Sustainability: Virtuous or Vulgar?

Article (PDF Available)inBioScience 60(7):539-544 · July 2010with 244 Reads
DOI: 10.1525/bio.2010.60.7.9
Cite this publication
Abstract
Progress in understanding and achieving sustainability requires addressing it as both a scientific and an ethical issue. If sustainability is defined as “meeting human needs in a socially just manner without depriving ecosystems of their health,” most of the words in its definition are normative or value laden. Depending on how critical normative terms such as “human needs” and “ecosystem health” are defined, sustainability 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.” We suggest that there are five key areas of sustainability. By examining how recent university cluster hires in sustainability compare with these five areas, we show not only how hiring has been radically lopsided but also how ethics has been entirely ignored. Lack of attention to the ethical dimension of sustainability is stifling progress toward sustainability.
Figures - uploaded by Michael Paul Nelson
Author content
All content in this area was uploaded by Michael Paul Nelson
Content may be subject to copyright.
Thinking of Biology
www.biosciencemag.org July/August 2010 / Vol. 60 No. 7s"IO3CIENCE
Thinking of Biology
Sustainability: Virtuous or Vulgar?
JOHN A. VUCETICH AND MICHAEL P. NELSON
Progress in understanding and achieving sustainability requires addressing it as both a scientific and an ethical issue. If sustainability is defined as
“meeting human needs in a socially just manner without depriving ecosystems of their health,” most of the words in its definition are normative
or value laden. Depending on how critical normative terms such as “human needs” and “ecosystem health” are defined, sustainability 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.” We suggest that there are five key areas of sustainability. By examining how recent university cluster hires in
sustainability compare with these five areas, we show not only how hiring has been radically lopsided but also how ethics has been entirely ignored.
Lack of attention to the ethical dimension of sustainability is stifling progress toward sustainability.
Keywords: anthropocentrism, ecosystem health, environmental ethics, sustainable harvest, virtue ethics
Understanding the state and nature of ecosystems, which b.
is generally the purview of ecology and environmental
science;
Understanding how exploitation affects ecosystems, c.
which is generally the purview of applied ecology and
environmental science;
Understanding how exploitation affects human cultures, d.
which is generally the purview of sociology, political science,
policy, law, anthropology, and the arts and humanities;
Understanding the meaning of normative concepts such as e.
human needs, socially just, depriving, and ecosystem health,
which is generally the purview of ethics and philosophy.
Dimensions (b) and (c) in practice are closely related, and
many researchers would self-identify with both dimensions.
Also, a more detailed framework might further specify di-
mension (b) by, for example, prioritizing the subdisciplines,
taxa, and geographic regions most important for under-
standing sustainability. One could also argue that another
significant dimension of sustainability includes the fields
of basic human medicine and psychology. These fields of
inquiry are necessary to understand human needs, much the
same way that dimension (b) is necessary for understanding
ecosystem health.
This framework highlights how every academic discipline
is necessary for realizing sustainability. The nature of the first
four dimensions of sustainability are (we hope) self-evident,
but the last dimension—the ethical dimension—requires
some explanation. Although fields such as sociology and
political science provide descriptive (i.e., scientific) accounts
of how values relate to sustainability, they do not evaluate,
Achieving sustainability has become a central issue of
our time. Aside from the challenges of how we can be-
come sustainable, contention continues to simmer over basic
issues such as what it even means to be sustainable, and what
new knowledge is required to become sustainable. One mani-
festation of this contention is the exclusive manner in which
various academic quarters sometimes portray the nature of
sustainability: Too many environmental scientists think sus-
tainability is primarily about documenting and protecting eco-
system health, whereas too many engineers think sustainability
is primarily about more efficiently meeting human needs.
Sustainability scholars continue to debate whether sus-
tainability is more about economics, ecology, or social sci-
ence (e.g., Ott 2003, Adams 2006). This debate, however,
has almost entirely neglected a fundamental dimension of
sustainability: the ethical dimension. Exclusive perspectives
and a lack of concern for ethical issues can be ameliorated
by considering sustainability as a framework that would
begin by defining sustainability as “meeting human needs
in a socially just manner without depriving ecosystems of
their health.” This framework builds upon existing notions
of sustainability insomuch as this definition is closely related
to other widely appreciated definitions of sustainability (e.g.,
WCED 1987, Callicott and Mumford 1997, NRC 1999). The
framework arising from this definition is composed of five
critical dimensions (see figure 1):
Development of efficient technologies and markets for a.
meeting human needs, which is generally the purview of
engineering, physical science, biotechnology, economics,
and business;
BioScience 60: 539–544. ISSN 0006-3568, electronic ISSN 1525-3244. © 2010 by American Institute of Biological Sciences. All rights reserved. Request
permission to photocopy or reproduce article content at the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions Web site at www.ucpressjournals.com/
reprintinfo.asp. doi:10.1525/bio.2010.60.7.9
"IO3CIENCEsJuly/August 2010 / Vol. 60 No. 7 www.biosciencemag.org
Thinking of Biology
for example, the logic, consistency, and robustness of the
normative concepts upon which sustainability rests. Among
academics, such evaluation is the purview of ethics.
Without developing the ethical dimension of sustainability,
we will never even know what sustainability means, and will
therefore be ignorant about how to achieve it. For example,
consider the concepts of human needs and ecosystem health.
Depending on how societies understand these concepts,
sustainability could mean anything from “exploit as much
as desired without infringing on future ability to exploit as
much as desired” to “exploit as little as necessary to maintain
a meaningful life.” These two attitudes seem to represent
wildly different worlds—one might be called vulgar sustain-
ability and the other virtuous—yet either could be considered
“sustainable,” depending on the meaning of the normative
concepts that define sustainability. Ultimately, 7 of the 11
words (excluding articles) in our definition of sustainability
are tied to fundamentally normative concepts.
Indeed, society will never come to an eternal consensus
about the meanings of normative terms that comprise sus-
tainability. This circumstance recalls contention about the
concept of justice. Our understandings of justice are varied,
indefinite, and evolving. However, by continuing to tend its
meaning at all levels of society (i.e., academics, professionals,
politicians, and the general public), we have developed viable
legal systems that evolve with societies’ conceptions of justice.
Achieving sustainability requires tending its ethical dimen-
sion across all levels of society, even though we cannot ever
expect to arrive at a final determination of its meaning.
With these principles in mind, consider a specific (and nar-
row) illustration: the sustainable harvest of ungulate popula-
tions in North America. In this case, the human need (or
perhaps merely desire) may be to maximize the harvestable
surplus for an indefinite period of time. Moreover, the most
common notion of a healthy ungulate population is one with
a skewed sex ratio and young age structure, which lives on a
landscape that produces enough vegetation to yield the largest
possible harvestable surplus of ungulates. That is, population
health is defined in terms of human needs or desires. However,
other reasonable notions for population health of an ungulate
population entail “more natural” conditions, such as balanced
sex ratios, age structures, and abundances that are temporally
dynamic and include older individuals; vegetative communi-
ties that support fewer ungulates; and wolves, whose viability
requires us to share some of the “harvestable surplus.
These principles also apply to our most general concerns
about sustainability. For example, in recent years, humans
have produced and used something close to 12 terawatts
(TW) of energy annually. Are Earth’s ecosystems healthy
if they continue to produce 12 TW of electricity, or if they
possess an undiminished variety of flourishing habitats and
species, but perhaps cannot produce 12 TW of energy? Does
human need define ecosystem health, or does ecosystem
health define the limits of human need?
Although many scientists and engineers consider these
issues intractable and distracting, they represent critical
obstacles to achieving sustainability. Moreover, these are
issues that ethicists are trained to handle and to which others
from the humanities would have much to contribute.
Essentially, we do not understand the extent to which
sustainability represents an anthropocentric or non-
anthropocentric attitude. Do we care about ecosystem health
because ecosystems are intrinsically valuable, or do we care
about ecosystem health only because it serves human inter-
ests? Many scientists and engineers are certain that sustain-
ability is an anthropocentric concern. That certitude may
be misplaced, as many of our colleagues in the humanities
have offered rigorous, well-reasoned explanations for what
nonanthropocentrism is and why it is essential for conserva-
tion (Plumwood 1993). For a gentle introduction to these
Figure 1. Sustainability is essentially the relationship
between the environment and society. That relationship
involves a physical aspect (exploitation) and an ethical
attitude (upper panel). The relationship is affected by (a)
our technologies, (b) understanding of the environment,
(c) understanding how exploitation affects society,
(d) understanding how exploitation affects the
environment, and (e) how we understand our ethical
attitudes about ourselves and nature. History provides
plenty of evidence that dimensions (a)–(d) are inadequate
for achieving sustainability. Ethical attitudes are a critical
aspect of any relationship involving humans (e), and are
the neglected dimension of sustainability. This model
emphasizes that technology is conceptually secondary to
exploitation, determining only our capability and efficiency
of exploitation. Ethics determines how we use technologies.
Previous conceptual models of sustainability (lower
panels; Ott 2003, Adams 2006) are silent about the role of
technology, which has become a central focus, and ethics,
which ought to become a central focus.
www.biosciencemag.org July/August 2010 / Vol. 60 No. 7s"IO3CIENCE
Thinking of Biology
topics, see Callicott (2006) and Goralnik and Nelson (2010).
Embarrassingly, most scientists and engineers are almost
entirely unaware of these explanations.
We do not suggest that sustainability should be primarily
an anthropocentric or nonanthropocentric concern. Our
point is that discussion of the issue among all academics
is critical to achieving sustainability. It is as important for
scientists and engineers to know these arguments as it is for
environmental ethicists and philosophers to know the basic
principles underlying climate change, habitat destruction,
and species extinctions.
Using these five critical dimensions of sustainability, we
assessed hiring patterns of universities conducting cluster
hires focused on sustainability. We used Google and the
keywords “cluster hire,” “sustainability,” and “university”
to identify universities that were currently or had recently
conducted cluster hires. When university sites did not report
the names and areas of expertise of new hires, we contacted
the universities directly to request this information. We also
asked these contacts and our colleagues about their knowl-
edge of other cluster hires. Additionally, we contacted the
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher
Education and the Association for Environmental Studies
and Sciences about their knowledge of cluster hires. We did
not learn of any cluster hires from these sources that we had
not already found through Internet searches. For this reason,
we do not think we missed any cluster hires focused on sus-
tainability between 2008 and 2010, and we have not learned
of any cluster hires occurring before 2008. The results of
our search suggest that university cluster hires focused on
sustainability have not evenly represented the dimensions of
sustainability and have particularly neglected sustainability’s
ethical dimension (see figure 2).
Academia’s general neglect of sustainability’s ethical
dimension is also reflected in the National Science Foun-
dation’s Environmental Sustainability program, an inter-
disciplinary funding program. That program’s 570-word
synopsis, found on its Web site, makes no reference to the
ethical dimension of sustainability, but concludes: “All pro-
posed research should be driven by engineering principles,
and be presented explicitly in an environmental sustainabil-
ity context.” Moreover, the word “ethic-” appears in the title,
keywords, or abstract of just 1 of the 119 projects funded
since this program’s inception.
University contributions to sustainability need to include
deeply interdisciplinary collaborations. Deep interdisciplin-
arity involves collaboration among, not merely within, the
five dimensions of sustainability. According to this view,
deep interdisciplinarity is not represented by, for example,
an engineer and an economist working to develop more
efficient means of meeting human needs. However, an ecolo-
gist researching the ecological effects of biofuel production
in coordination with the sociological dimensions of biofuels
may be an example of deeply interdisciplinary collaboration,
or it may be an example of disciplinary research coordi-
nated to focus on the same problem—a problem defined by
dimension (a). An example of deep interdisciplinarity would
be an ecologist and an ethicist collaborating to better under-
stand the nature of ecosystem health. Another example of
deep interdisciplinarity is the collaboration between evolu-
tionary ecologist E. O. Wilson and social scientist Stephen
Kellert, which gave rise to the biophilia hypothesis. Such
collaboration would be facilitated if university cluster hires
were better balanced in terms of the dimensions of sustain-
ability they represent.
Where are we, and how did we get here?
The ethical dimension is better understood by consider-
ing how literature on the meaning of sustainability has
developed over the past three decades. Key developments
are summarized in a set of easily accessible papers (e.g.,
Jamieson 1998, Thompson 2007, Kajikawa 2008). An early
development, marked by the phrase “sustainable develop-
ment,” was the appreciation that sustainability involved con-
cern for both ecosystem health and economic development.
From this, a distinction developed between what has come
to be known as weak sustainability and strong sustainability
(Beckerman 1994, Daly et al. 1995). Weak sustainability is
generally concerned with sustaining human welfare, and is
Figure 2. Recent university cluster hires in sustainability.
The percentage of faculty associated with each dimension
(a–e, which correspond to the letters in the upper panel of
figure 1) of sustainability hired by several universities in
recent initiatives to hire clusters of sustainability faculty.
These data represent 59 positions from nine universities.
The universities are Cornell University; Iowa State
University; Michigan Technological University; Ohio State
University; Portland State University; Rochester Institute
of Technology; the State University of New York College
of Environmental Science and Forestry; University of
California, San Diego; and University of New Hampshire.
"IO3CIENCEsJuly/August 2010 / Vol. 60 No. 7 www.biosciencemag.org
Thinking of Biology
thought to be more commensurable with economic prin-
ciples. Strong sustainability is generally concerned with
sustaining natural capital, and is thought to be more aligned
with traditional conservation values. Much of the discourse
on the distinction between strong and weak sustainability
has sought to assess the logical rigor of each vision and has
attempted to anticipate the outcome of adopting one vision
or the other (Jamieson 1998, Neumayer 2003, Ayres 2007).
This distinction also serves as a vehicle for better under-
standing how ecosystem health and economic development
should relate to one another: Which value is more impor-
tant? Under what conditions should concern for one value
override the other?
Today, sustainability is broadly thought to require valuing
not only ecosystem health and economic development but
also social justice (e.g., Douglass 1984, Allen and Sachs 1992,
Dobson 1999, Kastenhofer and Rammel 2005, Zimmerman
2005, Hay and Mimura 2006, Koehler and Hecht 2006, Rap-
port 2007). Although the connection between sustainability
and social justice is widely appreciated, and although social
justice is certainly a worthy ambition, the logical neces-
sity for connecting sustainability and social justice may be
yet unspecified (Thompson 2007). Moreover, the meaning
of social justice has been defined about as precisely as the
meaning of ecosystem health (i.e., not very well). Neverthe-
less, the essential idea is that a sustainable society cares about
social well-being. That is, a sustainable society has concern
for poverty, racism, political marginalization, the opportu-
nity to make a livelihood, and how social interactions should
be fair and equitable.
As these philosophic aspects of sustainability have devel-
oped, they have been eclipsed by an explosion of attention
now given to sustainability science (see Kajikawa 2008 for
a review). With the domination of sustainability science,
philosophers have been evaluating new ideas about the deep
nature of sustainability.
One idea is that the most basic framework for under-
standing sustainability does not rely on understanding the
interrelationship between its principal values (ecosystem
health, social justice, and human needs); rather, the most
basic framework for understanding sustainability may be
the interrelationship between its technical and philosophical
dimensions. These dimensions were dubbed by Thompson
(2007) as the substantive and nonsubstantive aspects of
sustainability, respectively. By this assessment, the technical
dimension seems valuable for its ability to define problems
precisely and to be usefully applied to many specific cases
that differ greatly in circumstance (e.g., achieving a sustain-
able harvest of some particular population, or achieving
sustainable water use in some local community). This value
is clearly demonstrated by the framework that supports sus-
tainability science (see Kajikawa 2007).
The assessment goes on to conclude that the philosophical
dimension, by contrast, seems too general and vague to
be usefully applied to any specific problem. In this sense,
some philosophers of sustainability seem to explain how
the philosophic aspects of sustainability are not all that
important (Thompson 2007, see also Jamieson 1998). This
thought is problematic, however, because although it cer-
tainly represents a description of how we have been treating
sustainability, it does not explain how or why thinking about
sustainability in this way is wise (Davison 2001).
Perhaps the appropriate primary distinction is between
the “end goals of sustainability” and the “means by which
to achieve sustainability” (see also Kothari 1994). Neither
aspect can be pursued independently of the other because
the two are inextricably entwined. Moreover, this distinc-
tion is applicable to the most general and vague discussions
about sustainability, and also applicable to the most specific
cases of sustainability (e.g., What does it mean to sustain-
ably harvest a particular population? or, What does it mean
to sustainably use water in a particular local community?).
At every scale, the ethical dimension of sustainability is ines-
capable (though underappreciated).
Another criticism of the ethical dimension of sustain-
ability is that though it may be useful for characterizing and
identifying various philosophic attitudes about sustainability,
it is largely unable to effectively motivate sustainable actions
or change attitudes about sustainability (Jamieson 1998,
Thompson 2007). This belief is also misguided. Once a group
or person has determined what the appropriate end goals of
sustainability should be, those end goals are, in an important
way, the motivations underlying sustainable behavior. The
challenge remains as it always has: to assess the appropriate-
ness of various motivations and end goals of sustainability.
Some think that the philosophic dimension of sustain-
ability may be, despite its purpose, of limited value in more
deeply understanding the ethical or philosophical aspects of
sustainability (Jamieson 1998, Thompson 2007). This criti-
cism rests on the observation that “being sustainable” has
become more-or-less synonymous with being good.” The
question, “What does it mean to be good?” has been the cen-
tral issue of Western ethics for more than two millennia. The
concern is that inserting this ancient and enduring question
into sustainability discourse offers little assistance in achiev-
ing answers (Thompson 2007).
The value of equating “goodness” with “sustainability”
is that the meaning of goodness has varied tremendously
over time (MacIntyre 1981). In the Homeric period, being
good meant being a good warrior, and that involved a set
of virtues including bravery and cunningness. For ancient
Athenians, being good meant being a good citizen, which
Aristotle thought included a set of virtues including temper-
ance and magnanimity. In the Dark Ages, being good meant
being subservient to God’s will, and involved virtues like
hope, humility, and faith. Today, sustainability defines what
it means to be good. Each epoch in our ethical history is
associated with different sets of virtues that provided strong,
but flexible, guidance as to what it meant to be “good.
More specifically, sustainability may well be the primary
schema for describing and evaluating what it means to be a
good person or good society in today’s world. That schema
www.biosciencemag.org July/August 2010 / Vol. 60 No. 7s"IO3CIENCE
Thinking of Biology
involves understanding how to balance sustainability’s three
primary virtues: concern for human needs, ecosystem health,
and social justice. The flexibility, universality, and guiding
force of sustainability’s philosophic dimension lend this
approach strength (see also O’Neill et al. 2008). What counts
as sustainable or good, even for the most specific man-
agement scenario (e.g., harvesting or water use), requires
knowing whether proposed management actions satisfy the
guiding virtues of sustainability. Being able to make the con-
nection between management and values requires collabora-
tion between science and ethics.
Another recent thought related to sustainability, rising
in the wake of science’s domination of sustainability, is the
mootness of debate over whether sustainability should be
derived from anthropocentric or nonanthropocentric values
(Norton 1991, 2005). The basis for such thinking is the belief
that both sets of values will lead to the same outcome. More-
over, because the moral relevance of humans is not contro-
versial and the moral relevance of the nonhuman world is
controversial, we should simply proceed as though we were
all anthropocentrists. These perspectives certainly seem to
limit the perceived value of assessing the ethical dimension
of sustainability in general.
However, many scholars have offered rigorous explana-
tions for why anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism
represent an important distinction (Callicott 1999, McShane
2007, Nelson 2010). These authors have argued both why
the goodness of an action rises primarily from the motiva-
tion and values that motivate an action, and how anthro-
pocentric and nonanthropocentric motivations will lead
to profoundly different outcomes. For example, recall that
sustainability could mean anything from “exploit as much
as desired without infringing on future ability to exploit as
much as desired” to “exploit as little as necessary to maintain
a meaningful life.” These plainly represent different motiva-
tions, and they would clearly result in different worlds.
Conclusion
Perhaps a research priority for sustainability should be pro-
viding the knowledge necessary to determine whether we
will, or ought to, follow the virtuous or vulgar path of sus-
tainability, or some path in between. Similarly, the academy
should commit itself to deeply interdisciplinary research to
assess the consequences of deciding whether sustainability
should be considered anthropocentric or nonanthropocen-
tric. This goal is no more audacious than trying to achieve
sustainability with science and technology alone.
More generally, the sustainability framework we describe
(figure 1) is also valuable for placing ethics alongside science
and technology in efforts to develop sustainability; highlight-
ing the importance of resolving the extent to which sustain-
ability represents an anthropocentric or nonanthropocentric
attitude; helping universities develop strategic plans related to
sustainability research initiatives; framing syllabi for general
education courses on sustainability and providing a general
and practical venue for teaching students how ethics relates
to the real world, which is also an independently appreciated
need; and being simple enough to motivate a more enlight-
ened discourse among the general public.
If we attain sustainability, it will not only require critical
changes in technology, but also the most profound shift in
ethical thought witnessed in the last four centuries. While
we devote tremendous resources to develop “sustainable”
technologies, ethics remain almost entirely neglected.
Acknowledgments
We thank Margaret Gale for providing a venue for discus-
sion that fostered some of the ideas in this article, David
Shonnard for helpful discussion, Aimee Wilson and Anurag
Agrawal for comments on a draft of this article, and the
National Science Foundation (DEB-0918247) for financial
support. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect
the views of the National Science Foundation.
References cited
Adams WM. 2006. The Future of Sustainability: Re-thinking Environment
and Development in the Twenty-first Century. Report of the IUCN
Renowned Thinkers Meeting, 29–31 January 2006.
Allen P, Sachs C. 1992. The poverty of sustainability: An analysis of current
discourse. Agriculture and Human Values 9: 30–37.
Ayres RU. 2007. On the practical limits to substitution. Ecological Econom-
ics 61: 115–128.
Beckerman W. 1994. Sustainable development: Is it a useful concept? Envi-
ronmental Values 3: 191–209.
Callicott JB. 1999. Intrinsic value in nature: A metaphysical analysis. Pages
239–261 in Callicott JB, ed. Beyond the Land Ethic. SUNY Press.
———. 2006. Conservation values and ethics. Pages 111–135 in Groom
MJ, Meffe GK, Carroll CR, eds. Principles of Conservation Biology. 3rd
ed. Sinauer.
Callicott JB, Mumford K. 1997. Ecological sustainability as a conservation
concept. Conservation Biology 11: 32–40.
Daly H, Jacobs M, Skolimowski H. 1995. Discussion of Beckerman’s critique
of sustainable development. Environmental Values 4: 49–70.
Davison A. 2001. Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability.
SUNY Press.
Dobson A. 1999. Fairness and Futurity: Essays on Environmental Sustain-
ability and Social Justice. Oxford University Press.
Douglass GK. 1984. The meanings of agricultural sustainability. Pages 3–29
in Douglass GK, ed. Agricultural Sustainability in a Changing World
Order. Westview.
Goralnik L, Nelson MP. 2010. Anthropocentrism. In Callahan D, Chad-
wick R, Singer P, eds. Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. 2nd ed. Elsevier.
Forthcoming.
Hay J, Mimura N. 2006. Supporting climate change vulnerability and ad-
aptation assessments in the Asia-Pacific region: An example of sustain-
ability science. Sustainability Science 1: 23–35.
Jamieson D. 1998. Sustainability and beyond. Ecological Economics 24:
183–192.
Kajikawa Y. 2008. Research core and framework of sustainability science.
Sustainability Science 3: 215–239.
Kastenhofer K, Rammel C. 2005. Obstacles to and potentials of the so-
cietal implementation of sustainable development: A comparative
analysis of two case studies. Sustainability: Science, Practice, and
Policy 1: 5–13.
Koehler DA, Hecht AD. 2006. Sustainability, well being, and environmental
protection: Perspectives and recommendations from an Environmental
Protection Agency forum. Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy
2: 22–28.
  • Chapter
    Full-text available
    This chapter provides guidance for solving practical, high-level management and policy challenges in sustainability and disaster resilience. These two fields must be considered together so that they do not work at cross-purposes. Sustainability is framed in a positive and useful way that transcends shallow and self-serving treatments that are all too common. Although sustainability is a multi-faceted problem, climate change is the focus because it is globally important and because it is particularly troublesome due to its global and long-term scale. The discussion on sustainability highlights the challenge of extreme uncertainty. Knowledge of system complexity is necessary for understanding and contending with extreme uncertainty. Thus, this chapter summarizes some fundamental knowledge and draws from it recommendations for decision-making. An example illustrates the suggested approach and provides additional insight. Complex systems are hard to understand and no course of action is guaranteed to be successful. However, without systems thinking, failure is almost assured. The recommendations in this chapter, although not infallible, will help find effective ways to intervene in societal systems to meet stated objectives while avoiding unintended consequences.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Link to article: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000632071732116X | Efforts to realize conservation are often met with stakeholders contending that particular conservation actions are unfair for conflicting with their basic interests. A useful lens through which to view such conflict is social justice, which may be considered the fair treatment of others judged according three principles: equality, need, and desert (noun form of deserve). We formally demonstrate that (i) the subject of social justice (others) includes many non-human elements of nature and (ii) realizing conservation that is also socially just requires being guided by a non-anthropocentrism principle, whereby no human should infringe on the well-being of others any more than is necessary for a healthy, meaningful life. The concept, "healthy, meaningful life" is less vague and subjective than might be presupposed. That concept is for example subject to considerable objective reasoning through social and behavioral sciences. We indicate how realizing socially-just conservation requires another guiding, safeguard principle: If a significant and genuine conservation interest calls for restricting a human interest, that restriction should occur except when doing so would result in injustice. When the restriction would be unjust every effort should be made by all involved parties to mitigate the restriction to the point of no longer being unjust. This principle covers concerns often raised when conservation is opposed-e.g., financial costs, loss of cultural tradition. We explain how these two principles are neglected or excluded by many methods for resolving conservation conflicts and collaborative governance of natural resources.
  • Article
    This research characterized how faculty educate environmental engineering (EnvE) undergraduate and graduate students on ethical and societal issues (ESI), in comparison to civil, chemical, and mechanical engineering (CCM). In a national survey, responses from 158 instructors of EnvE students representing 114 institutions were received, and compared to 505 CCM responses. Despite the fact that 97% of the respondents taught EnvE students about ESI in their courses, only 30% felt that undergraduate students in their program received sufficient education on both the societal impacts of technology and ethical issues; only 20% felt this way about their graduate program. CCM instructors had similar opinions about the lack of sufficient ESI education. The survey respondents integrated a broad range of ESI topics into their courses, with poverty and social justice issues more common in EnvE compared to CCM. Examples of ESI teaching and assessment methods in courses ranging from sophomore or junior level engineering courses to graduate courses are provided. Co-curricular activities including engineering service groups, professional societies, design competitions, and research experiences also provide opportunities to educate EnvE students on ESI. This is the first to present the results of a large-scale study on ESI education in EnvE as compared to related disciplines. Through these results, the article hopes to inspire others to integrate ESI-related topics into the courses and co-curricular activities that they mentor, and work with faculty in their program to provide a comprehensive ESI education that equips students with the knowledge and values to behave ethically in practice.
  • Article
    During the past few decades, the global food system has confronted new sustainability challenges related not only to public health and the environment but also to ethical concerns over the treatment of farmed animals. However, the traditional threedimensional framework of sustainable development is ill equipped to take ethical concerns related to non-human animals into account. For instance, the interests of farmed animals are often overridden by objectives associated with social, economic or environmental sustainability, despite their vast numbers and influence on contemporary societies. Moreover, sustainability policies necessarily involve an element of ethical evaluation; yet this element is not explicitly incorporated in prevailing frameworks of sustainable development. Our purpose in this article is to address these shortcomings by developing a Sustainability Matrix that recognizes the need to consider food system sustainability from the perspective of all interest groups affected by the issue under consideration, from a plurality of ethical standpoints. Combing sustainability principles with the basic idea of an ethical evaluation tool, the proposed Sustainability Matrix evaluates the sustainability of food-related systems, decisions and policies from the perspectives of three major strands of ethical theory and from the perspectives of human beings, farmed animals and wildlife. In terms of policy implications, the Sustainability Matrix can be applied in deciding on the specific targets of food system sustainability that can then be utilized as a basis for designing policies and measures towards the achievement of these goals.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    The call for further research on service sustainability at all levels has been increasingly stated within the past years. However, limited research has been conducted with regard to the macro level, in which services are inevitably influenced by social, cultural, economic and technological factors. This paper develops an ecosystem approach within the service context to design a service not only from a micro level (e.g., service experience, service encounters), but also from a social level in order to help businesses and public sectors to transform the relationship among individual, collective, social, and environmental systems and increase service sustainability. Then, it applies the developed Service Ecosystem Design (SED) model in a Career Counselling Service (CCS) in the University of Milano-Bicocca (Unimib) in order to demonstrate the usefulness of this model. The empirical data were collected from service providers to illustrate the current service system maps and from first-year undergraduates to understand their perceptions and expectations on campus CCS. The results show that the Unimib CCS is a research-oriented career service and the fundamental service improvements should focus on designing the peer counselling, follow-up, pre-service, a holistic online platform, law education, technology education, optional course, hands-on experiences and student activities.
  • Book
    Full-text available
    This book examines the recent development and use of computer modeling and simulation as an important tool for understanding environmental and resource-based conflicts and for finding pathways for conflict resolution and cooperation. It introduces a new, innovative technique for using agent-based modeling (ABM) as a tool for better understanding environmental conflicts and discusses the application of agent-based modeling for the analysis of multi-agent interaction and conflict and demonstrates the natural interdisciplinary convergence. The authors explore numerous examples of environmental and resource conflicts around the world, as well as cooperative approaches for conflict resolution. Table of Contents Part I: Conflict and the Promise of Conflict Modeling 1. Environmental Conflicts in a Complex World 2. Why Model? How Can Modeling Help Resolve Conflict? 3. The History and Types of Conflict Modeling 4. Participatory Modeling and Conflict Resolution Part II: Modeling Environmental Conflict 5. System Dynamics and Conflict Modeling 6. Agent-Based Modeling and Environmental Conflict 7. Modeling Conflict and Cooperation as Agent Action and Interaction Part III: Applications of the VIABLE Model Framework 8. A Viability Approach to Understanding Fishery Conflict and Cooperation 9. An Adaptive Dynamic Model of Emissions Trading 10. Modeling Bioenergy and Land Use Conflict 11. The Future of Modeling Environmental Conflict and Cooperation
  • Article
    Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of the future generations, and Education is an essential tool for the achievement of the sustainable development. It is the key to moving society towards sustainability. Driving nations towards sustainable development, education plays an important role of driver. Education at all levels can shape the world of tomorrow, equipping individuals and societies with the skills, perspective knowledge and values to live and work in a sustainable manner. It promotes competencies like critical thinking, imagining future scenario and making dimension in a collaborative way. Good quality education is an essential tool for achieving a more sustainable world. Since 1987 when UN General Assembly endorsed sustainable development firstly, education as a parallel concept to support sustainable development has also been explored. The Rio Summit in 1992 produced international agreement (Agenda 21) which developed a strategy for addressing sustainable development throughout the world by calling for increase community contribution in addressing environmental, social, and economic concerns that would affect their community. The United Nations World Summit (2005) affirmed the concept of three pillars of sustainability – the economic, social and environment factors that need to be taken into consideration. This paper highlights some of the important issues related to education and sustainable development. Study is descriptive in nature. Since there was much debate about approaches for sustainable development, there was not that much universal support for the need to provide better educational opportunities for students that will allow them to develop helpful life skills such as communication, sustainable lifestyles and critical thinking. Sustainable development cannot be achieved by political regulations and financial instruments alone; there is a need to think about education that is essential for sustainable development.
  • Chapter
    In this paper, we propose a new strategy to derive an unweighted adjacency matrix from an affiliation matrix. The strategy is based on the use of a biclustering technique in order to reduce the sparsity of the matrix without changing the network structure. As an example, we implemented this approach to seek the common meaning of the term sustainability by using an affiliation matrix characterized by a core–periphery structure. The application of BiMax biclustering algorithm shows a sparsity reduction of the unweighted adjacency matrix with an invariant network structure.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    ‬“Combining the technological and social-behavioral solutions” is one of the most important exit strategies in dealing with water crisis that can result in characteristic changes in the society towards water resources conversation. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to analyze farmers' participatory-oriented water conservation behavior (FPOWCB) in the environmental psychological background. The study was a descriptive-correlational research. The research instrument was a questionnaire which was validated by a panel of agricultural extension and education specialists and water experts and its reliability was verified using Cronbach's alpha coefficients (0.75≤α≤0.90). The statistical population was farmers in southern part of Lake Urmia's catchment area (N= 23750) from which 378 farmers were selected as a sample using Krejcie and Morgan sample size Table and stratified random sampling method. Regression analysis revealed that farmers with individualistic values show fewer participatory-oriented behavior toward water resources conservation than whom with collectivist values. Moreover, these two variables could predict 32.5% of changing FPOWCB. The result of independent t test showed there is a significant difference in terms of FPOWCB between two groups of farmers who participated in training courses related to water issues and those who had not. Keywords: Participatory-oriented behavior, Water conservation, Environment psychology, Southern part of Lake Urmia.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Students who enroll in my environmental ethics courses often come with a background in ecology and natural resources. Moreover, they often point to this background when they express their frustration with, or outright rejection of, individualistic or atomistic moral theories that simply strive to include individual living things within the purview of a moral community. They ultimately evoke the concept of holism as the source of their frustration. Addressing this concern requires trying to make sense of both the concept of holism generally and the supposed connection students sense between their training as young scientists and the attempt to ground a worthy environmental ethic. Many theories within the field of environmental ethics either evoke or rest upon the concept of holism. To date, however, the concept of holism has not been unpacked in any detail. To begin such an unpacking teachers need (1) to demonstrate how and when holism appears within the field of environmental ethics, (2) to explain the core idea underpinning holism and compare it to reductionism, and (3) to provide a general classification of how holism is employed in both a metaphysical and ethical sense within environmental ethics.
  • Article
    Neither the classic resource management concept of maximum sustainable yield nor the concept of sustainable development are useful to contemporary, nonanthropocentric, ecologically informed conservation biology. As an alternative, we advance an ecological definition of sustainability that is in better accord with biological conservation: meeting human needs without compromising the health of ecosystems. In addition to familiar benefit-cost constraints on human economic activity, we urge adding ecologic constraints. Projects are not choice-worthy if they compromise the health of the ecosystems in which human economic systems are embedded. Sustainability, so defined, is proffered as an approach to conservation that would complement wildlands preservation for ecological integrity, not substitute for wildlands preservation. Ni el concepto clásico de manejo de recursos, ni el concepto de cosecha máxima sostenida son aplicables en biología de la conservación contemporanea, no antropocéntrica y ecológicamente informada. Como una alternativa, proponemos una definicion ecológica de sustentabilidad que es mas acorde con la conservación biológica: alcanzar las necesidades humanas sin comprometer la salud de los ecosistemas. Además de las restricciones familiares de costo-beneficio en las actividades económicas humanas, solicitamos agregar las restricciones ecológicas: Proyectos no deberán ser seleccionados si comprometen la salud de los ecosistemas en los cuales se desarrollan actividades económicas humanas. La sustentabilidad, así definida, se sugiere como una aproximación a la conservación que complementaría la conservación de áreas silvestres para la integridad ecológica, sin sustituirla.
  • Article
    A short time ago the idea of sustainable agriculture was accepted only at the extreme margins of the U. S. agricultural systems. Although sustainability has now become a major theme of many U. S. agricultural groups, there remains much under-explored terrain in the meaning of sustainable agriculture. A thorough examination of who and what we want to sustain and how we can sustain them is critical if sustainable agriculture is to be a practical improvement over conventional agriculture. In order to begin this effort, this article analyzes contemporary sustainable agriculture discourse and suggests alternatives for reconceptualizing sustainable agriculture. In particular we look at three arenas of sustainable discourse—family farm/rural community preservation, food safety, and agricultural science—and address issues of class, race/ethnicity, and gender found in current sustainability positions. We find that while advocates of sustainability have succeeded in pushing agricultural researchers and policy makers to address environmental issues, we need to go much farther both in theory and practice in order to deal with equally important issues of social equity.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Many recent critical discussions of anthropocentrism have focused on Bryan Norton's 'convergence hypothesis': the claim that both anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric ethics will recommend the same environmentally responsible behaviours and policies. I argue that even if we grant the truth of Norton's convergence hypothesis, there are still good reasons to worry about anthropocentric ethics. Ethics legitimately raises questions about how to feel, not just about which actions to take or which policies to adopt. From the point of view of norms for feeling, anthropocentrism has very different practical implications from nonanthropocentrism; it undermines some of the common attitudes - love, respect, awe - that people think it appropriate to take toward the natural world.