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"Sustainability as an Environmental Ethic: Comparative Perspectives from Social Science and Indigenous Knowledge" Patrick G. Welle, Ph.D. For the Institute for University Ethics, Aug. 9, 2005 Bemidji State University. Sustainability from a social science perspective.

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For the institute for university ethics aug 9 2005 bemidji state university

"Sustainability as an Environmental Ethic: Comparative Perspectives from Social Science and Indigenous Knowledge"Patrick G. Welle, Ph.D.

For the Institute for University Ethics,

Aug. 9, 2005

Bemidji State University


Sustainability from a social science perspective
Sustainability from a social science perspective Perspectives from Social Science and Indigenous Knowledge"

  • a standard for intergenerational equity,

  • extension of the Rawlsian Maxi-Min Principle. John Rawls, modern philosopher from Harvard, recently deceased. “A Theory of Justice” Also noted for describing just formation of social contract from behind a veil of ignorance.

  • Rawls application to current generation is a theory of justice to maximize the position of the least well off, hence “maximin principle”


Rawlsian maxi min principle applied to intergenerational equity
Rawlsian Maxi-Min Principle applied to intergenerational equity

  • Maximize the position of the least well off generation

  • Conventional economic approach of dynamic efficiency (maximize the present value of future net benefits to society) makes no judgment about fairness between generations. Discounting to max. present value could yield return on investment to future generations or could bankrupt them, i.e. degrade the planet


Sustainability explicitly recognizes intergenerational equity
Sustainability explicitly recognizes intergenerational equity

  • Raises question about fairness in opportunity for well-being across generations

  • 3 Major Schools of Thought

    Can be distinguished by the assumptions about substitutability between physical and natural capital


3 major schools of thought
3 Major Schools of Thought equity

  • No Substitutability: No replacement for natural capital, so only fair if we pass on permanent flow of ecological services

  • Weak to Strong Substitutability: Can use emerging technology (physical capital) somewhat to replace natural capital (degraded environment)

  • Strong to Perfect Substitutability: Can use emerging technology (physical capital) to replace natural capital (degraded environment) so technological advancement guarantees that future generations will have increasing opportunity for well being


Indigenous ethic of the seventh generation
Indigenous Ethic of the Seventh Generation equity

  • Ideas pertaining to an environmental ethic and the Seventh Generation

  • (see "The Mishomis Book" on Anishinabe Traditions)

    Gidakiimanaan: expansive notion of relation to the Creator

    Sustainable development for the seventh generation is defined as: Meeting major human needs for the seventh generation-- including historical, legal, cultural, spiritual, ethical, political, technological/scientific, and economic—and extending the opportunity to satisfy aspirations for a better life without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Davis, 2000; World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).


Native hawaiian culture
Native Hawaiian Culture equity

  • Native Hawaiian Cultural Values:

    Aloha Aina as a way of life (more than an “Ethic”) means Love of the Land

    Not just outcome, but community process

    Ahupua’a System of integrating human and natural communities

    and interconnectedness


Danger of monoculture
Danger of Monoculture equity

  • Ecological Monoculture recognized as a weakening of the system, less biodiversity means less resistance to disturbance, less resilience, susceptible to crash

  • Need to recognize analogy to dangers from human/social monoculture


The concept of wilderness as a case study
The Concept of "Wilderness" as a Case Study equity

  • The concept of "Wilderness" Western Culture stresses this as a separate place from other types of places and separate from Humans

  • contrasts between the philosophical construct of instrumental versus intrinsic values

  • Also contrasts to the indigenous concept of "nature as home."


What role for universities in fostering sustainability
What Role for Universities in Fostering Sustainability? equity

  • What Obligation to raise awareness of risks of a degraded future? If hold view that Western worldview will destroy the planet?

  • An ethic recognizing absolute ecological limits as opposed to social science where all constraints can be relaxed or circumvented, “It’s just about trade-offs”

  • Sustainable campus & community


Sustainable campus community
Sustainable campus & community equity

  • Not only “Think Globally, Act Locally” but “Think Sustainability, Act Now”

  • BSU Efforts

    - Signing the Talloires Declaration

    - Participation in NWF Campus Ecology Program - Establishment of Sustainable Campus Endowment


Questions for discussion
Questions for Discussion equity

  • Role of Universities?

  • Moral Responsibility when Sustainability Ethic is at Odds with Social Mission of Existing Economic and Political Power Structure? i.e. “Economic Progress” that will degrade the planet