Ecosystem management
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Ecosystem management

The combined ecosystem/management policy promises to operate at system-wide levels, presumably to manage for indefinite sustainability, alike of ecosystems and their outputs

Post by on Monday, April 19, 2021

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Since the 1990s, emphasis has been ecosystem management. This approach appeals alike to scientists, who see the need for understanding ecosystems objectively and for applied technologies, and also to humanists, who find that humans are cultural animals who rebuild their environments and who desire benefits for people. The combined ecosystem/management policy promises to operate at system-wide levels, presumably to manage for indefinite sustainability, alike of ecosystems and their outputs. Such management connects with the idea of nature as ‘natural resources’ at the same time that it has a ‘respect nature’ dimension.


Pristine natural systems no longer exist anywhere on Earth (the insecticide DDT has been found in penguins in Antarctica). Perhaps 95 percent of a landscape will be rebuilt for culture, considering lands plowed and grazed, forests managed, rivers dammed, and so on. Still, only about 25 percent of the land, in most nations, is under permanent agriculture; a large percentage is more or less rural, still with some processes of wild nature taking place. The twenty-first century promises an escalation of development that threatens both the sustainability of landscapes supporting culture as well as their intrinsic integrity.


Scientists and ethicists alike have traditionally divided their disciplines into realms of the “is” and the “ought.” No study of nature can tell humans what ought to happen. This neat division has been challenged by ecologists and their philosophical and theological interpreters. The analysis here first distinguishes between interhuman ethics and environmental ethics. The claim that nature ought sometimes to be taken as norm within environ- mental ethics is not to be confused with a different claim, that nature teaches us how we ought to behave toward each other. Nature as moral tutor has always been, and remains, doubtful ethics. Compassion and charity, justice and honesty, are not virtues found in wild nature. There is no way to derive any of the familiar moral maxims from nature: “One ought to keep promises.” “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” “Do not cause needless suffering.” But, continuing the analysis, there may be goods (values) in nature with which humans ought to conform.


Animals, plants, and species, integrated into ecosystems, may embody values that, though nonmoral, count morally when moral agents encounter these. To grant that morality emerges in human beings out of nonmoral nature does not settle the question whether we, who are moral, should sometimes orient our conduct in accord with value there. Theologians will add that God bade Earth bring forth its swarming kinds and found this genesis very good. Palestine was a promised land; Earth is a promising planet, but only if its ecologies globally form a biosphere.


Environmental science can inform environmental ethics in subtle ways. Scientists describe the order, dynamic stability, and diversity in these biotic communities. They describe interdependence, or speak of health or integrity, perhaps of their resilience or efficiency. Scientists describe the “adapted fit” that organisms have in their niches. They describe an ecosystem as flourishing, as self-organizing. Strictly interpreted, these are only descriptive terms; and yet often they are already quasi-evaluative terms, perhaps not always so but often enough that by the time the descriptions of ecosystems are in, some values are already there. In this sense, ecology is rather like medical science, with therapeutic purpose, seeking such flourishing health.


(Author is PHD in Environmental Science)



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