Chapter 4: Environmental Sustainability and Environmental Values
How would you like your ‘sustainability’, Sir? Weak or strong? (Beckerman 1995, p. 167) 4.1 INTRODUCTION ‘Sustainability’, environmental, social, fiscal and so on, is everywhere nowadays. If it is not always clear what, precisely, politicians, business leaders, activists and others mean when they speak of sustainability, it is also unsurprising to find uncertainty regarding the meaning of sustainability in the academic literature on environmental values, politics and economics. The aim of this chapter is to cut a path through some of the confusion surrounding competing definitions, and to outline a coherent vision of sustainability that will allow us to engage the question of whether the human rights framework is an appropriate one to embrace in pursuit of environmental sustainability. I regard environmental sustainability as a core green value. The discussion here is framed in terms of what green thinkers believe we should value, why and how. Ultimately, I argue that what we should value is ‘ecological integrity’, which, to answer the ‘how’ question, I define in materialist terms. But since I am pluralist about the ‘why’ question, I do not exclude the idea that there is more to ‘the environment’ than its materiality. One route into these debates about sustainability and value has been to consider different ideas as to what causes environmental problems, or, more specifically, what factors legitimate and sustain the prevalence of environmentally unsustainable patterns of living. Green theorists have studied a variety of possible causes, ranging from human spiritual and cultural attitudes towards nature, to patterns...
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