assumptions behind this
simple* strai"ht.orward clause- 1; a substance that causes cancer in animals will be dan"erous to
people* !; there is a linear or constant relationship between a cancer7inducin" substance and
cancer* such that i. it causes cancer at a ,ery lar"e le,el in a short7term e4perimental test on
animals* it will cause cancer at a ,ery small le,el o,er a li.etime in a human* and #; that the
"o,ernment will be able to test e,ery .ood additi,e .or the potential to cause cancer. Con"ress
too the moral hi"h "round with a precautionary approach and created a 8ero tolerance .or
chemical additi,es. %an"erous chemicals do not belon" in .ood. 'ne can ima"ine that the .ood
industry was not pleased* but how could anyone su""est we should allow dan"erous chemicals in
9hile this clause was meant to protect human health* it had an en,ironmental implication as well
and wreced ha,oc with the a"ricultural industry. The Federal Insecticide* Codenticide* and
Fun"icide Act :FIFCA; o. 11&/ permits the use o. pesticides on .ood crops. The %epartment o.
A"riculture :and later $PA; were desi"nated under FIFCA to set le,els o. allowable pesticide
residue in produce. Since some pesticides could cause cancer* the two bills were in con.lict. To
resol,e this dilemma* Con"ress decreed that pesticides are not .ood additi,es so they would not
.all under the %elaney amendment. Interestin"ly* the nascent or"anic .armin" mo,ement was
probably not stron" enou"h to help 6uestion the necessity o. pesticides. Aad the issue been
approached throu"h a sustainability lens* howe,er* di..erent elements mi"ht ha,e recei,ed
"reater consideration.
9hen raw .oods are processed* howe,er* they are concentrated. It is possible .or the pesticide
residue to appear in lar"er 6uantities in etchup or apple 5uice* .or e4ample* than was permitted
in tomatoes or applies. %espite pressure .rom a"ricultural lobbyists* Con"ress decided this
scenario .ell under the intent o. the %elaney amendment and said that pesticides that caused
cancer were not permitted in processed .oods. Because o. the increasin" sensiti,ity o. laboratory
testin" e6uipment and the inability o. any test to pro,e 8ero concentration le,els* the F%A set a
limit .or pesticide residue in processed .oods o. causin" one cancer in one million people.
',er years o. debate it became ob,ious that the intent o. a precautionary re"ulation may not be
appropriate a.ter the de,elopment and distribution o. a product. Precaution is best applied in the
decision7main" mode. Althou"h the point where more people care about a"ricultural practices
is when additi,es are present in .ood* the chemicals were already de,eloped and le"ally used .or
reducin" pest problems lon" be.ore the .ood was processed. Pre,entin" pesticides .rom "oin"
into production or .rom bein" used mi"ht be a better course .or re"ulation. Ceal chan"e mi"ht
not be possible until economically e6ui,alent options are a,ailable* such as an alternati,e
pesticide or or"anic strate"ies.
The %elaney amendment was 6uietly retired when Con"ress passed the Food ]uality Protection
Act o. 111+. Its disappearance mared a ,ictory .or the industry* which cannot supply hu"e
6uantities o. .ood without lea,in" chemicals in it. Its history mars the idealistic attempt to
protect human health .rom the ha8ards o. chemicals and the di..icult nature o. decisions about
to4icity and technolo"y. It has become possible to detect tiny amounts o. chemicals in .ood* but
we do not ha,e ade6uate nowled"e o. the ris o. in"estin" that chemical. This is a problem o.
inade6uate nowled"e* probability* and uncertainty.
Althou"h people should not assume their .ood supply is sa.e* without the ability to monitor and
re"ulate the industry* it is di..icult .or the public to now which chemicals are problematic and
which .oods contain them. People are in,oluntarily e4posed to pesticides and other .ood
additi,es because they partae in mass produced .ood rather than "row their own or buy at the
.armerDs maret. The "rowth o. the or"anic .ood mo,ement may be in reaction to this
uncertaintyL at least some people now ha,e a strate"y to mae some synthetic chemical additi,e
consumption ,oluntary.
These challen"es to rationality mae it more important to care.ully communicate in.ormation
about ris* probability* and uncertainty to the public. 3et on issues where the ris is in,oluntary
:as with the public .ood supply; and the issue can "enerate "reat sympathy to the less .ortunate
:e.".* in.ants;* there are emotional o,ertones and power.ul media messa"es that e4acerbate
attempts to employ rationality. Perhaps there is another way to approach di..icult decisions that
play health a"ainst economic and en,ironmental wel.are.
Many people ha,e e4plored strate"ies .or main" "ood decisions in the .ace o. limits to
rationality. Four strate"ies are discussed here.
S*all !ins
(i,en how people respond to o,erwhelmin"ly comple4 and uncertain problems* Karl 9eic
su""ests that it is psycholo"ically more appealin" and in.initely more practical to de.ine tass as
small* winnable challen"es rather than hu"e* intractable problems. Cather than chan"in" how a
culture ,iews homose4uality* .or e4ample* the Tas Force on (ay Liberation too on the more
readily achie,able tas o. chan"in" the way the Library o. Con"ress classi.ied boos on
homose4uality. Prior to 11/!* these boos were assi"ned numbers alon"side boos on se4ual
crimes and per,ersions. The new classi.ication mo,ed the boos to the shel. with ,arieties o.
se4ual li.e.
Similarly* the .irst administrator o. the ?S $n,ironmental Protection A"ency
:$PA;* 9illiam Cucelshaus* launched the new a"ency with .i,e ma5or lawsuits a"ainst bi"
cities o,er water pollution. Ae did not choose the most important or the most ,isible tasL he
chose the most winnable challen"e* .rom which he "enerated additional success. $,en i. the win
is predictable* the resultin" success empowers people to continue to another challen"e.
Reasonable Pe,son o)el
Cather than looin" at ways to chan"e the problem* we mi"ht also consider how the en,ironment
and in.ormation stymie or support the people in,ol,ed in main" a decision. From their years o.
wor on human pre.erence and co"niti,e capacity* Cachel and Ste,e Kaplan ha,e de,eloped
such a model to su""est the situations and en,ironments that help people sol,e problems by
bein" <reasonable*> assumin" that will be a more realistic "oal than asin" people to become
rational. Situations in which people are not reasonable include those where people are con.used*
o,erwhelmed* hopeless* and o.ten helpless.
A ,ariety o. circumstances can contribute to these
situationsTnot ha,in" "ood in.ormation or not understandin" the in.ormation that is a,ailable*
ha,in" too much in.ormation* not ha,in" the sills to tae actions or not nowin" what can be
done* not ha,in" an idea o. how others ha,e sol,ed the problem* or not ha,in" the ability to
mae a di..erence. People do not en5oy bein" in these situations* so they resist* remo,e
themsel,es* or react an"rily. As a result they can de.end their position without listenin" to other
perspecti,es* they can i"nore contro,ersy or a,oid con.rontation* or they can simply abdicate
responsibility and let someone else sol,e the problem. I. main" more sustainable decisions
in,ol,es en"a"in" more people and more ,arieties o. e4pertise* then .indin" ways to
appropriately en"a"e them in a process that uses and respects their contributions will be
essential. There are three basic interdependent elements to promotin" situations in which people
can become more reasonable :.i"ure 1;.
(uild a shared understanding
People need to understand the problem or situation. I. a "roup o. people are worin" to sol,e a
problem* then they must ha,e a common understandin" o. the situation. I. e4perts are talin" to
decision maers* they also need to ha,e a similar mental conception o. what they are talin"
about. 9here nowled"e is a necessary in"redient to decision7main"* shared nowled"e
enables communication which builds understandin". $nablin" people to ha,e a shared
understandin" is more complicated than passin" out a brochure* howe,er* as it depends "reatly
on what they already now and care about. People ha,e to be moti,ated to e4plore the
in.ormation* mae sense o. it* and see what possibilities it creates .or them. %etailed ima"ery
helps to con,ey in.ormation i. people do not a hi"h de"ree o. .amiliarity with the problem* in
part because its ,i,idness enables us to remember and retrie,e in.ormation. Misconceptions and
other basic di..erences in how people percei,e the issue must be acnowled"ed and addressed so
that there is the possibility o. producti,e communication. In sum* help.ul in.ormation and the
moti,ation to use it build a common understandin" that will help create reasonable people.
Increase people5s confidence
People must .eel competent to be part o. a decision main" process. This re6uires ha,in" some
idea o. how these decisions ha,e been made and problems sol,ed in other circumstances* as well
as .eelin" that they ha,e a "rasp o. the problem itsel. :which is part o. ha,in" a shared
understandin"* o. course;. The re6uisite de"ree o. ability* capacity* a"ency* e..icacy* or
percei,ed control :to use a ,ariety o. similar terms; may depend on reducin" the comple4ity o.
the decision :see Small 9ins* abo,e; and by practicin" the sills needed to e4plore .acets o. the
issue. Ima"ery* success stories* and case studies can be 6uite empowerin" and can help o,ercome
the notions o. hopelessness and despair.
Conductin" simulations or trials can build con.idence
and "i,e people insi"hts into their abilities.
Pro$ide opportunities to engage people
In some circumstances* asin" someone to help enables them to 5oin. Pro,idin" a doable tas and
in,itin" assistance could chan"e people .rom "rouchy* complainin" onlooers to help.ul
collea"ues who are worin" toward a common "oal. People "enerally want to help sol,e
problems* mae their community a better place* and en"a"e in solutions.
This re6uires that the
scale o. actions be appropriate and that they ha,e the nowled"e and to do so success.ully
:which come .rom shared understandin" and con.idence;. $4amples* case studies* simulations*
and practice opportunities help here as well. Pro,idin" a chance .or citi8ens to e4press their ideas
to decision maers can be empowerin" .or people who reco"ni8e the limits o. their e4pertise and
would not attend a city commission meetin" to spea* but appreciate an opportunity to in.luence
the outcome o. their decision.
Strate"ies to enable participation can also help o,ercome the
.rustrations o. hopelessness and helplessness which o.ten combine to derail decision7main".
Ceasonable people* with the ability to understand and communicate their perspecti,es* and with
the con.idence and hope.ulness to en"a"e in meanin".ul actions* are in a much better position to
re,iew in.ormation* use the 5ud"ment heuristics that they ha,e deri,ed .rom their e4perience in
the world* and mae decisions that balance the represented interests. They may not be rational*
but* a.ter all* they are human.
ulti(le C,ite,ia Decision a5in+
As the comple4ity and challen"es o. main" decisions ha,e increased* so too ha,e the .ormulas
and procedures .or selectin" appropriate decisions. The .ield o. en"ineerin"* .or e4ample* has
"enerated a number o. theories and shel,es o. re.erence boos about decision main" in comple4
Many o. these theories .all under the "eneral term <multiple criteria decision
main"*> re.errin" to decisions made in situations that ha,e a ,ariety o. ob5ecti,es* ,ariables*
constraints* alternati,es* staeholders* and perspecti,es. $ach o. these elements "enerate criteria
that can be considered as part o. the decision7main" process. Since people ha,e limitations in
their mental processin"* computers are pro"rammed to reduce the problem* identi.y probabilities*
and help the decision maer thin systematically about the situation.
The care.ul comparison o. attributes and criteria is help.ul because one usually cannot ma4imi8e
all o. the important ,ariables. Impro,in" the sa.ety .eatures on a car tends to mae it more
e4pensi,e. Aybrid ,ehicles or ones that burn bio7diesel may also cost more to purchase than
traditional combustion en"ines. ?nless price is not a .actor* it will be a challen"e to mae a
decision that enables one to meet all o. these criteria success.ully.
The ,ery process o. identi.yin" the data .or the computer may help staeholders and decision
maers re.lect on the ,ariety o. components that deser,e consideration. The interactions and
con,ersations that are re6uired to dia"nose the situation* identi.y the pro"ram* pinpoint
ob5ecti,es* ima"ine the alternati,es* speci.y the ad,anta"es and disad,anta"es associated with
each* and compare and ran all o. the rele,ant criteria still occur with people. In many
companies* these people share the same disciplinary trainin" :i.e.* en"ineerin"; and may* by
,irtue o. their e4pertise* be prone to missin" some o. the aspects o. sustainability that they are
less .amiliar with. 9ith appropriate inputs* howe,er* these models can be a tool to better
decision main" because they reduce the comparisons to mathematical relationships and "i,e
decision maers 6uanti.iable results to use in their deliberations.
As en"ineers and other technicians mae decisions in the realm o. sustainability* it is clear that
more ,ariables will be considered and ma4imi8ed* main" multiple criteria decision main"
strate"ies important to use alon" with other strate"ies .or seein" and understandin" the
in.ormation and perspecti,es in these less .amiliar domains.
A)a(ti-e ana+e*ent
(i,en that we usually ha,e imper.ect and incomplete in.ormation and are not ,ery "ood at
main" decisions about comple4* uncertain* and risy situations* it would be help.ul to ha,e a
mana"ement process that allows us to tae small steps* chec .or e,idence to see how thin"s are
"oin"* and re,ise our plan i. necessary. $cosystem mana"ers call this adapti,e mana"ement.
9hen addressin" watershed* wildli.e* or .orest mana"ement* .or e4ample* it may be more
desirable to tae small* purpose.ul mana"ement actions and en"a"e in continual monitorin" and
analysis o. their impacts than to assume that e,erythin" will wor out as the model su""ests. By
re,iewin" monitorin" data at re"ular inter,als* mana"ers can assess the appropriateness o. their
ori"inal plan and mae chan"es as necessary. Adapti,e mana"ement enables mana"ers to
acnowled"e that the system may be more comple4 than they understand and allows them to
e4plore and learn as they proceed with a course o. action. It also allows them to more care.ully
consider .uture and current impacts to the ,ery components o. the system that may be most
challen"in" to measure and predictT"lobal chan"es* social 5ustice* economic de,elopments* and
other ethical dimensions. This strate"y can be taen one step .urther by in,itin" di,erse
staeholders to the desi"n and monitorin" process* an acti,ity o.ten called Adapti,e
Collaborati,e Mana"ement. %oin" so enables mana"ers to more appropriately e,aluate the
multiple social* en,ironmental and economic aspects that a..ect the sustainability o. the
1e can5t sol$e problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created
2lbert Einstein
The limitations o. the human brain* the o,erwhelmin" e4tent o. in.ormation that could be
rele,ant to any decision* and the increased comple4ity o. e,ery problem mi"ht lead us to
conclude that the best way to approach a decision would be to di,ide the problem into small*
mana"eable pieces and consider each component separately. Indeed* our education system has
di,ided the world into separate sub5ects :e.".* lan"ua"e arts* mathematics* and physical science;
and departments :e.".* reli"ion* political science* and economics;* and there.ore our trainin" and
e4pertise. ?n.ortunately* ,ery .ew decisions can be made in isolation. Most issues cross
disciplinary boundaries* and by de.inition* decisions about sustainability must include the
pre,iously disparate worlds o. economics and de,elopment* en,ironment* and social 5ustice.
It may be impossible* howe,er* .or anyone to become an e4pert in e,ery rele,ant component o. a
decision. The amount o. in.ormation is o,erwhelmin" and people donDt 5u""le a lot o.
in.ormation at once. Such an e4pectation may "uarantee .ailure. 9e could e4pect* howe,er* that
e,eryone de,elop an appreciation o. a decision at a systems le,el and reco"ni8e the need to
en"a"e a ,ariety o. e4perts to impro,e the discussion and ultimate decision. $4pandin" the
boundaries o. a problem to include additional in.luences and conse6uences mi"ht help us
consider impacts o. each decision more ade6uately. Thinin" in systems helps us as di..erent
6uestions about a decision* helps us anticipate conse6uences di..erently* and will liely enable us
to mae decisions that increase their sustainability. Indeed* systems thinin" mi"ht ,ery well
pro,ide a common lan"ua"e that will enable e4perts .rom di..erent disciplines to communicate.
By helpin" us identi.yin" common pit.alls and strate"ies .or a,oidin" them* systems thinin" can
also help us mae better decisions.
"ey Ele*ents of Syste*s Thin5in+
?sin" bounded rational thinin" as best as possible* en"ineers* architects* or .oresters* .or
e4ample* typically approach a decision by assessin" the costs and bene.its o. sayin" yes or no.
The act o. identi.yin" the costs and bene.its de.ines the system they are considerin". A systems
perspecti,e su""ests that those ori"inal boundaries should be e4panded to include the resources
that "o in to the technolo"y* the structure* or the .orestL the products that come out :both desired
and waste products;L and the ways these components interact. It will always be necessary to
de.ine boundaries o. some sort as considerin" the entire world is not help.ul. ?sin" systems
lan"ua"e should help establish the appropriate le,el o. boundaries that enable decision maers to
include the en,ironment* economy* and society in the decision. 'ne strate"y to decide whether
the boundaries are appropriately placed mi"ht be to consider whether all the ey staeholders
will be included in the decision. This is the .irst step- de.inin" the ri"ht system.
I. we consider the de,elopment o. a "enetically7modi.ied rice that pro,ides additional Uitamin
A* .or e4ample* the de,elopment company will .ocus on the "enetic possibilities* the cost* the
licensin" a"reements* and potential .or reco,erin" their research in,estment. The new
technolo"y would be at the center o. the systems model* with inputs includin" research capital
and outputs o. healthier people and In their world* the system is their company and their
product is the thin" they .ocus on* their stoc. A broader and more sustainable ,iew o. systems
thinin" mi"ht encoura"e us to consider other dimensions o. the problem* wonder about the
.armers* and as i. anythin" will chan"e in the way they "row rice i. they use the modi.ied seed.
I. the health o. the rice consumers mi"ht be at the center o. that system instead o. the rice* we
mi"ht as oursel,es what created the Uitamin A de.iciency to be"in with. %oes pro,idin" new
rice hide other problems that will continue to a..ect this populationE 9hile some "enetic
en"ineers mi"ht claim it is not their 5ob to consider all the components that would be included in
the e4panded system* one could su""est that the decision to use "olden rice can not be made
ethically without the broader perspecti,e. Main" ethical decisions about sustainability* rather
than about product success* demands that we consider a system than includes societal wel.are*
ecosystem resilience* alon" with economic de,elopment.
A system has interrelated parts such that the remo,al o. one a..ects the .unction o. the whole. A
.ootball team is a system and so is a uni,ersity and a house. The 6uarterbac* the reli"ion
department* and a window are parts o. each system that mae it .unction. Tae any o. these away
and the system will not be the same as it once was. It mi"ht e,en .ail to .unction at all. The
problem is* we donDt o.ten reco"ni8e e,erythin" that is part o. the system o. interest* so alon"
with a better understandin" o. the boundaries o. the ri"ht system comes a care.ully accountin"
and identi.ication o. its components.
The second step is to identi.y the system stoc H the thin"s you can see and count that are at the
heart o. the system. Stocs accumulate and are depleted based on le,els o. production and
consumption. 'ne ey .eature o. a system is that there are two ways to increase a stocL raise
input and reduce output. In the e4ample o. "olden rice* the stoc is the "enetically modi.ied rice.
Systems with only one stoc are easier to thin about* but many inputs are stocs in other
systems :such as the .undin" .or the research and distribution o. "olden rice and the petroleum
that transports rice to .armers and their product to maret;. 9here to draw the boundary o. the
system becomes a di..icult 6uestion to answer^
The ne4t step in understandin" the system is to .ind the .eedbac loops. These loops mae
systems .unction by allowin" the system to respond to chan"es in stocs. Balancin" loops mae
a system stable and resilient. Populations* .or e4ample* are o.ten reduced by limits in .ood supply
or disease. The population is the stoc. A "rowin" population eats more .ood and reduces the
.ood supply. The limited .ood supply increases the death rate and reduces the population.
Balancin" loops would eep a stable stoc o. "olden rice* as well. I. there is a need .or rice and
no other limitin" .actors* more .armers will plant it. Too much rice could tri""er a price
reduction* which increases consumption* which reduces the supply.
A rein.orcin" .eedbac loop allows the stoc to continue to chan"e without such controls. I. it is
money in an interest7bearin" sa,in"s account* where more money enables you to collect more
interest* which "i,es you more money to collect more interest* the rein.orcin" loop seems lie a
"ood thin". Soil erodin" .rom a streamban loosens the roots and topples the plants on the ed"e
o. the stream* causin" .ewer roots to hold the soil in place and increasin" soil erosion. In time the
stream will shi.t its course. I. "olden rice reduces malnutrition which enables population "rowth*
more people will be around to eat more "olden rice. I. the resources that went into de,elopin"
and distributin" "olden rice tae away resources that pre,iously supported local .armin"* .ewer
.armers will be able to .arm. Cein.orcin" loops can create ,icious cycles o. destruction* or
wonder.ul patterns o. "rowth* as lon" as we reco"ni8e which ,ariables are limitin" .actors and
which conse6uences are most liely.
9hen rein.orcin" loops are actin" on a stoc that has the ability to reproduce :any plant or
animal; or can "row due to in.luence .rom a reproducin" population :demand .or automobiles is
in.luenced by the human population si8e; the stoc will "row e4ponentially. $4ponential "rowth
is important because we are continually surprised by how 6uicly thin"s chan"e. I. a population
o. water lilies will co,er a pond in #2 days by doublin" their population e,ery day* it will tae !/
days to co,er 1!.)R o. the pond. That does not seem to be much o. a threat. But in only three
more days the pond will be completely co,ered with lilies. 9hile that may be "ood i. you want
to "row lilies .or economic* it is bad i. you want to swim or maintain any other or"anisms
in the system
Cein.orcin" loops can be held in chec by balancin" loops and both loops are commonly .ound
to"ether in many systems. A population "rows e4ponentially because o..sprin" reproduce*
main" more o..sprin" that reproduce :a rein.orcin" loop;. 9hen the population hits a limitin"
.actor :a balancin" loop;* deaths increase or births decrease* brin"in" the population down to a
point that the system can maintain. %elays in in.ormation about the le,el o. the stoc can be
disastrous in a system. As automobile dri,ers .rom winter climates can attest* anythin" that hides
or delays .eedbac about ,ehicle speed and road conditions can result in brain" too late and
siddin" o.. the road. I. the .eedbac .rom the balancin" loop did not act 6uicly enou"h* as in
reindeer reproducin" on a predator7.ree island* they can remo,e their .ood source :lichen; and
star,e to death. The .eedbac will e,entually reduce the population. I. the delay in .eedbac is
len"thy* the soils could erode be.ore the lichen can reco,er* and the system may be unable to
restore itsel..
9e o.ten loo at a portion o. a system and belie,e that somethin" causes somethin" else. $,ents
are o.ten to blame .or dramatic chan"es in stocs* such as the impact o. Aurricane Katrina on the
dies in @ew 'rleans or an unattended camp.ire on the ensuin" wild.ires. It is pain.ully ob,ious
that without the hurricane the die would still standL without the camp.ire the wild.ire would not
ha,e started. But a systems perspecti,e would su""est that each system was already a disaster
awaitin" a tri""er. Buildin" a city below sea le,el in a hurricane 8one and not stren"thenin"
dies created a system that was prone to .ail. In a system* the ori"inal plan o. @ew 'rleans
caused the disaster as much as the tri""er o. the hurricane. A build7up o. ,e"etation .rom years
o. .ire suppression can weaen the resilience o. a .orest. An outbrea o. insect pests can ill
susceptible trees. The increase in dead trees can .uel a .ire that becomes catastrophic. Thus .orest
mana"ement decisions can contribute to .orest .ires as much as the camp.ire spar. In a system
there is rarely a linear cause and e..ect. The e..ect may actually in.luence the cause because o.
those .eedbac loops.
Usin+ Syste*s Thin5in+ to Analy=e Decisions
From this brie. introduction to systems we can point out ways to use systems thinin" in the
conte4t o. main" decisions about sustainability and to e4plain why we otherwise will ha,e
di..iculty achie,in" sustainability.
1. %e.ine a system with boundaries bi" enou"h to include all aspects o. the sustainability
.ramewor. 9e cannot be"in to ascertain how a technolo"y a..ects rich and poor people
di..erently i. that in.ormation is not in the system we are analy8in". 'ur economics system has
i"nored en,ironmental e4ternalities .or decades* and most people now a"ree that practice has
made it di..icult to understand and pay .or the e..ects o. pollution.
!. Loo .or .eedbac loops that eep the system in chec and mae choices that respect those
loops. Too o.ten policies try to en.orce "rowth in a system that is hittin" limits or create stability
at a le,el that is not sustainable. Shippin" .ood to re.u"ees helps brid"e a "ap in an emer"ency
situation and is not usually thou"ht o. as a bad policy because o. humanitarian principles.
Increasin" a"ricultural e..iciency may be a better lon" term strate"y as it helps a nation "enerate
its own .ood* i. this can be done within en,ironmental limits.
#. %e,elop strate"ies to detect e4ponential "rowth. It has a habit o. creepin" up on us .aster
than we e4pect. A care.ul loo at population doublin" rates will re,eal that to maintain the
current 6uality o. li.e in a county with a )R population "rowth rate means doublin" the number
o. police cars* houses* hospital beds* and school classrooms e,ery 1& years.
&. Ceco"ni8e that linear and e4ponential "rowth are not the only patterns .or system chan"es.
Sometimes the relationship between the chan"e in an input and the le,el o. the stoc* .or
e4ample* includes an une4pected point beyond which the system beha,es in a completely
di..erent way. A .ew centimeters o. soil can erode e,ery year causin" a small decline in soil
.ertility* until the depth o. topsoil e6uals the root 8one. %urin" the ne4t .ew years an e6ually
small loss o. topsoil can result in enormous crop losses or complete .ailure. ?ntil we now more
about the system* there is really no reason to assume a linear relationship* especially with re"ard
to to to4icolo"y :how much o. a carcino"en is allowableE; or endan"ered species reco,ery. Some
ornitholo"ists su""est that passen"er pi"eonsD reproducti,e success was tied to lar"e roostin"
colonies. 9hen the density o. birds dropped beyond a ma"ical point* they stopped breedin".
Such a relationship between population and reproduction would cause e4tinction lon" be.ore it
would be e4pected.
). Include time and space when considerin" systems* particularly when listin" inputs and
outputs. The de.inition o. sustainable de,elopment ass us to consider the impacts into the
.uture. I. our system boundaries only include the present* our deliberations will be based on .alse
assumptions and a lac o. in.ormation. Li.e cycle analysis is a tool that be"ins to 6uanti.y and
consider the inputs and outputs .or each product. %oin" so enables us to mae choices in
products* and also in production systems to reduce e4tracti,e impacts and waste "eneration :See
chapter 4;. (ermanyDs Paca"in" 'rdinance* adopted in 1111 and e..ecti,e since 1110* shi.ts the
responsibility o. waste disposal to the producin" industry. The disposal or recyclin" cost o. each
paca"e is incorporated into the product price. This ,ersion o. the <polluter pays> principle
creates an incenti,e .or industry to de,elop products and paca"es that recycle more easily* that
brea less o.ten* and that use recycled materials.
+. Loo .or strate"ies to increase in.ormation .lows such as identi.yin" indicators o. positi,e
and ne"ati,e chan"e patterns. %elays in pro,idin" in.ormation can slow the systemDs response to
chan"es* which can cause ne"ati,e conse6uences. Mae sure all o. the concerned parties are
"ettin" .eedbac in.ormation so they can ad5ust their beha,ior* too.
/. Cather than blamin" an e,ent .or a calamity* loo at the system. Aow many other ways was
the system a..ected* in addition to the tri""er. @ational debates o.ten turn on this 6uestionTdoes
our .orei"n policy reduce or increase terrorismE The answer is probably buried in the intertwined
.eedbac loops and .lows o. weapons* "oodwill* money* dru"s* and products that lin our "lobal
Anothe, Loo5 at the Delaney A*en)*ent
Aistory tells us that the %elaney amendment* howe,er noble* was not realistic or .unctional.
9hat would "ood .ood sa.ety re"ulations loo lie and how should we mae these decisionsE I.
we use the su""estions abo,e* we could .ashion a hypothetical set o. process and considerations
to illustrate these concepts.
I. .ood sa.ety is the "oal* the system o. study must include a"riculture* .ood preser,ation and
processin"* as well as maretin" and distribution. Considerin" sustainability will encoura"e the
addition o. human health and en,ironmental health e4perts to the system. A set o. meetin"s will
be necessary .or them to learn how to tal to each other and to better understand issues* the
responsibility* and the power they ha,e. It may be use.ul to be"in the process by .ocusin" on an
additi,e that is less complicated.
I. recommendations are .ocusin" on one piece o. the system* such as arti.icial sweeteners* it is
important to consider the conse6uences o. remo,in" them .rom the ?.S. maret to those who
mi"ht be most a..ected :diabetics and dietin" people;. The .eedbac loops that a..ect this stoc
are one way to e4plore these conse6uences.
The process o. appro,in" new additi,es mi"ht be di..erent .rom that o. screenin" e4istin"
additi,es. @ew chemicals that brin" an acnowled"ed ris may be re5ected on the basis o.
precaution. Aow o.ten should a chemical be re,iewedE 9hat types and le,els o. .eedbac should
tri""er additional in,esti"ationE 9hat type o. test result would enable the manu.acture to a"ree
to remo,e the chemicals .rom the maretE As the number o. additi,es syrocets* a "o,ernment
lab cannot be e4pected to per.orm all the appro,al tests* and the maer mi"ht not ha,e the best
interest o. the consumers at heart. 9ho should pro,ide this ser,iceE 9ho should pay .or that
researchE 9ho will increase their re,enue as a result o. appro,in" the additi,eE An adapti,e
collaborati,e mana"ement strate"y could be desi"ned with the input .rom the chemical
manu.acturers* the human health e4perts* the social 5ustice ad,ocates* and the en,ironmental
community to establish a system o. tri""er points that could launch additional tests .or the
chemicals more liely to "enerate problems* based on a historic re,iew o. similar chemicals.
9hat are the ultimate "oals o. this "roup* and can a"reement on a ,ision help remo,e the
di..erences they will stumble o,er as they protect their interestsE 9hat is their duty toward the
most ,ulnerable populationsE Perhaps the "roup could a"ree to establish di..erent .ood 6uality
limits .or items most typically consumed by in.ants and elderly* or employ the use o. warnin"
labels .or .oods that are a "reater ris to pre"nant women. To what e4tent should nown
muta"ens that could chan"e the "enetic maeup o. .uture "enerations be re"ulated di..erently
than additi,es that are to4ic to pesticide applicatorsE
%o we ha,e the technolo"ical ability to now the conse6uences o. these .ood additi,esE Aow do
we balance uncertain* ris* and the promise o. a new productE I. epidemiolo"y tests on mice are
not "enerali8able to people* and we are not com.ortable testin" additi,es on people* does
precaution win* or do we establish a"reements that will tri""er screenin" at .i,e year inter,alsE
Can we e,er now the impact o. a sin"le chemical "i,en the combination o. additi,es we
consume re"ularlyE Ceco"ni8in" the di..iculty that we ha,e in understandin" probability and
uncertainty should help our hypothetical team de,elop better analo"ies to e4plain the test results
to each other* the media* and the public.
Limits in human mental capacity* decision heuristics* and e4perience or e4pertise conspire to
reduce our ability to mae wise decisions in the .ace o. comple4ity and uncertainty which would
include most decisions about sustainability. Main" decisions may re6uire that people wor
to"ether* each brin"in" di..erent e4pertise to the system. It may also re6uire a common lan"ua"e
so that these e4perts can .unction e..ecti,ely as a "roup.
Since usin" in.ormation is essential to the decision main" process* how the in.ormation is
pro,ided can mae a si"ni.icant di..erence in how people percei,e* remember* and use the
in.ormation. All in.ormation is not created e6ual^ As Kahneman* T,ersy* and others ha,e
su""ested* the way options are de.ined may in.luence how much we them* what analo"ies
are included will chan"e what we remember and how we retrie,e it* who pro,ides the
in.ormation may chan"e whether we belie,e it* and any strate"y that o..ers certainty is liely to
be .a,ored. Since our ability to be rational is predictably limited it means we can attempt to
compensate .or our .ailin"s by reducin" uncertainty* .ramin" scenarios similarly* and addressin"
comple4ity* .or starters.
%esi"nin" the en,ironments or pro"rams that allow people to mae decisions may be possible by
usin" a .ramewor called the Ceasonable Person Model. It su""ests that decision maers need to
share a similar understandin" o. the problem* or at least reco"ni8e what others now and
de,eloped a way to tal about it* now how to be e..ecti,e* and ha,e realistic opportunities to
use their sills to mae a di..erence. $4perts in,ol,ed in main" business decisions probably
already possess some o. these sills. Main" decisions in the public sphere o.ten re6uires e4perts
to en"a"e with decision maers and the public* and these situations will necessitate attention to
shared understandin"* competence* and helplessness.
Computer models and systems thinin" may be help.ul to predict how a decision could play out
o,er time* as lon" as the model includes the rele,ant componentsTi. the systemDs boundaries
are set appropriately and all the parts are present. Since models by de.inition only pro4imate
reality* it is important to reco"ni8e their limitations. Adapti,e mana"ement techni6ues may allow
"roups to cautiously establish monitorin" protocols and .uture scenarios .or tracin" important
chan"es where uncertainty and ris still e4ist.
I. people are not usin" rationality to mae decisions* what are they doin"E They are probably
usin" a .orm o. bounded rationality that enables them to do the best they can. They will assemble
what in.ormation they can .ind and comprehend* and they will interpret that in.ormation throu"h
the lens o. their own e4perience. They will not calculate probability* but they will lean on some
intuiti,e rules about .re6uency* ris* and lielihood.
So how should we mae better decisionsE The basic process is still ,iable* but since none o. the
assumptions o. rationality can be met* we must mae some si"ni.icant chan"es to the ori"inal
.ormula. I. we want people to do a better 5ob o. main" decisions* they need to be tau"ht speci.ic
1. Broaden the boundaries o. the problem to include en,ironment* social concerns* and
economic de,elopment. $stablish a common understandin" o. the system that will enable the
decision7maers to e4plore the dimensions o. time and space that are help.ul to the 6uestion at
hand. Framin"* and re.ramin" the problem could "i,e us new ways to understand it and
communicate with others :see Chapter #;.
!. Appreciate the many dimensions o. the issue and identi.y others who brin" complementary
perspecti,es and e4pertise. 9or to increase communication and understandin" o. the problem.
#* Keep a record o. the e4ploration* the presentations* and the decisions so that people
percei,e .orward mo,ement in the decision process and that the .inal outcomes will be
transparent and understandable.
&. Ceduce the comple4ity o. the e4panded problem with systems thinin" that su""ests what
to loo .or :inputs and outputs in stocs* balancin" and rein.orcin" loops* relationships between
). Identi.y what is nown and a"reed upon* what is uncertain* and what is unnown. Identi.y
priorities and those populations or limitin" .actors that must be protected or respected. 9here
there is uncertainty or unnowns* discuss how to "ain more in.ormation throu"h adapti,e
mana"ement and tar"etin" monitorin". Select the outcome that appears to the most
ad,anta"es with the .ewest disad,anta"es while .ollowin" the principles and limitations that
were ori"inally established.
This process may be"in with a core o. rationality* but when we add a systems perspecti,e*
opportunities to create reasonable decision maers* and adapti,e mana"ement strate"ies .or
copin" with uncertainty and ris* we ha,e a len"thy process that en"a"es a ,ariety o. people in
e4plorin" how to ne"otiate a more ade6uate decision.
Bardwell L. 1111. Success stories- Ima"ery by e4ample. J $n, $duc !#- )712.
Center .or Media and %emocracy. 111/. 'ne Bad AppleE Facts and Myths Behind the WAlar
Scare*D PC 9atch* &:!;. Accessed on 'ctober 10* !221 .rom
%e 3oun"* C. and M. Monroe. 111+. Some .undamentals o. en"a"in" stories* $n,ironmental
$ducation Cesearch !:!;- 1/1710/.
(ardner* (. T. and P. C. Stern. 111+. $n,ironmental problems and human beha,ior. Boston MA-
Allyn and Bacon
Aalpert* A. !221. (ermanyDs solid waste disposal system- Shi.tin" the responsibility.
(eor"etown International $n,ironmental Law Ce,iew. Accessed at o. the
(eor"etown ?ni,ersity Law Center on June 12* !221 at http-GGwww.allbusiness.comGpublic7
Arab* @. !22&. An apple a day. Arab 'p7$d at American Spectator 'nline* Jan 10* !22&.
Accessed on 'ctober 1* !221 .rom http-GGcei.or"G"enconG211*2#0!1.c.m
Kaplan* C. and S. Kaplan. !220a. Brin"in" out the best in people- A psycholo"ical perspecti,e*
Conser,ation Biolo"y* !!:&;- 0!+70!1
Kaplan* C. and S. Kaplan. !220b. Participation as a social and personal "ood- I. Shapin" the
en,ironment. The 1&th International Symposium on Society and Cesource Mana"ement. June
1271&* Burlin"ton UT.
Kaplan* S. !222. WAuman nature and en,ironmentally responsible beha,iorD* Journal o. Social
Issues* )+ :#;- &117)20.
Kaplan* S. and C. Kaplan. 110!. Co"nition and en,ironment- Functionin" in an uncertain world.
@ew 3or @3- Prae"er
Keen* M.* U.A. Brown and C. %yball. !22). WSocial learnin"- A new approach to en,ironmental
mana"ementD* in M. Keen* U.A. Brown* and C. %yball :eds;* Social Learnin" in $n,ironmental
Mana"ement- Towards a Sustainable Future. London* ?K- $arthscan.
Mandler (. 11/)a. Memory stora"e and retrie,al- some limits on the research o. attention and
consciousness* in P. M. Cabbitt and S. %ornic :eds;. Attention and Per.ormance* ,ol.U. London-
Mandler* (. 11/)b. Consciousness- respectable* use.ul* and probably necessary* in C. L. Solso
:ed.;. In.ormation processin" and co"niti,e psycholo"y. Aillsdale* @J- $rlbaum.
Meadows* %. 1111. The (lobal Citi8en. 9ashin"ton %C- Island Press
Meadows* %. 111+. Farewell to the %elaney Amendment* The (lobal Citi8en* September !+
111+* Accessible at http-GGwww.pcd..or"GmeadowsG
Meadows. %. !220. Thinin" in Systems. 9hite Ci,er Junction UT- Chelsea (reen
Meadows* %.* %. Meadows and J. Canders. 111!. Beyond the Limits. Post Mills UT- Chelsea
Molla"hasemi* M. and J. Pet7$dwards. 111/. Main" Multiple7'b5ecti,e %ecisions.
9ashin"ton- I$$$.
Monroe* M. and S. Kaplan. 1100. 9hen words spea louder than actions- $n,ironmental
problem sol,in" in the classroom* #ournal of En$ironmental Education 11:#;- #07&1.
Monroe* M. C.* A. '4arart* L. Mc%onell* and C. Plate. !221. ?sin" Community Forums to
$nhance Public $n"a"ement in $n,ironmental %ecisions* Journal o. education .or sustainable
Murray* C. and %. Marmore. !22#. Adapti,e Mana"ement and $colo"ical Cestoration. Chapter
!&* in- Freiderici* P. :ed.;. !22#. $colo"ical Cestoration o. Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests.
9ashin"ton %C- Island Press* pp. &1/7&!0.
@isbett C. and L. Coss. 1102. Auman in.erences- Strate"ies and shortcomin" o. social 5ud"ment.
$n"lewood Cli..s* @J- Prentice Aall.
Peterson* C. C. and L. C. Beach. 11+/. Man as an intuiti,e statistician. Psycholo"ical Bulletin
+0- !17&+.
Simon* A. 11)). A beha,ioral model o. rational choice. The 6uarterly 5ournal o. economics.
+1-1* 117110.
Simon* A. A. 11/!. Theories o. bounded rationality* in Mc(uire* CB and C Cadner :eds;
%ecision and 'r"ani8ation. @orth7Aolland Pub. Chapter 0* 1+171/+. Accessed in the Aerbert
Simon Collection* o. Carne"ie Mellon ?ni,ersity* Article Ceprint _#+1*
Slo,ic* Fischho.. and Lichtenstein. 11//. Annual Ce,iews o. Psycholo"y. !0- 17#1. Accessed on
April 1#* !221 .rom www.annualre,iews.or"Garonline.
Slo,ic* P. 110/. Perception o. ris. Science !#+-&/11 :!027!0); April 1/* 110/.
T,ersy* A. and Kahneman* %. 11/&. Jud"ment under uncertainty- Aeuristics and biases.
Science. 10)-&1)/ :11!&711#1;.
T,ersy* A. and Kahneman* %. 1101. The .ramin" o. decisions and the psycholo"y o. choice.
Science. !11-&&01 :&)#7&)0;.
9aler and Salt. !22+. Cesilience Thinin". 9ashin"ton %C- Island Press.
9eic* K. $. 110&. Small wins- Cede.inin" the scale o. social problems. American Psycholo"ist*
#1:1;- &27&1.
http-GGwww.msha."o,GstatsGchartsGcoalbystate.asp. Accessed May !1* !221* ?S %epartment o.
Labor* Mine Sa.ety and Aealth AdministrationL a,era"e o. annual .atalities .rom 111+ to !220.
Peterson and Beach* 11+/
A ,ariety o. discussions o. the limits o. rationality e4ist* particularly in Kaplan and Kaplan :110!; pa"es 1+271+#
and (ardner and Stern :111+; pa"es !!/7!#&. More in SimonDs ori"inal contributions can be .ound in Simon 11)+
and Simon 11)1.
(ardner and Stern* 111+
@isbett and Coss* 1102* pa"e +)
@isbett and Coss* 1102
Meadows Meadows and Canders 111!. See Chapter 44
Slo,ic* Fischho.. and Lichtenstein* 11//
T,ersy and Kahneman* 11/&.
Published in PC 9atch* Second ]uarter 111/* Uolume &* @o. ! at
http-GGwww.prwatch.or"GprwissuesG111/]!Galar.html on 'ct 10 !221. <'ne Bad AppleE Facts and Myths Behind
the WAlar ScareD> Center .or Media and %emocracy and Arab* !22&.
@isbett and Coss* 1102* pa"e +2
(ardner and Stern pa"e !#&* Kaplan and Kaplan 110!* pa"e 1+#* and T,ersy and Kahneman 1101
Kaplan !222
Jacobson* Mc%u..* and Monroe !22+
Kaplan and Kaplan 110!* citin" Mandler 11/)a and 11/)b
Slo,ic 110/
Based on Meadows 1+ and
9eic 110&
Kaplan and Kaplan !220a* !220b
Bardwell 1111* Monroe and Kaplan 1100
Kaplan !222* %e 3oun" !222
Monroe et al. !221
See* .or e4ample* the Technical" .rom the Institute o. $lectrical and $lectonics $n"ineers published in
111/ and written by Mansooreh Molla"hasemi and Julia Pet7$dwards* Making Multiple-Ob6ecti$e ecisions and
re.erence materials such as- Keeney* C. L. and A. Cai..a. 11/+. ecisions with Multiple Ob6ecti$es% Preferences and
@alue Tradeoffs. @3- 9ileyL Chanon"* U. and 3. 3. Aaimes. 110#. Multiob6ecti$e ecision Making% Theory and
Methodology* @3- $lse,ierG@orth AollandL [eleny* M. 110!. Multiple Criteria ecision Making. @3- Mc(raw7
%onella Meadows has been one o. the leaders o. se,eral e..orts to understand systems and one o. the .ew to mae
AillL 3u* P.L. 110). Multiple Criteria ecision Making% Concepts! Techni=ues! and E*tensions. @3- PlenumL
(oicoechea* A.* %. C. Aansen*and L. %ucstein. 110!. Multiob6ecti$e ecision 2nalysis with Engineering and
(usiness 2pplications. @3- John 9iley.
Murray and Marmore !22#* 9aler and Salt !22+
systems accessible to the "eneral public. Aer biweely syndicated column* The (lobal Citi8en* was piced up by
newspapers across the country* and used to e4plain systems thinin" in the conte4t o. the national debt* current
political debates* or "ardenin" :Meadows 1111 and http-GGwww.pcd..or"GmeadowsG;. Aer boo* Thinin" in Systems
:Meadows !220;* pro,ides an e4cellent introduction to systems lan"ua"e and the applications o. a systems
perspecti,e. This section is taen .rom her wor.
:.or more in.ormation* see Meadows !220;.
Personal con,ersation with %a,id Blocstein o. the @ational Council .or the Institute o. the $n,ironment EE in
The pre,ious chapters e4plored aspects o. sustainable and ethical decisions that imply chan"e.
Because many o. our acti,ities in the worplace ha,e not* as a rule* championed sustainability*
one mi"ht wonder how an indi,idual could use this in.ormation to mae a di..erence. (i,en that
businesses* industries* or"ani8ations* and communities ha,e rather set patterns .or decision7
main"* how does one employee en"a"e in sustainability throu"h his or her worE
As the e4amples in pre,ious chapters ha,e su""ested* a number o. people* or"ani8ations* and
communities are pro,idin" leadership in main" these chan"es. Companies such as Cli. Bar*
Pata"onia* Ben and JerryDs Ice Cream* and Inter.ace* Inc. :the carpet company; were relati,ely
early leaders in promotin" sustainability throu"h their products and practices. Today e,en
9almart and Ford are acceptin" best practices that establish "uidelines .or ethical a"reements*
reduced waste* recycled products* and other responsible practices* o.ten nown as Corporate
Social Cesponsibility :see chapter 1;. @ew business "raduates .rom the Thunderbird School o.
(lobal Mana"ement ,oluntarily si"n an oath o. honor to contribute to implementin"
@ot e,ery employee wors in a business or industry* o. course. The <worplace> also
re.ers to public a"encies* municipality o..ices* uni,ersities* and @('s. This chapter will
incorporate e4amples .rom both the pri,ate and public sectors as their employees
consider adoptin" practices that lead toward sustainability. Also* inno,ations leadin"
toward sustainability are not 5ust about what we decide to do* but also how we decide.
@otions o. transparency and broader participation in decision7main" are at the heart o.
more ethical and more sustainable procedures.
As Chapter 0 outlined* sustainability practices o.ten be"in with an indi,idual main" an
ethical decision that leads to "reater sustainability. 9hile that chapter is limited to
understandin" the comple4ities o. thinin" about sustainability* this chapter .ocuses on
carryin" that idea throu"h to a decision on the 5ob. $4cept .or the sel.7employed and
e4tremely wealthy* implementin" decisions will always in,ol,e other people. $,ery "ood
idea must be appro,ed by someone be.ore it "oes .orward. In .act* the process o. arri,in"
at a "ood idea o.ten comes .rom a "roup* as recent attention to 6uality circles* team
buildin"* and multi7staeholder processes in leadin" or"ani8ations would su""est.
Furthermore* "ood worplace practices* such as new strate"ies to reduce waste or
purchase certi.ied products* may not be success.ul until a lar"e number o. people a"ree to
adopt them. And i. the "ood idea is a product* its success depends on consumers main"
a decision to buy it which is in.luenced by ad,ertisement* paca"in"* price* and other
aspects o. a business. All .our o. these situations in,ol,e persuasi,e strate"ies* team
e..ort* or "roup deliberations. This chapter addresses the process o. obtainin" a"reement*
spreadin" new ideas to others* and worin" success.ully within "roups.
At the core o. e..ecti,e communication with indi,iduals and "roups is an understandin"
o. what moti,ates indi,iduals chan"e their beha,ior. 9hen a collea"ue a"rees to 5oin a
"roup* he or she maes a conscious e..ort to adopt a new beha,iorT"roup meetin"
attendance. 9hen a super,isor appro,es a new concept* the beha,ior is the actual
decision* and additional beha,iors may come soon a.ter* such as authori8in" a new team
and alterin" the bud"et accordin"ly. 9hen we employ cle,er strate"ies to appeal to ey
moti,es to chan"e beha,ior* we do so with some sense o. what is important to people and
what will support this new action. In all these situations the be"innin" o. beha,ior chan"e
lies with the indi,idual. The e4tent to which the indi,idual controls that decision*
howe,er* is ,ery much a product o. their social and physical en,ironment.
9hat determines whether indi,iduals accept and put into practice a new ideaE
Psycholo"ists ha,e wrestled with this 6uestion .or decades. 9eDll use three commonly
used theories o. beha,ior chan"e to answer the .ollowin" 6uestions and then e4plore how
they could help us adopt sustainable practices at wor- 1; what determines beha,ior* !;
who chan"es .irst* and #; what process do we "o throu"h to mae a chan"e.
!hat )ete,*ines beha-io,G
'ne critical element o. adoptin" a new practice is in.ormation. People need to now
what* how* and sometimes why be.ore they can mae a chan"e. In.ormation enables
people to .orm belie.s about beha,iors* the process o. conductin" a beha,ior* and the
conse6uences o. their actions. But ha,in" belie.s about the conse6uences o. their
beha,ior doesnDt always mean people will act appropriately :as demonstrated by the still
numerous en,ironmentalists who .ly to annual con.erences; and belie.s that prompt
action may not be based on current in.ormation :such as those who shun aerosol cans
because they belie,e they contain CFCs;. Thus in.ormation is not the only important
,ariable in .ormin" belie.s* and belie.s are not the only component o. beha,ior.
Cesearchers huntin" .or the ultimate answer to the 6uestion o. what chan"es beha,ior
then turned to attitudes. Attitudes ha,e two elements- a positi,e or ne"ati,e emotional
response coupled to a belie.. An attitude predisposes someone toward or away .rom an
action. A beha,ior o.ten includes se,eral attitudes* each a combination o. a belie. and
a..ecti,e element. They need not be e6ual. A con.erence attendee could acnowled"e the
ne"ati,e conse6uences o. .lyin" and .eel bad about her beha,ior* but hold a stron"er
positi,e attitude about the o. attendin" the con.erence .or her wor. Indeed* how
people .eel about the in.ormation and the beha,ior o.ten ha,e some bearin" on whether
they adopt the new practice* but the combination o. attitudes an indi,idual holds* such as
.or health* status* 5ob security* or .amily well7bein" may not all support the same
beha,ior* and as a result we either tolerate the dissonance or con,ince oursel,es that
some .actors are not ,ery important.
Martin Fishbein and I8a A58enDs Theory o. Planned Beha,ior
su""ests that attitudes are
one important .actor that help determine our actions. There are two other .actors*
sub5ecti,e norms and percei,ed control* and taen to"ether* these three elements do a
.airly "ood 5ob o. predictin" whether people will adopt or chan"e a beha,ior.
Sub5ecti,e norm is one o. the determinants o. beha,ior because people care about what
other people thin. This social in.luence is not awarded to e,eryone* but rather to those
whom the indi,idual chooses to care about. 9hen a company president releases a
statement about the ethics o. sustainability* .or e4ample* those who care about winnin"
the presidentDs appro,al may be moti,ated to ,alue sustainability. I. the 5anitorial sta.. do
not care about the presidentDs"led ideas nor see how it a..ects them* they will
.or"et it. So this second element is a product o. what a person whose opinion matters to
me thins about me adoptin" the beha,ior and the de"ree I care about how that person
will .eel. An employer who wishes to use this element to sway someoneDs beha,ior may
not lea,e an interpretation o. his desires to chance. Instead o. a blanet messa"e about the
,alue o. sustainability* a sa,,y leader mi"ht say* <This company will lead our
competitors in sustainability and I will be payin" attention to where the best ideas are
"enerated.> For employees who care about how their super,isor percei,es their wor*
there would be no doubt what the super,isor ,alues.
The third component is percei,ed control. The best in.ormation* most positi,e attitudes*
and most supporti,e sub5ecti,e norm will not chan"e beha,ior i. people belie,e they are
not able to per.orm the beha,ior. Some en,ironments are simply not conduci,e to
installin" solar technolo"y. Some stores do not carry .air trade chocolate. 9antin" to
adopt these beha,iors will not be enou"h to mae it happen. $,en when the beha,ior is
possible* i. an indi,idual does not ha,e the con.idence in his or her ability to per.orm the
action* the lac o. percei,ed control may pre,ent the beha,ior .rom occurrin". I. pre,ious
e4perience with su""estin" a new idea results in an indi,idual .eelin" .oolish* an
employee may sti.le new ideas or may route them throu"h indi,iduals who are more
liely to be applauded .or their inno,ati,e ideas. The latter would be a case o. ha,in"
enou"h percei,ed control to understand who would be a better con,eyor o. the idea. In
the personal realm* i. commuters belie,e bicyclin" to wor is more strenuous than it
actually is* bein" supported to try a beha,ior may enable them to build enou"h
con.idence in their own abilities to o,ercome their ori"inal perception.
!ho chan+es fi,stG
Althou"h the Theory o. Planned Beha,ior su""ests that these three components play a
role in decisions to chan"e beha,ior* some indi,iduals are more liely to adopt new ideas
6uicly and others will tae a much lon"er period o. time to belie,e the chan"e is worth
doin". This ,ariation amon" people* accordin" to $,erett Co"ers
* occurs in e,ery
collection o. peopleT.rom the day shi.t .actory worers to county employees* teachers in
an elementary school* or members o. a church. $ach social system is made up o. the
.ollowin" .i,e types o. people-
Those who donDt need much time to decide at all are called inno$ators. The presentation
o. an idea may be all it taes .or them to snap their .in"ers and say* <IDm on itL letDs "o.>
They are accustomed to wild new ideasL they are not to try untested waters. They
tend to ha,e enou"h .inancial and social capital that new ,entures do not entail
substantial personal ris. 9hile Co"ers belie,es e,ery community or "roup has some
inno,ators* there are not ,ery many around* and they may not interact well with <re"ular>
.ols. They can* howe,er* help e4perimenters understand how a new technolo"y mi"ht
.unction. In some circles* inno,ators could also be in,entors. In either case* these people
are o.ten not too "ood at helpin" others understand their in.atuation with the new idea.
9hen an inno,ation is mareted to an audience* it tends to "o throu"h .amiliar channels.
Some people are more attuned to these channels than others. Amon" .armers* those who
li,e closer to bi" cities and use the Internet may be the ones to recei,e new in.ormation
.irst. For en"ineers it may be those who are acti,e members o. their pro.essional
association. Early adopters are those people who "et this in.ormation and are able to tae
ad,anta"e o. it. They are o.ten well respected and well inte"rated members o. their
community or association. They can be trend7setters. I. they try a new idea and lie it*
others are more liely to .ollow in their .ootsteps. These are the people you .irst saw
dri,in" a hybrid ,ehicle. :The inno,ators were dri,in" an earlier model* but not in places
we .re6uent* such as Aspen* C' or Ailton Aead* SC^;
The early ma6ority are the .ols who .ollow the early adopters. They interact with early
adopters and others in their networ* but are less liely to be in leadership positions. They
re6uire someone else to set the e4ample be.ore they mae their decision* but they will
adopt a new beha,ior sli"htly ahead o. the ,ast ma5ority. Because urban dwellers are
more liely to see more hybrids on the road than rural dwellers* the early ma5ority in a
city will adopt hybrid cars .aster than their small town7brethren. Some policies :e.".* cash
.or cluners; may be desi"ned to attract the early ma5ority* especially when political and
economic .actors are considerations in decisions to mae a chan"e. Alon" about here in
the adoption process* the inno,ation mi"ht chan"e to somethin" more appealin" to the
ma5ority. Many new ideas are in a constant process o. adaptation* and thou"ht.ul users
are o.ten the best people mae chan"es and create sli"htly di..erent ideas o. products.
The late ma6ority tend to be septical o. chan"e. They are more liely to respond to peer
pressureTthey need an o,erwhelmin" response be.ore they .eel com.ortable adoptin" the
chan"e. In their case* more adopters may not be the only criteria pushin" them toward
chan"e. They may need more e,idence as well. They may be waitin" .or the price o. "as
to stay hi"h* or .or ser,ice reports on hybrid batteries. They are still dri,in" their "as7
e..icient small car but are payin" attention and sa,in" their pennies .or a switch someday.
The last to adopt any inno,ation are the laggards. They are traditional* suspicious* and
resistant to chan"e. These characteristics also protect them .rom risL those who sur,i,e
at the mar"in cannot a..ord to try somethin" new. They are not e,en contemplatin"
somethin" as di..erent as a hybrid ,ehicle. There is no reason to chan"e a "ood thin"* and
"asoline7powered transportation is completely dependable.
Interestin"ly* these labels are applied to people in speci.ic conte4ts* not in e,ery conte4t*
so that an urban minister may be an early adopter when he encoura"es his .loc to
a nearby homeless shelter to conser,e ener"y and also a la""ard when he re.uses to own a
cell phone because it distracts him .rom wor. The Amish are typically labeled la""ards
because o. their re5ection o. electricity and automobile ownership* but are at the .ore.ront
o. wise* economical .armin" practices in 'hioDs rollin" hills where tractors are less
e..icient than horses. As problems are disco,ered with technolo"y such as synthetic
pesticides* those die7hard la""ards who re5ected the (reen Ce,olution ha,e become
inno,ators o. or"anic .armin". Althou"h Co"ersD cate"ories may sound too .le4ible* are
,ery help.ul when analy8in" how inno,ations spread throu"h a community and
determinin" how to speed the process.
The S7cur,e described in Chapter ! that charts the adoption o. a technolo"y o,er time is
actually a map o. these .i,e "roups choosin" a new idea. In each case* Co"ers estimates
that the inno,ators are about !.)R o. any communityL early adopters total 1#.)RL early
and late ma5ority each contain #&RL and the la""ards complete the total at 1+R. They
.orm a normal bell cur,e :Fi"ure 1;. 9hen this bell shape is con,erted to the number o.
adopters o,er time* it is the .amiliar S7cur,e :Fi"ure !;. Some inno,ations sweep throu"h
a community :lie cell phones; and with a steep slope* while others tae a lon" time to
become popular. Fa4 machines* .or e4ample* were in,ented in 10&# and too 1&& years
to sell one million per year.
Cell phones* in contrast* sold 1# million in the .irst ten years
o. e4istence in the ?.S.
9hile both technolo"ies speed communication and enhance
sustainability by increasin" access and re6uirin" .ewer resources* a .a4 was only use.ul
once they were common* where cell phones could be .unctional when callin" a land lines.
Fa4 machines were limited to use in o..ices* where cell phones could be seen in public as
people waled to wor or waited in restaurants. The di..erences in these inno,ations led
to a .aster adoption rate .or a cell phone because* in part* the early and late ma5orities
were able to see the early adopters use their phones and reali8e the ad,anta"es .or
themsel,es. (i,en these data* we could hypothesi8e that ,isible inno,ations will be more
liely to be adopted 6uicly than hidden ones :such as solar panels ,s. in7"round heat
pumps; and that inno,ations that can be used in concert with e4istin" technolo"y will be
more easily adopted than those that re6uire their own uni6ue system.
By nowin" somethin" about the determinants that moti,ate people to consider new
actions and the characteristics o. the people who are liely to lead such e..orts* we can be
more e..ecti,e at su""estin" new strate"ies to our collea"ues* tar"etin" people to
champion a new acti,ity* or reali8in" why an apparently "ood idea ne,er too o...
But not all new "ood ideas are popular. The di..usion cur,e depends on whether the
<ri"ht> people are supporti,e. Bicycle ridin" has lon" been the mode o. transportation .or
students and homelessL until people who are percei,ed as community leaders start ridin"
re"ularly* the ma5ority will stic to their carsThybrids and cluners alie. Opinion
leaders are these community leaders. They are the .ols to whom others loo .or ad,ice
and leadership. They may hold this in.luential position because o. their 5ob :rabbi or
mayor; or their personality :the newspaper "ossip columnist;. I. the cultural norm leads
people to disre"ard a new idea because it is tri,ial or bacward* an opinion leader could
draw new attention to the concept.
'pinion leaders can be .ound in each o. the .i,e cate"ories and can help to sway others in
their cate"ory toward their point o. ,iew. Jim %earin"* one o. Co"ersD students* claims
that Co"ers was disappointed that his theory was most commonly used to tar"et early
adoptersTthose people who could ic7start the adoption process* and not the opinion
leaders o. the late ma5ority and la""ardsTthose people who could help the less .ortunate
"ain the ad,anta"es o. an inno,ation sooner.
Since many o. the predictors o. early
adoption are characteristics that are di..icult to a..ect* lie e4posure to in.ormation*
.ormal education* socio7economic status* tra,el* and social networs* Co"ers .elt it
should be our duty to use these theories to o,ercome the barriers that constrain whole
demo"raphic "roups. In this way di..usion theory can be used to promote sustainability
inno,ations with those who would otherwise be the last to "ain the ad,anta"e* as do
ethical decisions that .a,or the less .ortunate.
!hat (,ocess )o 8e +o th,ou+h to *a5e a chan+eG
The last o. our three theories about beha,ior chan"e re.ers to the process that people "o
throu"h when they decide to adopt a new beha,ior. 9hile se,eral psycholo"ists ha,e
de,eloped models about the process o. chan"e* those that to addicti,e beha,iors
ha,e less rele,ance to sustainability. Co"ers .a,ors the .ollowin" .i,e steps* reco"ni8in"
that indi,iduals may spend ,aryin" amounts o. time in each phase* and may return to
repeat a pre,ious phase-
1. "no8le)+e- Initially people must become aware o. the potential action* beha,ior
technolo"y* or idea. It helps i. people understand the problems that this inno,ation
sol,es or pre,ents. 9hile presentin" in.ormation about problems can be
depressin"* linin" that with in.ormation about the solution can be power.ul.
Because we attend to thin"s we care about* and o.ten miss in.ormation that
appears to be irrele,ant* awareness and concern are important precursors to
nowled"e. This predisposition o.ten a..ects how the in.ormation is recei,ed.
Mass media is o.ten used to create awareness* as it does not depend on tar"etin"
the in.ormation .or distinct audience "roups. In addition to awareness* howe,er*
.acts and .i"ures* pros and cons* and detailed in.ormation about the beha,ior and
how to per.orm it are needed.
!. Pe,suasion- 'nce people are in.ormed* the ne4t step is .or them to .orm a
positi,e or ne"ati,e attitude about the inno,ation. Interest can be pi6ued by
presentin" the inno,ation in a rele,ant and meanin".ul conte4t* which o.ten
means this in.ormation mi"ht be tweaed and adapted .or di..erent audiences.
Pro,idin" culturally sensiti,e in.ormation* showin" e4amples o. how others who
are similar to the tar"et audience ha,e used the product* and helpin" people
belie,e this could be .or them will help enhance this phase. Because it is help.ul
to understand how the action is per.ormed* what the beha,ior loos lie* and how
others .eel about ha,in" participated* the most ,aluable in.ormation may come
.rom personal contacts* .riends* and worshops* not .rom mass media. $,en a
presentation that helps participants reali8e a problem and de,elop their own
reason .or chan"e is an e..ecti,e .orm o. persuasionTespecially i. participants
belie,e they came up with the idea themsel,es^ I. indi,iduals tae the time to
thorou"hly e,aluate the conse6uences and outcomes o. each aspect o. the
inno,ation :understandin" the in.ormation and how they .eel about it;* a "reat
deal o. e..ort can be spent in phases 1 and !.
#. Decision- A.ter people percei,e the chan"e to be "ood or bad* they decide
whether they wish to adopt or re5ect the chan"e. Some inno,ations lend
themsel,es to a trial phase* and this opportunity enables people to test an
inno,ation .or a limited time. Farmers* .or e4ample* are o.ten "i,en .ree samples
o. seeds to plant in one .ield prior to a"reein" to a complete con,ersion o. the
.arm. Simply addin"* <3ou can always 6uit the "roup i. you donDt thin the
pro5ect is worin"*> mi"ht enable more people to 5oin. A test7run is e4tremely
important .or inno,ations that carry a ris o. catastrophic .ailure. I. a pilot test is
impractical :such as a space wal or plane landin";* simulations are typically
created to enable potential users to de,elop needed sills and <e4perience> the
intended outcome. For some people and some inno,ations* <trial7by7others> is
su..icient to help push the adoption decision. $4tension a"ents use demonstration
areas to show homeowners how nati,e plants can be maintained without synthetic
.ertili8er and pesticides* and ranchers can see what a sil,opasture
will loo lie.
'. course* a decision to adopt is based not only on in.ormation* attitudes* but also
an ability to per.orm the beha,ior. @ot ha,in" access to the re6uisite e6uipment
.or participatin" in a webinar or .unds to attend a con.erence will limit oneDs
ability to en"a"e in pro.essional de,elopment* re"ardless o. the stren"th o. the
&. I*(le*entation- This is the sta"e where an indi,idual en"a"es in the inno,ation.
The process is no lon"er somethin" they thin about* but a real acti,ity. Because
this is the .irst time the person is conductin" the action* he or she may ha,e
6uestions or need support. Procedural in.ormation is critical that this sta"e to
pre,ent .rustration and bacslidin". This is also the sta"e where indi,iduals may
determine that a sli"htly di..erent strate"y will wor better. A re7in,ention
acti,ity can physically alter the inno,ation or how the inno,ation is used. As "ood
ideas spread across a community* it is o.ten necessary that adopters understand
that adaptation is possible and e,en welcomed.
). Confi,*ation- 9hile the implementation7rein,ention sta"e represents the end o.
the process .or some inno,ations* others include a sta"e in which the
indi,idual sees additional in.ormation to con.irm the decision is ri"ht.
Supporti,e messa"es may be help.ul* particularly those that pro,ide .eedbac
about how the chan"e is bein" adopted or how the en,ironment is chan"in".
Lar"e thermometers that trac donations to charity help rein.orce decisions to
"i,e and prompt those who ha,e not yet opened their wallets. For the .ormer* this
is a con.irmin" <.eel7"ood> messa"e* and .or the latter it is a persuadin" reminder.
Consi)e,in+ Theo,ies on In)i-i)ual Chan+e
The elements .rom the Theory o. Planned Beha,ior and the sta"es o. adoptin" a new
beha,ior are similar and complementary. Belie.s are .ormed durin" the nowled"e sta"e*
and attitudes are shaped in the persuasion phase. Aow important others .eel about
adoptin" the new idea or product :sub5ecti,e norm; may be important in.ormation that
can be pro,ided in the decision sta"e. Percei,ed control* or belie,in" that the user can
indeed mana"e the inno,ation and it will be success.ul* is e4actly the outcome o. the
implementation phase* and .eedbac .rom this may be help.ul i. a con.irmation is sou"ht.
All three o. these theories can be used to help con,ince collea"ues and super,isors to
consider a new idea* to wor to"ether on a pro5ect* to appro,e a new and more
sustainable practice. Aere are su""estions that arise directly .rom these theories. They can
be applied to a ,ariety o. situations in the worplace to help mo,e people toward chan"e-
Pro,ide in.ormation about the ad,anta"es and disad,anta"es in all three realms o.
sustainability* with emphasis on the realm that the audience cares the most about.
In the pri,ate sector* this mi"ht be the* thou"h the public relations arm o.
the company mi"ht be interested in community ser,ice. In the public sector the
en,ironment and social dimensions may become the ma5or e..ort* but balancin"
the bud"et will not be .ar behind.
' stories* case studies* or e4ample o. others who ha,e done similar wor. I.
the topic is contro,ersial* e4amples where decisions were made a"ainst the
chan"e may be 5ust as help.ul as those o. adoptions. %emonstrations and models
can be help.ul to enable people to see the di..erence the decision mi"ht mae.
I. percei,ed control is a barrier to adoption* or"ani8e trainin" sessions to build
sills or pro,ide tools and e6uipment .or people to borrow. Then allow them to
practice these new sills in a sa.e en,ironment be.ore they need to per.orm .or
' to pro,ide a consultant to tae o,er a particularly challen"in" aspect o. the
pro"ram* or contractin" with someone else to tae that element.
Identi.y the opinion leaders o. the audience you are reachin" and meet with them
be.ore your presentation. Allow them to as 6uestions and help you re.ine your
approach. I. they appro,e* as them to say so in .ront o. others.
Cemind people that options to mo,e toward sustainability will ultimately ser,e
e,eryoneDs best interests.
Criti6ue the inno,ation and determine i. it is liely to be adopted easily* or i. it
can be modi.ied to mae it more adoptable. Uisibility while in use* borrowin"
other peopleDs* and .ittin" in well with the current culture are characteristics that
can mae an inno,ation more liely to be success.ully adopted.
Identi.y the early adopters in your and mae sure they are liely to try the
new idea* that they lie the new idea* and that they are happy to share their
success with their networs.
A recent sur,ey o. ?S Forest Ser,ice employees about their en,ironmental beha,iors at
the worplace rein.orces many o. these ideas. Cespondents re,ealed that a commitment
.rom the leadership was important .or employees* and those who percei,ed their leaders
were stron"ly supporti,e o. certain practices were three times more liely to per.orm the
action than those who belie,ed their super,isor was not supporti,e. Support in the .orm
o. social norms and e4pectations .rom coworers and the public were also important .or
those who conducted and maintained en,ironmental actions. These respondents had
positi,e attitudes toward the beha,iors* new about and how to per.orm the actions* and
reported that supporti,e policies and procedures were important to the success.ul
implementation o. the en,ironmental actions. They reported that worplace reminders
and incenti,es in.luenced their beha,iors and recommended that rewards be used to
en"a"e others.
Knowin" what is important to entice or encoura"e someone to pay attention to the issue
and beha,ior is the .irst step. Since most wor place decisions occur in teams and "roups*
howe,er* the real action is when these moti,ated indi,iduals come to"ether
Many ideas about sustainability will be born in "roups simply because the disparate
dimensions o. economics* en,ironment* and e6uity o.ten re6uire e4pertise .rom se,eral
people :see chapter 0;. I. they all are not worin" to"ether .rom the initial conception*
new ideas or technolo"ies may re6uire selection or modi.ication by representati,es .rom
the missin" dimensions. In the world o. policy implementation and resource
mana"ement* a number o. a"encies and or"ani8ations are adoptin" staeholder "roups to
better e4plore problems* understand issues* and 5ointly recommend actions. These
staeholders usually represent as many ,iew points as possible* and are liely to include
economic* 5ustice* and en,ironmental interests. Some "roups are e4pected to ease
communication challen"es by ha,in" e,eryone to"ether to hear the same in.ormation.
'ther "roups are ased to re,iew options and mae recommendations. In some cases*
staeholder "roups are used to sol,e problems.
Social Lea,nin+
In all o. these cases the process o. interactin" with and learnin" .rom others* called social
learnin"* is a critical component o. implementin" decisions about sustainability. Peter
Sen"e* author o. The Fifth iscipline has populari8ed these ideas in the business world*
where terms lie mental models and shared ,ision to disciplines that brin" di..erent
perspecti,es to"ether and moti,ate indi,iduals to wor truth.ully* creati,ely and with
inte"rity* creatin" learnin" or"ani8ations.
Social learnin" in this conte4t is the process o. sharin" and re.lectin" on e4periences and
ideas with people and "roups as they collecti,ely stri,e to implement more sustainable
Althou"h educators ha,e been aware o. the ,alue o. learnin" .rom others .or
years :e.".* ,icarious learnin"* cooperati,e learnin"* "roup learnin";* business leaders and
natural resources mana"ers ha,e recently be"un to use this term to draw attention to the
importance o. .acilitatin" "roup interaction. Some e4perts consider social learnin" to
occur only when people who hold di,erse ,iews interact and e,eryone learns somethin"
.rom each other. In these cases the "roups are desi"ned to build trust amon" indi,iduals
and are .acilitated to enable people to reali8e that their ideas are chan"in". A continuous
process o. 6uestionin" the assumptions that each person brin"s and re.lectin" on the
similarities and di..erences amon" them helps to create social learnin".
By de.inition* leaders o. sustainability initiati,es should care.ully consider social learnin"
as well. For many indi,iduals* the chance to share their ideas about a concept is the best
way .or them to learn.
Althou"h we o.ten pro,ide in.ormation to indi,iduals* the
opportunity to discuss the ideas with others can alter the way we understand that
in.ormation. And interestin"ly* whether the "roup discussion occurs be.ore or a.ter the
indi,idual recei,es in.ormation can in.luence how they percei,e new ideas about chan"e.
A recent study at Columbia ?ni,ersity su""ests that doin" oneDs homewor be.ore a
"roup meetin" and readin" about a contro,ersial in,estment in wind ener"y tends to
result in people brin"in" their own perspecti,e to the "roup discussion. I. the .irst time
they hear o. the contro,ersy* howe,er* is in a "roup discussion where someone e4presses
a di..erent perspecti,e than their own* people may be more liely to consider those ideas
more stron"ly than i. they .ormed their own opinion .irst.
Social learnin" is a ,ery use.ul tool when there is no widespread a"reement on how to
mo,e .orward. Many issues can be used as rele,ant e4amples. Should we use wood .or
ener"y i. that re6uires land to be taen out o. a"ricultural productionE Should we e4port
technolo"ies to de,elopin" countries i. there is no ,ocational pro"ram that can train
worers to mana"e or repair these systemsE %o we ha,e the ri"ht to create "enetically
modi.ied trees to enhance their con,ersion to products we desireE 9hich is more
importantTan incinerator to burn municipal waste .rom an urban area or the health o. the
nei"hbors and ambience o. the rural re"ionE $mployees in,ol,ed in contentious issues
should not employ persuasi,e communication strate"ies to sell their solution. Instead*
they mi"ht .ind more producti,e a social learnin" approach with a ,ariety o. staeholders
to better e4plore the problem .rom all perspecti,es. Such a "roup can be ased to de,elop
solutions that meet the ,arious needs o. those in,ol,ed* as well as the needs o. the .uture
and distant citi8ens who may not be present to spea .or themsel,es. As we de,elop more
creati,e a,enues .or addressin" economic* en,ironmental* and e6uity considerations it
may be increasin"ly di..icult to assume that any solution will be easily accepted by team
members* collea"ues* super,isors* or staeholders. In the conte4t o. sustainability* social
learnin" may be a ,ery use.ul tool.
ulti/Sta5ehol)e, P,ocesses
These di,erse "roups o. staeholders and the acti,ity o. worin" to"ether is a called
multi7staeholder process :MSP;. A ,ariety o. resources and techni6ues are a,ailable to
.acilitators and or"ani8ers to thin about the "oals .or the "roup* to win the trust and
cooperation o. "roup members* and to de,elop a process o. critical re.lection that results
in a new idea .or which there is broad a"reement.
@ot only is social learnin" a ey aspect o. success.ul MSPs* an e4perienced .acilitator
with the sills to reco"ni8e how to en"a"e more discussion* when to mo,e .orward with a
decision* and how to help the "roup critically thin about their deliberations is essential.
As mentioned be.ore* reachin" a shared understandin" and common lan"ua"e will enable
the "roup to .unction* and a systems approach will help the "roup consider a ,ariety o.
,ariables* problems* and conse6uences as they sort throu"h their tas.
Indeed* a "rowin" number o. industries and a"encies use these strate"ies to en"a"e
staeholders in decision main"* belie,in" that :1; better strate"ies will "row out o. the
,aried perspecti,es that will be brou"ht to the table* and :!; broader ownership o. the
recommendations will lead to 6uicer implementation and .ewer subse6uent law suits.
From citi8en ad,isory boards to staeholder panels and adapti,e collaborati,e
mana"ement* social learnin" processes enable "roups o. e4perts and the public to share
perspecti,es* learn to"ether* build trust* and recommend solutions that are liely to be
By representin" economic interests* social "roups* and ecosystems* these
discussions ha,e the potential to re,ol,e around recommendations that ma4imi8e all
three components o. sustainability.
These are typically lon"7term "roups that con,ene .or years to identi.y needs* sponsor
5oint .act7.indin" and research* listen to e,ery perspecti,e that comes .orward* establish
strate"ies to mae decisions that respect all parties* and mae recommendations. They
build sills in perspecti,e tain" and communication as well as build understandin" in
en,ironmental science* monitorin" processes* economic costs and bene.its* le"al
procedures and political pressure* and social 5ustice.
9hile each MSP is di..erent* they tend to include .our phases- initiationL adapti,e
plannin"L collaborati,e actionL and* re.le4i,e monitorin".
The be"innin"* initiation
phase in,ol,es the establishment o. the "roup* the de,elopment o. appropriate
e4pectations and common purpose* an orientation to the situation* and the de,elopment o.
a leadership "roup. The adapti,e plannin" phase enables the "roup to build trust as they
learn about each otherDs interests and perspecti,es. This is o.ten accomplished throu"h
.uture ,isionin" e4ercises or scenario plannin". Such an e4ercise may re,eal where
si"ni.icant disa"reement occurs or where serious "aps in nowled"e e4ist. The "roup
may ha,e the resources to re6uest research proposals and select a team to collect
in.ormation that will "uide their decisions. The collaborati,e action component enables
the "roup to implement their decisions* in.orm staeholders o. their pro"ress* and mae
chan"es as necessary. %urin" re.le4i,e monitorin"* the "roup will set up strate"ies to
trac chan"e* identi.y those components that re6uire .urther in,esti"ation* and welcome
critical re.lection on their process and decisions.
The con.lict around the e4pansion o. the Fran.ort airport in (ermany represents an
impressi,e case o. a success.ul MSP.
@e"lectin" to balance economic "rowth with the
ne"ati,e impacts on residents and the en,ironment resulted in public outcry when a third
runway was proposed in 110&. The mo,ement ended when snipers illed two policemen
in 110/ at a mass rally. 9hen a .ourth runway was proposed in 1110 the state
"o,ernment initiated a mediation process with !1 staeholders who were ased to
balance economic "rowth with en,ironmental and public health concerns. A.ter two years
o. deliberation* they recommended the new runway be built i. the airport eliminated ni"ht
.li"hts* too steps to reduce noise* and implemented a Ce"ional %ialo"ue Forum :CF%;
to continue to build understandin" and e4plore solutions. Shortly a.ter the mediation
processDs recommendations were recei,ed* the CF% was established with .our di..erent
ob5ecti,es- to build understandin"* to conduct research* to pro,ide counsel on .ormal
procedures* and to protect the mediation process. The Forum established a leadership
"roup o. #& staeholders which held hearin"s to e4plore issues and the need .or .urther
research. They established ) sub"roups which had open membership. ',er the course o.
the Forum the teams held o,er !22 sessions and attracted o,er 1#2 additional interested
participants. Close to !222 students too part in a mediation simulation pro"ram* the
media were re"ularly in,ited to report on de,elopments* and open meetin"s were held .or
the public to share what the teams were learnin".
The ni"ht .li"ht ban* .li"ht routes* and approach and departure procedures* .or e4ample*
were hi"hly technical components that re6uired answers to le"al 6uestions and additional
research to document noise le,els and si"ni.icant ne"otiation amon" staeholders on
what will be monitored. The 6uestions and possible outcomes chan"ed with alterations in
(erman le"islation and $uropean a"reements. Interestin"ly* such important aspects o. the
operations o. an international airport had ne,er been considered with the social and
en,ironmental costs o. doin" business. An elaborate process o. research was established
with the Forum and pro5ect team in,itin" researchable 6uestions* a team o. e4perts
.ormulatin" the call .or proposals and re,iewin" submissions* the Forum selectin" a
winnin" proposal and asin" the runner7up to ser,e as a monitor o. the 6uality o. the
research conducted. The results and recommendations were considered and appro,ed by
the pro5ect team* 6uality sa.e"uard* and Forum be.ore their release to the public. The
process helped build .aith in the data* reduce the notion o. unsubstantiated claims by
opposition "roups* and created a .ramewor that was cited and re.erenced in .uture
The process o. deliberati,e and social learnin" helped con,ert a di,isi,e con.lict into an
opportunity .or a win7win ne"otiation. As the process be"an to reach closure in !22/*
e,en the most critical opponents wished to see a similar process continue to pro,ide a
.orum .or e4ploration and understandin". The MSP was deemed by staeholders to be a
"ood strate"y .or creatin" solutions that e,eryone could li,e with.
Challenges to Multi-Stakeholder Processes
A number o. challen"es arise in pursuit o. this "oal* howe,er* which .acilitators o. social
learnin" strate"ies wor hard to a,oid or resol,e. Merely bein" at the table* .or e4ample*
does not mean all members spea* are heard* or are included in deliberations as e6uals.
Particularly i. the issue in,ol,es a loomin" lawsuit* some representati,es will not wish to
re,eal all their interests and considerations. Also* i. the issue in,ol,es passionate pleas or
traditional nowled"e* these 5usti.ications may not be "i,en the same wei"ht as
scienti.ically ,alid data. Clearly* the selection o. members should be "i,en considerable
thou"ht .or a healthy mi4 o. personalities who can help create an atmosphere that
welcomes di..erent opinions and who can listen respect.ully. In addition* i. the members
are e4pected to represent others* they must be le"itimate representati,es who will carry
in.ormation between the "roup and their constituents and help con,ince both sides o. the
,alue o. the othersD perspecti,es. Facilitators o.ten wor to build trust amon" members*
pro,ide room .or less talati,e members to ,oice opinions* watch interactions to nip
destructi,e comments early* and help inte"rate in.ormation into shared understandin".
Althou"h much is implied about the importance o. democratic participation and the
empowerment o. all participants* there is o.ten a power imbalance in multi7staeholder
"roups. For e4ample* the industry or a"ency in 6uestion may hold the ultimate decision7
main" power i. the MSP is created with only the ability to mae a recommendation.
Some staeholder "roups may represent thousands o. citi8ens "i,en them the perception
o. "reater power. Some interest "roups may subscribe to the same perceptions or mind
sets* main" their position harder to chan"e. The composition o. a "roup may try to tae
these .actors into account* allowin" .or a certain number o. seats at the table .or each
Multi-Stakeholder Process and Systems
Since the topic o. most MSPs will in,ol,e sustainability* Chapter 0 su""ests that usin" a
systems perspecti,e will help enable the "roup to consider all perspecti,es o. the issue.
?sin" the "roup to build a model o. the system in which their concept operates* identi.y
areas where their collecti,e nowled"e is wea or uncertain* and embar upon strate"ies
.or collectin" data or buildin" nowled"e can be power.ul tools .or social learnin". This
process* when applied to natural resource mana"ement* is o.te