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The role of environmental ethics in social-ecological systems and water resource management
Expanded Title:Despite developments in water resource policy, law, monitoring, regulation, management and research, the health and functionality of South African aquatic ecosystems continue to deteriorate (CSIR, 2010). At the same time, there is a growing recognition that humans are integral components of complex social-ecological systems; as such, their beliefs, values and actions have direct implications, whether intended or unintended, for the environment (Folke, 2006; Pollard and du Toit, 2011; Rogers and Luton, 2011). This project on the role of environmental ethics in social-ecological systems and water resource management arises out of the fact that we are increasingly confronted by the complex and interwoven nature of the complex situations in which we, as humans – indeed, as all life on earth – find ourselves. Our location and role (as humans), as integral components of social-ecological systems, including our particular and far-reaching powers to impact upon those systems, is critical to the functioning and well-being – and indeed, the potential survival – of those systems. This raises the implication that we (as humans) may reasonably be seen to have responsibilities to the broader environment, which responsibilities go beyond our own species and individual personal and social welfare. The nature of this responsibility, and the principles upon which it is argued, is the domain of environmental ethics. This project is concerned to arrive at the conceptualisation of an approach to, a framework for, environmental ethics, which is appropriate to water resource management in South Africa. In seeking to develop such a framework, a basic distinction needs to be made between ethics and values/morals. In this project, we take ethics to refer to: a systematic concern with the principles by which we seek to distinguish between right and wrong, to negotiate values, in our behaviour towards other people and towards nature (de Wet, 2009: 78). For example, I might on principle believe that only human beings have moral standing, and that the rest of nature has no moral stature, and that it is therefore acceptable to kill and consume non-human forms of life. Or I may believe that people have the right to choose their own values – whether I agree with them, or not; or I may believe that this applies in only certain cases – such that, e.g., abortion or euthanasia or gay marriage, is not acceptable for anybody, under any circumstances. In this project, we take morals and values to refer to what specific individuals or groups of people believe to be good or bad, such as polygyny, or vegetarianism, or accumulation of wealth at the price of inequality, or whatever. We can thus look to the development of agreed ethical principles for water resource use, protection and management, which will provide guidance in accommodating a plurality of individual and group morals/values. This is particularly important in South Africa, where our historical context has its own ethical imperative to effect transformation towards social justice. In a highly plural society, the needs and desires of people will differ widely. Each choice and action that is carried out, tends to preclude other choices and actions and values; particular actions inevitably open out and close down specific options in respect of access to the benefits of water use and/or protection, and will often be contentious. Trade-offs may occur between values (e.g. between equity and sustainability), or a compromise in standards for reasons of affordability or efficiency may result in water that is sometimes not safe to drink.
Date Published:01/04/2016
Document Type:Research Report
Document Subjects:Water Resource Management/IWRM - Planning and development, Ecosystem - Invertebrates
Document Format:Report
Document File Type:pdf
Research Report Type:Standard
WRC Report No:2342/1/16
ISBN No:978-1-4312-0743-5
Authors:Odume ON; de Wet C
Project No:K5/2342
Organizations:Rhodes University
Document Size:739 KB
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