The global ecological crisis is at once a humanitarian crisis: the well-being of both the human world and the non-human world is increasingly in jeopardy. The predicament has multiple causes, and calls for responses on different fronts and levels, and a key, perhaps decisive, factor in both is, I argue, people's beliefs about and attitudes towards material production and consumption. The widely influential and characteristically modern belief of both the desirability and the possibility of indefinite increase in material production and consumption has been and continues to be a powerful driver of human appropriation of the environment. But this belief is both scientifically ill-informed and normatively ill-advised. It is based on the one hand on ignorance about the ecological finitude of the earth and on the other hand on indefensible ideas about the nature of human flourishing.
Consequently, the belief is fundamentally at odds with the demands of distributive justice with respect to the benefits and the burdens of human dependency on the natural environment, within and across generations as well as societies. Both sustaining the earth's life-supporting and welfare-promoting capacity in the long term and realizing the just sharing of this capacity in the short term require timely and strategic restraint in the pursuit of economic growth. I argue that a holistic understanding of human welfare, one shorn of materialistic biases, renders reference to the notion both necessary and sufficient for formulating sound normative principles that proscribe the wanton abuse of nature. The idea that nature has inherent value independent of human interests need play no role, in my view, in these principles because it is based on dubious metaphysics.
Under the current condition of worldwide ecological distress and socioeconomic polarization, achieving universal basic welfare without further damage to the environment requires the remediation of existing injustices, both globally and domestically, through drastic redistributive measures. Assertiveness on the part of the state is also needed to reign in the market's inherent expansionary tendencies. The easing of ideological and institutional pressures towards economic growth is not only instrumental for realigning market and cultural forces to better serve the causes of environmental sustainability and distributive justice, it can also help create/restore a social atmosphere hospitable towards the practice of ecological virtues such as simplicity and self-sufficiency.
|Advisor:||Schwarzenbach, Sibyl A.|
|Commitee:||Acampora, Christa, Chopra, Samir, Dahbour, Omar, Kirkland, Frank|
|School:||City University of New York|
|School Location:||United States -- New York|
|Source:||DAI-A 71/03, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Philosophy, Sustainability, Social structure|
|Keywords:||Distributive justice, Economic growth, Environmental sustainability, Environmental virtue|
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