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Sustainability: descriptive and normative aspects

Sustainability: descriptive and normative aspects

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Building on a frustration with the overuse and misuse of the word sustainability this essay examines the descriptive and normative aspects of the theory of sustainability in agriculture and development theory. Discusses the theological and ethical appropriation of sustainability in the development economics of Amartya Sen.
Building on a frustration with the overuse and misuse of the word sustainability this essay examines the descriptive and normative aspects of the theory of sustainability in agriculture and development theory. Discusses the theological and ethical appropriation of sustainability in the development economics of Amartya Sen.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
Eimhin J. Walsh
Student No: 05390168
Senior Sophister
Dr. Cathríona Russell“Theology and Ethics of the Environment” 
Sustainability: descriptive and normative aspects
1
 
Sustainability is term familiar to most people through itstedious repetition in public policy debates. It is a term whichis used to such an extent that it has become difficult tograsp the complexity of the concept. In order to advocate asustainable system it is important for policymakers tounderstand the substance of the term. This essay willattempt to locate sustainability in the context of other formsof ecosystem management before examining the philosophyof the sustainability model. In concluding it will attempt toexamine a possible means by which the philosophicalexposition of sustainability can gain practical application inthe sustainable development project. In providing thisanalysis the various definitions of sustainability will not beexamined in great detail instead the focus will be onsustainability as a system.
1
Garret Hardin’s exposition of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’is a useful place to begin the discussion. He writes ‘picture apasture open to all…each herdsman will try to keep as manycattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangementmay work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries becausetribal wars, poaching and disease keep the numbers of both
1
Bryan G. Norton,
Sustainability: a philosophy of adaptive ecosystemmanagement 
(Chicago, 2005) p. 304.
2
 
man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land.Finally, however…social stability becomes a reality. At thispoint the…commons remorselessly generates a tragedy. Asa rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximise hisgain…[by understanding the commons in terms of utilitythere is] one negative and one positive component: (1) thepositive component is a function of the increment of oneanimal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds fromthe sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly+ 1 (2) the negative component is a function of theadditional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since,however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all theherdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a faction of – 1.’
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Thus we see thefutility of utility. The herdsman concludes that the fractionalutility versus the more positive utility leaves only the optionof adding another animal to the herd. Every herdsmanshares the same problem and, since they share the samerational capacities, they will gravitate towards the samesolution. The negative utility tells us that the commons islimited however, the rationality of the system dictates thateach herdsman must increase without limits. Hardinconcludes ‘ruin is the destination toward which all men rush,each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes
2
Garret Hardin, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’
Science
162 (1968) p. 1244.
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