Conceptualizing ecological sustainability and ecologically sustainable development in ethical terms : issues and challenges

Hattingh, Johan P. (2001-03)

Article

The twin concepts of ecological sustainability and ecologically sustainable development have been in circulation in international circles for about three decades. In South Africa these concepts have become cornerstones of both our new Constitution and our National Environmental Management Policy. And yet, there is still a highly intensive and wide ranging debate going on in international as well as national contexts in which both the meaning and implementation of these concepts are contested from different angles. In this article the reasons for this slate of affairs are explored from an ethical perspective, and a number of proposals are made on a philosophical and policy level to respond to the contested nature of these concepts. In an overview of the historical development of the concepts of ecological sustainability and ecologically sustainable development it is shown that they have emerged from different, and to some extent mutually exclusive, contexts. The paper then proceeds 10 a systematic discussion of a number of "fault lines~ within these concepts, in which the focus falls on certain internal tensions that make their interpretation very difficult, if not highly controversial. These tensions are associated with different ethical and ideological positions that can be assumed with regards to questions such as the following: 1. What is so valuable that it can and should be sustainable? 2. With a view to whom or what is the sustainability of this valuable something pursued? 3. How is sustain ability pursued? 4. What are the criteria for sustainabililY? - so that the question whether and when we have reached a state of sustainability can be answered. On the basis of an overview of these "fault lines" it becomes possible to distinguish between different conceptions and different models of ecological sustainabifity and ecologically sustainable development. The value of this taxonomy lies in the clarification that it brings to the muddy waters of ideological posturing about the meaning and implementation of the concepts of ecological sustainability and ecologically sustainable development.

OPSOMMING Die begrippepaar ekologiese volhoubaarheid en ekologies volhoubare ontwikkeling is nou reeds ongeveer drie dekades lank in omloop in internasionale kringe. In Suid-Alrika het hierdie begrippe hoekstene geword van ons nuwe Grondwet sowet as ons nasionale beleid vir omgewingsbestuur. Ten spyte hiervan woed daar egter 'n hoogs in!ensiewe en wydlopende debat in internasionale en nasionale kringe waarin die betekenis en die implementering van hierdie begrippe vanuit verskillende invalshoeke betwis word. In hierdie artikel word die redes vir hierdie sland van sake vanuit 'n etiese perspektief ondersoek en word 'n paar voorstelle op filosoliese en beleidsvlak gemaak vir die hanlering van die belwisle aard van hierdie konsepte. In 'n oorsig van die historiese ontwikkeling van die begrippe ekologiese volhoubaarheid en ekologies volhoubare onlwikkelingword aangetoon da! hulle onderskeidelik in verskillende, en in sekere opsigte wedersyds uitslui· tende, kontekste beslag gekry hel. In die artikel word voorts 'n sistemaliese uiteensetting gegee van 'n aantal "foutlyne" in hierdie beg rippe, waarin die fokus val op sekere interne spannings wat nie aileen struikelblokke in die weg Ie van hulle interpretasie en implementering nie, maar dit ook hoogs aanvegbaar maak. Hierdie spanning het te make mel uiteen· lopende etiese en ideologiese standpunte wat inge· neem kan word ten opsigte van vrae 5005 die vol· gende: 1. Wal is so belangrik dat die volhoubaarheid daarvan verseker behoort Ie word? 2. Met die oog op wie ot wal behoort ons volhoubaarheid na Ie slreet? 3. Hoe moet volhoubaarheid nagestreef word? 4. Wal is die kriteria vir volhoubaarheid? - sodat die vraag of, en wanneer, ens 'n toesland van volhoubaarheid bereik het, beantwoord kan word. Op grond van 'n oorsig van hierdie "foutlyneft word dit moonllik am lussen verskillende konsepsies en modelle van ekologiese volhoubaarheid en ekolo· gies volhoubare ontwikkeling fe onderskei. Die waarde van hierdie taksonomie is gelee in die verheldering wat dit bring in die troebel waters van ideologiese slandpuntinnames oor die betekenis en implementering van die begrippe ekologiese volhoubaarheid en ek%gies volhoubare ontwikkeling.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/18342
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