Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development: The Nexus of Environmental Sustainability, Values, and Ethics

Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development: The Nexus of Environmental Sustainability, Values, and Ethics

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

Exactly 29 years have passed since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987 which called on the international community to promote a new era of growth that is socially and environmentally sustainable. The Report had lasting influence on the international environmental agenda with its concept of sustainable development which underlies the need to protect the natural resource base and environment in order to ensure sustainable development. Since then, environment and development have remained inseparable in the international agenda of sustainable development.

However, the state of our planet has hardly improved. Old environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss have in fact worsened and new environmental threats such as mass species extinction is looming. As environmental situations across the globe become increasingly worrying, the integration of environmental sustainability into development discourse has now turned into the biggest single challenge confronting the world today.

This paper addresses this challenge by re-examining the concept of sustainable development in relation to the fundamental obstacle that hinders a genuine adoption of environmental sustainability into development discourse. It argues that while Brundtland offered a new vision of growth reconciling the conflicting interests of economic growth and environmental sustainability, it has failed to provide an ethical platform to articulate effective environmental protection while promoting growth, making it still sound hollow until today. It further argues that the ultimate test of sustainability in achieving profound environmental consequence is whether it changes the anthropocentric view of nature to the adoption of non-anthropocentric ethical behaviours at both the individual and institutional levels.

Drawing from the concepts of value pluralism and environmental ethics, the article demonstrates that such behavioural change hinges on the restoration of an ethical human relationship with the non-human natural world. This argument is further verified with empirical evidence gathered from a 5-year field research conducted in the forest interiors in the Borneo state of Sarawak in Malaysia. It is concluded that for sustainable development to become a useful concept, a set of ethical principles must be embraced that constrains human anthropocentric behaviour in the use of our environment.

2.The Brundtland road to sustainable development/environmental sustainability

Before presenting the argument, it is appropriate to define the various terms used in the present analysis. Within the present context, environmental sustainability is defined as "the balance in sustaining the ecological integrity of the ecosystem while optimizing the economic use of nature to promote economic growth and satisfying human needs" (Choy, 2015, p.2). This definition refers to responsible decisions and actions when interacting with the natural environment that seriously consider preserving the ecological integrity of the natural system.

Environmental sustainability assumes explicit recognition of biophysical limits of the ecosystem or the capacity of the biosphere to provide essential environmental services such as the maintenance of genetic diversity, the provision of clean air and water, climate regulation and nutrient cycling, among others (Jacobs, 1999). Observing these limits calls for the need to maintain the ecological integrity of the ecosystem. Ecological integrity may be expressed in terms of the Holling concept of ecological stability and resilience. The term "stability" refers to the ability of an ecosystem to maintain its viable level of regeneration in the presence of ecological perturbation as in the case of exposure to human influence. Resiliency refers to the ability of the system to retain its organizational structure in the face of external shocks or pressure arising from human economic activities (Holling, 1986). …

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