Conceptualising ecological sustainability: issues, values and challenges

Hoepfl, Kim Powell (2019-04)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: “The twin concepts of sustainability and sustainable development” (Hattingh 2001: 1) have been in international circulation (Hattingh 2001) for thirty years, and yet debate persists about both their meaning and implementation. Essentially, sustainability and its implementation in sustainable development are aimed at curbing our exploitation of the natural environment while endeavouring to share natural provisions more equally among the worlds’ people. It is a conundrum, since sustainability and sustainable development seem to pull in different directions: how, in the context of a growing human population and hence rising demand, are we to reduce our extractions from the natural environment in order to conserve it, while simultaneously maintaining human wellbeing, requiring even greater extractions? Over time a few efforts have been made to conceptualise sustainable solutions, each proposing a different way forward. However, the world remains highly unequal and environmentally degraded. This suggests that, our attempts at sustainability/sustainable development maintain the status quo of a minimalist interpretation where we remain stuck in behaviours unsuited to a changed context. It is evident that sustainability has become a crucial consideration if we wish to safeguard our survival, and the survival of all other species. This said, meaningful action cannot be taken unless the full extent of social, ecological and economic issues is considered, and if the current perspectives on sustainability/sustainable development are critically assessed in terms of their suitability for intervening in our sustainability challenges. In this thesis, the cause of this situation “is explored from an ethical perspective” (Hattingh 2001: 1), and a few “proposals are made on a philosophical level” to “respond to the contested nature of these concepts”, focusing in particular on what kind of an understanding of sustainability/sustainable development we need. Emphasis is directed toward internal “tensions” that shape different interpretations of sustainability, associated with different “ethical positions” (1) that can be taken with regards to questions that address (a) What is so valuable that we ought to sustain it? (b) Why is it so valuable that we ought to sustain it? (c) How should we go about sustaining it? (d) What are the criteria that denote when a state of sustainability has been achieved? Having briefly outlined where tensions are to be found, it becomes possible to show how models of ecologically sustainability can be differently understood. Specifically, the ‘Brundtland Report’ and the ‘Caring for the Earth Report’ are analysed as two influential policy documents subscribing to a strong and moderate anthropocentric stance to sustainability respectively. These reports are critically compared and contrasted with a more ecocentric approach, which characterises the field of deep ecology. The emergent ecosystems services paradigm is also critically evaluated in order to ascertain whether it is sufficient for operationalising the premises of ecocentrism (the position that is supported in this thesis as appropriate for affecting sustainable change). Lastly, alternatives to the ecosystem services paradigm, aimed at overcoming its identified weaknesses, are also briefly considered to pave the way towards more sustainable interventions.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Alhoewel die nou verbonde idees van Volhoubaarheid en Volhoubare ontwikkeling al vir die afgelope dertig jaar internasionale erkenning ontvang het, word daar steeds debat gevoer oor beide die betekenis en implementering van hierdie terme. Volhoubare ontwikkeling en die implementering daarvan, is daarop gemik om die uitbuiting van ons natuurlike omgewing te bekamp, en terselfdetyd te verseker dat natuurlike hulpbronne meer eweredig verdeel word. Hier kom ʼn teenstrydigheid voor, met ander woorde, hoe kan ons binne die konteks van ʼn groeiende beVolking, en geVolglik, ʼn stygende aanvraag, ontrekkings uit die natuurlike omgewing verminder sodat dit bewaar kan word, terwyl ons terselfdetyd menslike welsyn probeer handhaaf? Met die verloop van tyd is daar al ʼn paar pogings aangewend om met Volhoubare oplossings vorendag te kom, elk met ʼn verskillende rigting vir die pad vorentoe. Die wêreld bly egter steeds baie ongelyk en die omgewing word steeds stelselmatig vernietig. Dit dui daarop dat ons pogings vir Volhoubaarheid / Volhoubare ontwikkeling bloot die status quo handhaaf van ʼn minimalitiese interpretasie, waarin ons vasgevang bly in gedragspatrone wat nie aanpas by die veranderende konteks nie. Dit is duidelik dat Volhoubaarheid ʼn belangrike oorweging geword het as ons ons oorlewing en die oorlewing van alle ander spesies wil beskerm. Nietemin, kan betekenisVolle aksie nie geneem word tensy die Volle omvang van sosiale, ekologiese en ekonomiese kwessies oorweeg word nie, asook om die huidige perspektiewe op Volhoubaarheid/ Volhoubare ontwikkeling krities te evalueer in terme van hul geskiktheid om te kan ingryp by ons Volhoubaarheidsuitdagings. In hierdie tesis word die oorsaak van hierdie situasie vanuit 'n “etiese perspektief ondersoek” (Hattingh 2001: 1) en 'n paar "voorstelle word op filosofiese vlak gemaak", om te reageer op die betwiste aard van hierdie konsepte, veral oor watter soort begrip van Volhoubaarheid / Volhoubare ontwikkeling vir ons betekenisVol is. Klem word gelê op interne "spanning" wat lei tot verskillende interpretasies van Volhoubaarheid, spesifiek die wat geassosieer word met verskillende "etiese posisies" (1) wat geneem kan word met betrekking tot vrae wat aanspraak maak (a) Wat is so waardeVol dat ons dit behoort om dit te onderhou? (b) Waarom is dit so waardeVol dat ons dit onderhou moet word? (c) Hoe moet dit onderhou word? (d) Wat is die kriteria wat aandui wanneer 'n toestand van Volhoubaarheid bereik is? Nadat daar kortliks uiteengesit is waar die spanning gevind word, word dit moontlik om te bewys dat modelle van ekologiese Volhoubaarheid anders verstaan kan word. Die 'Brundtland Report' en die 'Caring for the Earth Report' word spesifiek ontleed word as twee invloedryke beleidsdokumente wat onderskeidelik, 'n sterk en matige antroposentriese houding teenoor Volhoubaarheid beklemtoon. Hierdie verslae word krities vergelyk en in teenstelling geplaas met 'n meer ekosentriese benadering, wat die veld van diep ekologie kenmerk. Die opkomende paradigma vir die ekosisteemdiens word ook krities geëvalueer om vas te stel of dit Voldoende is om die perseël van ekosentrisme te operasionaliseer (die posisie wat in hierdie tesis ondersteun word, as toepaslik om Volhoubare verandering te bewerkstellig). Ten slotte word alternatiewe roetes vir die paradigma van die ekosisteemdiens, wat daarop gemik is om sy geïdentifiseerde swakhede te oorkom, kortliks oorweeg, om die pad na Volhoubare intervensies oop te maak.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105945
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