Sustainability is not Ethical

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Some of the objections to sustainability derive from its status as consensus. By nature, sustainability must claim a monopoly of belief: as a ‘belief’ it cannot admit an opposite belief is equally valid. It is a consistent and universalist world-view. Its adherents act in accordance with one general principle: that it should be accepted by all persons. In practice, too, there is common action for sustainability, by governments, non-governmental organizations, loose groups of activists, and industry.

The ability to unify diverse groups also suggests sustainability is an ideology, in a negative sense. An explanation for this universalism of sustainability is that it is inherent in the belief itself. Those who support sustainability do not recognize the possibility of opposing partisans. “Moreover, sometimes the needs of a “whole” clash with the interest of the individuals that comprise it” (Callicott 1989b)

Sustainability, as belief or ethic, has specific characteristics. It requires implementation by the state, by the powerful, by elites. It almost inevitably requires that power is retained by those who already hold it. They use these elite powers to practice exclusion and essentially impose social pressure to those oppose. This brings the question if internal justice should be negated for the continued existence of humans. It also requires experts: sustainability policies cannot be implemented by the revolutionary masses. It tends, therefore, to reinforce existing social-political structures.

The logic of sustainability is also inherently globalist: it is comparable to the doctrine of universal human rights. Too much consensus makes sustainability a dangerous belief for those who reject it. Its supporters are convinced of their own logic and right, and convinced that they are entitled to impose it on to others, and on the world. That is remarkable for an ‘ethic’ without any genuine ethical basis.

It should also be considered that sustainability is a question of ethic duration and doesn’t provide a concise guide to our actions. It is widely known that humanity must live by the constraints of the natural world, but in opposition it could be said that nature must be “conquered” in order for humanity to last. Or nature must last, so humanity must cease to exist. These thoughts bring many different variants of ethics involving duration. The basis of radical conservation is based on the thought that the continuation of an entity is better than its termination, so that those entities which can continue must have priority.

In short, change society until it can totally withstand change and last longer. Then there is the hypothetical, that all entities must last forever. Also, the idea that said entity experiences a long duration is better than if it experienced a short duration. The ethics of sustainability provides no indication of duration preference. The use of sustainability policies corresponds closely with pre-existing ideologies of conservationism, which is constructed on the basis of preference. The argument of the continued existence of the existing cannot be justified using universally accepted values or self-evident truths. Which in addition brings the question of who, or exactly what should last?

The irony of environmentalism can also be used to expel the ethics embedded in sustainability. For example, we are constantly trying to find alternative energy sources to protect the environment from the fossil fuels we are constantly burning on a day to day basis. Yet we are colonizing ecosystems where these resources are most abundant, and in doing so we are destroying these ecosystems.

In conclusion, the concept of environmental ethics does not just provide opportunity for spirited debate on the value of sustainable development. It has played an important role in influencing the growth of ideas and opinions, representing something new in global governance, that seek to express genuine beliefs and values that should ideally govern decision-making for the benefit of humans and the rest of the living world. Sustainability presents holistic worldview driven by such ethical concerns in respects to nature rather,then individuals own beliefs.


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Sustainability is not Ethical. (2021, Mar 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/sustainability-is-not-ethical/

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