Sustainability Teaching: "lack of ethical dimension"

Michigan State  University | News

Michael Nelson

Michael NelsonMSU's Michael Nelson is co-author of a paper published in the journal Bioscience that says ethical issues are ignored in the teaching and research of sustainabilty. Nelson is an associate professor in the Lyman Briggs College, as well as the departments of Fisheries and Wildlife and Philosophy.

Ethical issues ignored in sustainability education, research

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Just about everyone agrees that sustainability – cutting energy use, reducing carbon emissions and, in general, keeping the Earth green – is a good thing. But why do we think that? Do we support sustainability for the right reasons?

These are among the questions that Michigan State University’s Michael Nelson addresses in a paper published this month in the journal Bioscience titled “Sustainability: Virtuous or Vulgar?”

Specifically, Nelson and co-author John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University argue that the issue of ethics is a vital component in the teaching and research of sustainability, but one that is sorely lacking.

“This debate,” they write, “has almost entirely neglected a fundamental dimension of sustainability – the ethical dimension. Lack of attention to the ethical dimension of sustainability is stifling progress toward sustainability.”

Or, as Nelson puts it: “If we don’t know where we’re going, we won’t know when we get there.”

Nelson said that from the educational perspective, it’s important that all aspects of sustainability are covered.

“Everything we do sends messages to our students,” he said. “We see our students as people who will go out and do important things in this world. It’s important how we nurture that.”

The ultimate question, the authors say, is this: “Do we care about ecosystem health because ecosystems are intrinsically valuable, or do we care about ecosystem health because it serves human interests?”

While a question such as this is difficult to answer, Nelson said that “we are unlikely to achieve sustainability without knowing what it means.”

In their paper, Nelson and Vucetich consider the most widely appreciated definitions of sustainability, which indicate at least roughly that sustainability is “meeting human needs in a socially just manner without depriving ecosystems of their health.”

While the definition seems quite specific, it could mean anything from “exploit as much as desired without infringing on the future ability to exploit as much as desired” to “exploit as little as necessary to maintain a meaningful life.”

“From a single definition rises two wildly disparate views of a sustainable world,” said Vucetich. “Handling these disparate views is the inescapable ethical crisis of sustainability.”

“The crisis results from not knowing what we mean by value-laden terms like ‘ecosystem health’ and ‘human needs,’” Nelson said. “In other words, is ecosystem health defined by its ability to meet human needs only, or does ecosystem health define the limits of human need?”

Nelson is an associate professor with appointments in MSU’s Lyman Briggs College and the departments of Fisheries and Wildlife and Philosophy. Vucetich is an assistant professor in MTU’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

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Plants and animals don’t have rights. We’ll know when to give them rights when they start showing up at protests demanding their rights.

Martin Lewitt

Hopefully, ethics will truly be on the table, including questioning the consensus that sustainability is “good”, questioning that carbon emissions should be reduced and questioning whether most extinctions really reduce “ecosystem health”.
How do we get this type of balance into existing educational systems without significant retraining and reassignment of teachers. The teachers naturally attracted to these subject fields seem to come with a built in bias, perhaps they helped form the “consensus”.

Michael Lewis

“Sustainable” is a matter of definition – both from the ethical point of view “why is it holy?” and from the practical, “what really does it mean?”
This evening I was talking to a friend about the use of water, its harvesting and the “morality” of its use. I live in Sydney – much discussed here currently, where the the average annual rainfall – 48″ often comes in fits and starts. The pre PC approach was to build a dam wherever it was possible – and there were a lot of possibilities – and effectively average out the “fits and starts”. With the ascendance of the Green (heresy), this became an immoral approach and almost everthing became “unsustainable” – really up to and particularly, the humans themselves. (I’m stll trying to work out who Gaia is there for. The 3 eared, banded, red-green frog?)
But we in Sydney, had an approaching emergency, because the believers stopped building dams and mostly because the population soared (only the immigrant refugees are sustainable of course – the natural growth is immoral and profiligate!), and we went and bought a desalination plant and then the heavens (are we allowed to use that word?) opened up and we have (more expensive – but not overpriced) water coming “out of our ears”. So gardens are in, sprinklers are ok – (all right we won’t use them at midday) and so on.
So practicality – an abundance of fresh water, must create a dilemma for those miserable, mean-spirited (invariably AGWers) who think that it is immoral to live in comfort surrounded by beauty.- “Unsustainability!”
I actually believe that if we can afford it, we should live as comfortably as possible. It is immoral NOT to! It is pleasant for us to use – and pay for, water . There is no shortage of water on Earth (not Gaia) and if we can afford to separate the H2O from its accompanying salts we should.

MattyS

Sustainability has become just another form of accounting. Carbon dioxide measurement and analysis is something humans are familiar with, and enables us to continue with business as usual while avoiding the other questions of sustainability.
It was the realisation that the Sustainable Development agenda – meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – had been compromised by the carbon dioxide agenda that first made me sceptical of this movement.
“In other words, is ecosystem health defined by its ability to meet human needs only, or does ecosystem health define the limits of human need?”
… simple answer is, human needs cannot be met if ecosystems are unhealthy. But his question fails to encompass a number of things; what are human needs? Are these homogeneous across peoples and countries? Does a tribal agriculturalist need as much as a quantum physicist? How much are their needs defined by what they do, and how much does what they do offset the damage they may cause to ecosystems? Etc…

Bruce Cobb

“Just about everyone agrees that sustainability – cutting energy use, reducing carbon emissions and, in general, keeping the Earth green – is a good thing. But why do we think that? Do we support sustainability for the right reasons?”
“Sustainability” seems to be the new favorite buzzword of the CAGW/CC greenie whackos. There was a time not too long ago that I would have said that of course we should support “sustainability”. But I now see it for what it really is; an all-encompassing feel-good term, meant to lull the masses into buying in to the greenie religion, which actually has very little to do with old-fashioned concern for, and caring about the environment. It is all part and parcel of the Big Lie, a Goebellian campaign to turn people into sheeple, using fear, guilt, and propaganda.
The only reason people buy in to greenie religion is because it makes them feel good about themselves; they, after all, are helping to “save the planet”. Or so they think.
What they are actually doing though is involving themselves in social engineering.
I pity the students who are exposed to the type of claptrap indoctrination Nelson and Vucetich dish out.

Joe Lalonde

We stink at looking into the past and what the planet was doing before man.
Our errogance gives us the right to trap water and change the evaporation system. We remake the individual plant and animal life systems to meet our existance more pretty and comfortable.
The next evolutional change will be altered by man as before all continents were separate and the species grew with boarders to keep the evolving species apart.
We are just a small part of the PLANET’S EVOLUTIONAL CHANGE, not man’s.
Man is the only species to worry about time and climate.

Curiousgeorge

All life exploits it’s surroundings as much as it possibly can, and pays no attention to the needs of its neighbors. Symbiotic relationships result from a struggle for survival and supremacy, not from any concern for the rights or health of the other. Ants couldn’t care less about aphids except as a source of food production, and so on. Plants constantly wage territorial battles. People are no different. We evolved in this violent environment (until proven otherwise ), not in some idyllic fantasy world. Everything has it’s time and everything dies.

jcrabb

“Sustainability” is just a feel good word to cover over the issue of saving our own arses from the potential extinction level event we have chosen to unleash on our planet.

Robert of Ottawa

Uugghhhhh!
Really, sustainaboility is a lie.
The solar system is not “sustainable”; life itself is not “sustainable” (we all die, at present); it’s not even clear that the universe itself is “sustainable”.
Based upon observation we can say that life expands to fill the space available; life forms grow and develop and propagate to maximize their own space. To not do this is to deny life.

Gail Combs

Michael Lewis says:
July 6, 2010 at 3:38 am
“Sustainable” is a matter of definition – both from the ethical point of view “why is it holy?” and from the practical, “what really does it mean?”
______________________________________________________________
“Sustainability” is the code word for UN Agenda 21. As Wayne Hage stated: “If you can’t own (and use) property, you are property.” – that is the goal of the UN and “global Governance.
“Private ownership of land is not compatible with global governance.. as described by the United Nations….
The land policy of the United Nations was first officially articulated at the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I), held in Vancouver, May 31 – June 11, 1976. Agenda Item 10 of the Conference Report sets forth the UN’s official policy on land. The Preamble says:
“Land…cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; if unchecked, it may become a major obstacle in the planning and implementation of development schemes. The provision of decent dwellings and healthy conditions for the people can only be achieved if land is used in the interests of society as a whole. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable….” “
http://sovereignty.net/p/land/unproprts.htm
For those who think this is a “conspiracy theory” I suggest you look into the “Wildlands Project” MAP The green areas are reserved for human use.
“The Wildlands Project would set up to one-half of America into core wilderness reserves and interconnecting corridors (red), all surrounded by interconnecting buffer zones (yellow). No human activity would be permitted in the red, and only highly regulated activity would be permitted in the yellow areas. Four concerned conservative activists who now make up the board of Sovereignty International were able to find UN documentation that proved the Wildlands Project concept was to provide the basis for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. They used this information and this map produced by Dr. Michael Coffman, editor of Discerning the Times Digest and NewsBytes and CEO of Sovereignty International, to stop the ratification of the treaty an hour before its scheduled cloture and ratification vote. (See Congressional Record S13790 ) ” http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/articles2/wildlands_project_and_un_convent.htm
NOTE: The original link to the “Wildlands Project” organization with its “controversial” information is no longer available. I have substituted the more recent link with its watered down sugar coated message.
You will notice the mineral and oil reserves and prime farmland would be removed from the control of individuals. In the state of Massachusetts, just before I left in 1994, (and the reason I left) a proposal to place over half the state into the new “Conte Wildlife Refuge” was on the table. The original proposal, I have the hard copy in the attic some where, required:
All farmers and home owners to place before the board all their plans for the next growing season and receive permission to plant crops, put in fence posts, irrigate fields, spray insecticides and herbicides, build buildings….
Luckily it looks like cooler heads prevailed and the original proposal got watered down. And yes this is why I started looking into what was actually going on.

ShrNfr

F. A. Hayek would have had something to say about this topic. I may consider it completely moral and fair to go to my KFC and get a bucket of chicken, but I think the chicken would regard it in another manner. Ethics is a slippery slope when applied by governmental edict.

Aynsley Kellow

The authors of this paper ignore the past 20 years of ecological science, because it gave up on the notion of ‘nature’s balance’ and therefore ecosystem ‘health’ in about 1990. Only those who adhere for ideological reasons to the notion of climax communities abandoned by ecological science still employ this kind of discourse. ‘Sustainability’ has a particular social and political meaning. It has meaning only when applied to human society. Nature is about change, perturbation and chaos — interspersed with occasional periods of stability that we interpret as the status quo, but are but a moment in the history of the earth. For those interested, I discussed this in a symposium at the Australian Academy of Science some years ago:
http://www.science.org.au/events/sats/sats2002/kellow.htm

CPT. Charles

The ugly truth about sustainability is that it is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘static’ system.
Why? Because if you’re honest about the various models being trotted out, their scalability for growth is minuscule when compared to the systems currently in use.
Sustainability only works if ‘means’ and ‘needs’ remain in balance. That means that the ‘needs’ side of the equation has to become very bit as ‘undynamic’ as the [new] ‘means’.
And no, the sustainability crowd aren’t exactly jumping out of their chairs to fully explain the implications of that bit ‘new reality’ that they would inflict on humanity.
That faction of the Green Movement is being ‘hidden in the attic’.
For the moment.

Just about everyone agrees that motherhood…is a good thing. But why do we think that? Do we support motherhood for the right reasons?
…the issue of ethics is a vital component in the teaching and research of motherhood, but one that is sorely lacking.
[This motherhood debate] has almost entirely neglected a fundamental dimension of motherhood – the ethical dimension….

Dave in Exile

Looking at their pie-chart (Fig. 2), I find it difficult not to conclude that the Establishment has already decided on maximum sustainable exploitation.

“Just about everyone agrees that sustainability – cutting energy use, reducing carbon emissions and, in general, keeping the Earth green – is a good thing”
Well, not me.
I think “sustauinability” is a load of hogwash.

“Do we care about ecosystem health because ecosystems are intrinsically valuable, or do we care about ecosystem health because it serves human interests?”
The answer surely is that it serves human interests. When the word “valuable” is used, we have to ask: to whom? To Nature? “Nature” is an abstraction, unless you factor in some sort of deity who might take a personal interest in the death of a sparrow, a golden toad, a bacterium, etc. Without the postulation of a deity, all you have is an equally abstract idea – “Nature” – meaning the totality of all living/non-living things, and this abstraction obviously does not care what happens to ecosystems – a supervolcano eruption or asteroid strike this century could play instant havoc with ecosystems all over the planet, triggering extinctions on a massive scale. Nature won’t care – it will just fill the gap eventually with whatever life forms will have been able to survive and adapt.
The answer is that humans ascribe value to ecosystems. Most often we give them value when they serve our interests directly – they provide food to eat, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, monetary value, etc. But we also value ecosystems for aesthetic or sentimental or spiritual reasons. If the last giant panda died tomorrow, we would not be impacted materially, but many of us would feel the loss in a different way, as we would be greatly saddened and dismayed. Often there is a clash of values, and a choice to be made – unspoilt forest or farmland, for instance?
But the idea of “intrinsic value” is a nonsense, to my mind. Always ask: exactly what kind of “value” are we talking about? And “valuable” – to whom?

Martin Lewitt

I was a bit mystified by the phrase “ecosystem health” since some of the most publicized and contentious issues have been about spotted owls and snail darters. Was ecosystem health at stake if these species were lost? Since those same ecosystems had already lost grizzly bears, wolves, bison and mammoths over most of their range, I was left wondering whether there was any ecosystem health left to lose. Searching for some clarification, I found this definition:
“Ecosystem health is a transdisciplinary concept that bridges the natural, social, and health sciences. It can incorporate the human values and perceptions that are inseparable parts of management. A healthy ecosystem is defined as a social-ecological unit that is stable and sustainable, maintaining its characteristic composition,
organization, and function over time while remaining economically viable and sustaining human communities (Costanza 1992, Rapport 1998). The breadth of this definition indicates that ecosystem health is an integrative notion that acknowledges societal values in defining future desired conditions while relying on scientific criteria (Steedman 1994).”
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/art6/ES-2007-2092.pdf
Based upon this definition, perhaps the way to evaluate the impact of an extinction or reduction in range, is whether the overall composition of the ecosystem is changed in a way that can’t be stable for long periods of time.
Are ecosystems that are temporarily unhealthy, such as the Gulf where fisheries had to be suspended due to the oil leak lacking in “ecosystem health”, or are they robust and healthy since in all likelyhood they will weather the oil leak well and be fully recovered in a decade or so. It is conceivable that fish, shrimp and other stocks will boom in the next year or two due to the suspension of the fisheries, despite not yet being “safe” for human consumption. If the ecosystem is that robust and only modern developed nation adversity to risk prevents the usual consumption of the biomass is the ecosystem really “unhealthy”?
Given the complexity of the issues and the subjectivity of values, I doubt teachers are in a particularly qualified position to address the issues. Perhaps the teaching of ethics should be left to the parents since their values are as subjective as the teachers and the children are more naturally part of the parents ecosystem or studied at the graduate degree level where the most scholarly distinctions can be fully investigated.

Ken Smith

I had an experience a few years ago that illustrates both the confusion and extreme thinking that underlies much public thinking about “sustainability.” My family and I had finished a wonderful tour of Jewel Cave in South Dakota’s Black Hills, one of the world’s largest and most magnificent caves. The park ranger who had guided our tour invited us to respond on the guest register to the questiom that was currently being asked of guests to the cave. “Only a small fraction of Jewel Cave has been explored,” the question read: “do you believe that the rest of it should be explored, or should it be left alone in a natural, virgin state?”
The question, I thought, was an excellent one. I answered that yes, Jewel Cave should be fully explored. My thinking was that nothing lives deep within the cave, so exploring poses no threat to wildlife. Since the cave is utterly dark, there is no real concern about marring its beauty, unless human beings are at some point to explore and observe the cave. I was satisfied that spelunkers are careful not to damage delicate cave formations, and don’t leave a trail of garbage where they explore. I wrote that “yes, the cave should be explored, as long as there are cavers who are willing to put forth the effort.”
After writing down my answer, I leafed through the responses of previous guests. I was a little surprised to find that about half of them indicated that they did not want the cave to be explored. They wrote things like “leave it the way God made it” or “respect the magnificence of this wonderful natural formation and leave the rest of it alone.”
Based upon what I have learned over the years, I now believe these responses reflect an increasingly common view of the natural world. It is a view based in a mystical reverence for untouched nature apart from not only human use, but apart from human presence and even observation. When considering the topic of “sustainability,” it is important to recognize the presence, if not the prominence, of such extreme opinions about the natural world.
Ken Smith
Ellendale ND

JohnH

In the UK the fine for not sorting your rubbish for recycling is higher than the on the spot fine for shop-lifting !!!!

INGSOC

This article captures, almost perfectly, the reason(s) I “left” the environmental movement. (The left as well) And if these profs. think they need to start teaching morality now, then they have a long and hard slog ahead of them. I would posit that the time for instilling a sense of morality has long since passed. There is an old sage that goes something like; you know you are old when you start complaining about “those rotten kids!” Well, I guess I am getting very, very old! I am yet to encounter more than a handful of under thirty’s that aren’t completely self absorbed and borderline sociopaths! They didn’t get that way by eating too much mickey D’s! The education mill has been churning out nothing but vapid narcissists for decades now, thanks to all the hippies taking over academe. It’s Lord of the Flies +30 years.
I will say it over and over: We live in a very dark age indeed.

Geoff Sherrington

“Sustainability” is a pet word of the current chattering classes, along with “ecosystem”, “robust”, “unprecedented”, “footprint”, “conservation”……. fill in your own extras. Discussion of its place in ethics is an example of diminishing returns. “Ethics” needs clarification of meaning,not obfuscation. It also needs practical demonstraion y those able to show it, that is, bold leadership from the front and not obscure backroom weasel wording.
Australia has had a Cabinet reshuffle in Parliament. We now have a “Minister for Sustainable Population”, Tony Burke. He sits near Minister Simon Crean, Minister of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion. What a job for a guy who spent most of his life in the Union movement, telling people how to make others behave ethically (that is, according to the ethics of union thuggery).

Warren in Minnesota

It’s all a philosophical mishmash of claptrap and euphemisms.

Mike McMillan

Joe Lalonde says: July 6, 2010 at 4:04 am
. . . Our errogance gives us the right to trap water and change the evaporation system. We remake the individual plant and animal life systems to meet our existance more pretty and comfortable.

Sounds like the man has a plan. ‘Errogance’ is a good word, too. I’ll add it to my spellcheck. Rant follows. <skip to next reply>
Bruce Cobb is right on about sustainability’s feel-good buzzword status. My own view of the concept is broad. I do agree that we ought to leave the world in a little better shape than we found it. We ought not to waste energy on useless things (thinking of govt paperwork pushers and govt picking winners like certain dinosaur car companies and things that require subsidies to survive).
How to accomplish? Not by mandating that we flood our environment with mercury from curly light bulbs from red China. Not by mandating water-saving toilets that take two flushes. Water isn’t destroyed by use (crops excepted). The only water that needs saving is that from aquifers, and there we should take no more than the recharge rate. That isn’t in the plan. Instead we save water in towns that are on the Mississippi river. No shortage there, oh, but we’re saving energy used in treatment plants. Wonderful. I had a clean, green nuke plant just up the road.
Should we wish, for some ethereal reason, to sequester carbon, let us sequester it in landfills, not pump it at unsustainable expense into underground storage. Let us chop down trees and sequester their carbon in houses and books and cellulose insulation for our attics. Let us not fear to leave a legacy of landfills and nuclear waste storage sites to posterity, for should the unlikely future of scarcity occur, those sites will have valuable mineable concentrations of resources.
Reduce energy use? Okay if done by increasing efficiency, not okay if done by reducing work output. Take away energy, you have the noble savage living in a hut and walking wherever he wants to go, which is probably to his half acre farm where his wife is pulling the plow. Low energy life sucks, but at least it is short. Quality of life has a direct correlation with energy use.
The current US regime has take fancy to telling everyone how they should live. It’s an uncomfortable change for Americans. We aren’t Amazon Indians who need to be protected from civilization (aluminum pots, t-shirts, bug repellent) whether they want protection or not. Nor are we Brits (with all respect), living shoehorned into antique rowhouses, who would like to build a nice house of their own, but are protected from this by the local council, which won’t issue a permit, and a national government that has placed millions of buildable hectares off limits. Preserves the character, good for tourists, bad for natives, coming soon to America. </rant>
Sorry for all that. Should have posted on RealClimate.

Dr. John M. Ware

My question is this: What, exactly, is to be “sustained”? Is the present status–whatever it might be–the ideal, from which to depart in any detail is a disaster? I think the answer is obvious: We don’t know what the current status is exactly; it is probably far from ideal in many ways; the earth and its weather and climate are changing all the time, with or without humanity’s help. If we don’t know what status we want to maintain, it is very hard to maintain it.
The strategies of conserving, not wasting, using carefully, not messing things up–those strategies are good, so long as they do not interfere with the economy, jobs, and necessities of (human) life. My wife and I have been recycling since the 1960s, and we still do; we drive high-mpg cars (my 1991 Geo Metro still gets 54 mpg); we compost vegetable cuttings and peelings, etc. However, the “green” agenda that seeks to impose on us draconian controls and high taxes is simply wrong and un-American.

mac

Sustainability seems to be the 21st century form of Western Colonialism. You have the high minded academy telling the “savages” of our day what is appropriate. If these ideas are not heeded, then there needs to be intervention, but before they do that, some local natives will be brought on board to teach the other locals in the ways of sustainability. However, the goal is the same as 200 years ago, get control of the local resources so that the indigenous people don’t mismanage them. For some reason this form of colonialism is good because their is a nobler reasoning behind it…preserving a definition-less “intrinsic value”.

red432

P.J. O’Rourke (probably borrowing from somewhere else) pinned it when he said that the problem is that many people don’t pose environmental questions as cost/benefit tradeoffs, but instead view it as sin versus virtue. No amount of sin is acceptable, of course, at any price. This makes them all hypocrites, except for the Unibomber.

I love this paper, esp the quote on page 4 – “The value of equating “goodness” with “sustainability”. This is the situation, we have countless people who simply want to be good, who have turned into useful idiots. The hate evil capitalists, yet it is evil capitalists who are controlling them because of their wish to be “good”. Young people are especially prone to this mind control because most of them were raised by their parents to be “good”. So when the evil green capitalists come along with the new paradigm that sustainability = goodness, they fall right for it. And certainly there is some truth to the wish to be sustainable, it makes complete sense that that is what we should be shooting for, but only if it is “true”. What a mind job they have done, they have convinced people whom just a few years ago were against constructing a shopping mall on a reclaimed junk property, that they should destroy and desecrate their beautiful mountain ridges, just for a few megawatts of electricity. It is utterly amazing what has happened in just a few short years.
One of the reasons this has happened so easily is because so many lost faith in the Conservative movement after the war in Iraq. They believe that was so wrong, that anyone coming from a different direction has to be right. And then I read on the blogs that the warmers and greens and loosing traction, I don’t think so, they are only getting started.

Nuke

I remember when our educational system was not supposed to teach values. Wait, it’s traditional values we can’t teach. New Age values we can teach.

Septeus7

Sustainability is Malthusianism dressed up in moral and scientific jargon. It assumes that modes of future production in economics are fixed and do not change overtime so we are constantly running out of “natural resources” or “good soil” so therefore a control grid must be imposed by the State make sure “resources” are only used by approval of the State. It is the essence of tyranny.
The reality is that only thing that isn’t sustainable is the concept of “Sustainability” because it is a natural law that human societies change and improve their mode of work.
Human beings will revolt from technology suppression when it results in declining conditions of life that must result from using inferior mode of production simple because they are deemed by the State as as the only acceptable.
The reality is that the theory is of sustainability is an anti-science prison for the mind because it denies the fact that the “Ultimate Resource” in human economy is human creative reason which is essentially free energy for the negentrophic system that is the defining characteristic of human economy.
The issue goes the philosophy of Aristotle’s dead universe of fixed things because God had created everything that could be created already was created and therefore anything that human did to change the already perfect world was evil so therefore if a slave wanted to be free than that was evil because it violated the “natural order” of “Royals”, “Nobles,” “Commoners”, and “Slaves.”
On other hand, real science reveals that this is a universe of becoming and of evolution not of fixed perfect circular orbits.
The powers of human cognition are a higher order of change the drives and bends the biosphere to isn’t faster order of relative time just as biosphere uses and changes the abiotic for it’s evolution.
Since we know that cognition is the highest form of evolution in the universe we know the sustainability is essentially “Biological” geocentrism is trying to subject a higher power process of evolution to a lower orders and it will work no better than trying to say a polygon is a circle or pounding a square peg into a circular hole.

Sustainability by itself is inadequate. It must be robust sustainability.

“Sustainability”…buzz talk for NEW WAVE RELIGION..
See also, George Orwell, “NewSpeak”.

‘… as Nelson puts it: “If we don’t know where we’re going, we won’t know when we get there.”’
That statement is partially correct. If we don’t know where we are going, that is because we got lost, don’t know where we are and how far we deviated from the best way to get there. To have gotten lost means that we have no sense of where or when we started, whether we are moving into the right direction and how far along the way we got.
If we are lost, it is quite possible that with every step we take we are moving farther away from the intended destination.
The last part of Michael Nelson’s statement should therefore be: “…, we will not only lack the knowledge of when we will get there, we don’t even know whether we will ever make it there.”

Mark

Thanks for posting the article. Good questions to ponder.

kramer

While the definition seems quite specific, it could mean anything from “exploit as much as desired without infringing on the future ability to exploit as much as desired” to “exploit as little as necessary to maintain a meaningful life.”
I’ve read a few articles recently where the author talks about our hunter-gatherer ways, about changing the meaning of standard of living to inclcude things such as leisure time (no jobs) and time to walk in the woods… I’ve also read that it would take over 5 earths to provide the resources for every human on earth to live like we do.
My guess is that developed countries are going to have their standards of living reduced significantly over this century until all nations have a similar standard of living (contraction and convergence?).
Other options are leaving things as are or population reductions.

Michael Monce

“Sustainability”, especially when coming from the realms of academia, is a code word for hitching the cart of socialism to the horse of the environmental movement. It’s a strategy for advancing a progressive agenda under the guise of helping the environment. It’s the same strategy recently employed when such efforts fell under the label of “social justice”. What reasonable person could object to advancing “social justice”?? Similarly, what sort of person would ever object to helping build a “sustainable” future?? These people are genius when it comes to naming thier efforts to hide the true nature.
The National Association of Scholars has written numerous articles on “sustainability” within academia. Might be worth checking out:
http://www.nas.org

I think the approach of this professor is excellent and much needed. Many issues of environmentalism, and even environmental engineering, are beset by deep-seated philosophical confusion. Our notions of nature, safety and risk, clean and polluted, and conservation are just a few of them. This post addresses one rather amusing instance of this:
http://iamyouasheisme.wordpress.com/2009/10/03/that-natural-feeling/

Ken Smith: July 6, 2010 at 5:09 am
I was a little surprised to find that about half of them indicated that they did not want the cave to be explored. They wrote things like “leave it the way God made it” or “respect the magnificence of this wonderful natural formation and leave the rest of it alone.”
Completely disregarding the fact that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to view the part of the cave that they *did* see unless it had been explored. I’d trust a spelunker to leave a cave as he found it sooner than I’d trust one of those visitors to walk ten feet to a trash can to toss a gum wrapper rather than dropping it in place.

Cassandra King

The word ‘sustainability’ hides a multitude of sins, it is a modern word but the aims behind it are well used and well worn. The freedom to act and think and do as you please is anathama to some people, control and order and direction from a governing elite in order to create an obedient mass looking to a central point of authority for their behaviour patterns. Who decides what is sustainable and what isnt? What are the dangers of allowing a certain group of people to dictate to others what is acceptable behaviour and what is anti social behaviour?
The idea that the masses must subject themselves to a guiding will is a key element of faith with leftist/marxist/socialist/green/cult religious groups, they always try to build an authoritarian structure where the individual will is submerged beneath the will of the masses as led of course by a small group of ‘leaders’, a leader class that dictates and guides the masses using certain key ‘enabling’ narratives.
The vehicle of ‘sustainability’ has got little to do with actual sustainability however that term has actual meaning, the term is simply an ‘authority enabler’ a tool to place limits on an individuals behaviour rather like handcuffs in fact, these limits must be ‘self imposed’ by means of moral blackmail and appeals to an individuals guilt and fear and sense of social conscience. In other words the chains of limitation can only be applied with popular support enabled by the masses themselves, those who choose not to have pressure applied by turning the masses against those ‘anti social elements’ using a planned attack and smear campaign.
When the authoritarian groups wish to take over a group of free individuals they never use frontal force, they use well tried methods of enslaving a population by stealth. Its obvious at this moment in our history that there is a concerted effort to create a central authoritarian state, it is being created by stealth using the supposed destruction of the earth as a cover and vehicle. This would be authoritarian state is using well tried and tested and very predictable methods, trying to invite populations to place the chains of slavery on themselves and many are on the verge of doing just that, invited by to do so by falsehoods and silky lies and misrepresentation.
As old as civilisation, the art of stripping a free people of that freedom by stealth and yet again we see it happening and yet again many still fall for the oh so obvious fraud, it makes you wonder if we will ever learn the simple reality of humanity, wherever free people live in freedom there will always be a minority planning to steal that freedom, from the streets of Babylon to the streets of Rome to the streets of Washington, the people change but the methods do not.
Remember this, your freedom once given away is always a great struggle to regain and the regaining of that freedom exacts the greatest cost, giving away your freedom is easy, getting it back again is a different matter altogether.

Gail Combs

Sustainable Development is Agenda 21 until you understand that it is not about the environment but a cover for totalitarian control of people you miss the whole point.
No I am not a “conspiracy theorists” I am one very frighten individual because I have been following the progress of this disease for over ten years. I actually started out as a member of Greenpeace and WWF.
The idea of conserving the environment and “sustainablity’ is just a cover story. It is just like CAGW, a hoax used to blind the masses as they are bound up in regulations and fleeced of their wealth and freedom. I am very much afraid we are at the brink of the next Dark Ages if we as a people do not wake up and figure out the lies we are being spoon fed especially those fed to our children. http://www.newswithviews.com/Shaw/michael17.htm
“You Americans are so gullible! We don’t have to invade you! We will destroy you from within without firing a shot! We will bury you by the billions! We spoon feed you socialism until your Communists and don’t even know it! We assist your elected leaders in giving you small doses of Socialism until you suddenly awake to find you have Communism. the day will come when your grandchildren will live under communism!” – Nikita Khrushchev
Sustainable Development is part of the diet we are being giving in small doses by our elected leaders. This site has put together a lot of the information gathered from official sources. Please, please at least skim through it. I have a lot of references to this subject but this article pulls most of them together. Green Global Dictatorship: Regional Governance, UN Agenda 21, Sustainable Development, and the Wildlands Project by Dr. Eric T. Karlstrom, Professor of Geography
(Ignore the religious quotes at the beginning, the research is still good and has a lot of references.)

Pascvaks

…”Specifically, Nelson and co-author John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University argue that the issue of ethics is a vital component in the teaching and research of sustainability, but one that is sorely lacking.”… (per above news release)
__________________________
Several good observations, here’s another:
Humans have always and consistantly used the “ethical” delemia argument when the issue of change was being called for and/or when changes being implemented began to be questioned. It was, is, and will always be, used in human arguments. The authors in this case are begging the question now for their own agenda. To say that it has not been adequately applied in the past is untrue; what happened happened. To claim that it is not being appropriately applied now is likewise untrue; what’s happening is happening. To say that it might not be applied in future is a joke, for what will be will be.
PS: People tend to split into two groups about any issue; those who are for it, and those who are against it. The ‘ethical’ appeal can and, usually, is used by both sides to further their argument and convince the undecided.

Steve Fitzpatrick

Good someone from academia is addressing this ethical dimension of climate science.
As several different people have pointed out, the underlying conflict about climate science is the conflict between “naturalists” and “humanists”. The former believe that nature and its ecosystems, unchanged by humanity, are inherently good and valuable, while the latter consider the maintenance of natural ecosystems valuable only to the extent that this insures the quality of human life. It is a philosophical difference which is not going to disappear. It seems to me that most climate scientists, at least those who are publicly outspoken, are “naturalists” rather than “humanists”, and assign a high priority to protecting natural ecosystems from change/disruption by human activity, while most skeptics are “humanists” who assign higher priority to improving the lives of humans, especially the poorest.
The tendency of outspoken climate scientists to paint a certain and frightening picture of future warming is in part motivated by their personal valuation of unchanged natural systems. For a “naturalist”, substantial changes in Earth’s climate are inherently ‘catastrophic’ and hugely ‘expensive’, regardless of the consequences of those changes to humanity; any significant risk of substantial change is unacceptable, so large public expenditure to reduce the chance of substantial environmental change is a moral imperative. It is interesting to note that outspoken climate scientists consider those who question the size and certainty of future warming and its consequences as either wholly ignorant of “the science” (and incapable of understanding it!) or simply immoral and evil. This analysis says much more about outspoken climate scientists themselves than it does about the technical competence and morals of skeptics.
This is not a new conflict, and not one which will be easily resolved. But it is at least constructive to examine the conflict for what it really is, rather than waste time arguing about technical issues (polar ice melt, projected temperatures, uncertainty ranges, etc.) that are poor surrogates for the fundamental disagreement. Continuing to frame the question of global warming in terms of “what the science says”, while ignoring underlying disagreements about personal values and priorities (AKA politics), will only do science a disservice and delay a political consensus.

James Sexton

Sustainability, if one thinks about it properly, references man and his ability to exploit resources available, while ensuring future generations have the same ability. The earth is fine and isn’t going anywhere.(At least anytime soon.) Anyone who thinks the present flora and fauna of this earth are to be some permanent fixture of nature sadly delude themselves. Yes, I know they are among us, they’re just wrong. Species adapt or become extinct and new ones arrive. This is true for both plants and animals.
““Do we care about ecosystem health because ecosystems are intrinsically valuable..?”
If there is no benefit to mankind, then how could it possibly be regarded as having value, intrinsic or otherwise? If it is a benefit to mankind, then it is because of mankind’s ability to exploit nature’s resources.

Southside

For these people it’s alway a zero sum game, they don’t ever seem to see a future that will be better as we learn and then develop new technologies. Allowing human creativity and ingenuity to make life better for all of us just doesn’t seem to be a possibility for the environmentalist, it’s all doom and gloom. Of course this very socialist outlook has been instilled from kindergarten on for the last 30 years, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.
Part of what worries me is with this outlook where do we look for innovators and real scientists who are interested in bettering human life rather keeping things sustainable.

dragineez

My concern, as a deeply committed environmentalist, can best be illustrated by the majority of the comments in this thread. Since AGW is a scam and is identified as being an environmentalist movement, all environmental activism is likewise called into question. At one time I too bought into the whole global warming alarmism. A surprizing little time doing a dispassionate analysis convinced me this was a non-issue. That does not mean that there aren’t a host of other very legitimate environmental issues we can, and should, address. But now that nearly all “green” issues are becoming tainted with the AGW scam brush we run the risk of turning our backs on some very real problems. And environmentalists will have no one to blame but themselves. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” parable comes to mind.

‘Sustainability’ is perhaps the dirtiest word in the English language. Its advocates would have us give up on progress, on the growth of civilization, and the eventual journey of mankind to the rest of the Solar System and to the stars. It is anti-growth, anti-freedom, anti-prosperity, and anti-human; it is therefore profoundly unethical.
‘Sustainability’ is of course based on the myth that there are ‘limits to growth’ (sound familiar?). That myth and its promulgators must be roundly and decisively fought and defeated. We are in a war that will determine the future of humanity.
E. M. Smith has very aptly given the lie to the myth of ‘sustainability’: there is no shortage of ‘stuff’, and there never will be, unless we impose it upon ourselves:
http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/there-is-no-shortage-of-stuff/
http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/there-is-no-energy-shortage/
/Mr Lynn

drams1

I’m not terribly impressed by any of the comments.
Humankind is facing the question of how to handle it’s growing population and what version of a future Earth it wants to have. “Sustainability” is the question of how much of the recent state of the natural ecosystem can be maintained with a peaking population. It is not that the world has existed in a pristine, unchanging state, it is that the pace of change related to human intervention is increasing. This increasing pace drives the insecurity of “greenies”, and it does represent a real problem.
Morality is an appropriate paradigm to use in discussing “sustainability”, because it is a question of what we want as a future state of the Earth insofar as we can form that future state.

INGSOC

Gail Combs says:
July 6, 2010 at 6:52 am
Bang on. And I probably met you at a march or two… What a senseless waste of time! “I could have been a somebody! I could have been a contender. But i’m just a bum…with a one way ticket to palookaville….”

trbixler

Is it ethical for someone else to decide if I live or die. Maybe if you live or die. The consideration moves to my dog or car. Artificial ethics take the form of taxes and social laws, they can reach deep determining if I drive my car or feed my dog or consider procreation. The alternative is the market solution.

Nuke

drams1 says:
July 6, 2010 at 7:29 am
I’m not terribly impressed by any of the comments.
Humankind is facing the question of how to handle it’s growing population and what version of a future Earth it wants to have. “Sustainability” is the question of how much of the recent state of the natural ecosystem can be maintained with a peaking population. It is not that the world has existed in a pristine, unchanging state, it is that the pace of change related to human intervention is increasing. This increasing pace drives the insecurity of “greenies”, and it does represent a real problem.
Morality is an appropriate paradigm to use in discussing “sustainability”, because it is a question of what we want as a future state of the Earth insofar as we can form that future state.

I’m not particularly impressed with redefining morality to suit the latest left-wing agenda that comes down the pike, either.