Sustainability and ethics

ssfnz-cover-198Review: Strong sustainability for New Zealand : principles and scenarios, by Sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand Inc. (SANZ).

NZ Publisher: Nakedize Limited

NZ RRP: NZ$19.99

Binding: paperback

Pages: 52

PDF available for download here. Briefing (with audio) here.


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I think almost all of us will admit, in our more honest moments, that we can’t go on as we are. “Business as usual” is just not a long-term alternative – ethically as well as economically.

Most attention these days focuses on climate change. But, this is just part of a wider problem resulting from our influence on the environment. Climate change, the undermining of biological diversity, the problems of waste production and resource depletion.

Sustainable economics seems the obvious way of confronting these problems. But what this is, and how to do it, can be controversial.

New ethics for sustainability

Sustainable Aotearoa NZ (SANZ) has launched this paper with to promote discussion of our sustainable development. Inevitably much of the content will be considered controversial. It’s meant to be. SANZ hopes it will be used as a starting point to further discussion. In particular it is promoting the idea that sustainable development is not just a matter of economics. It will need a whole new way of thinking about economics and personal responsibility and lifestyles. It needs a new ethics.

And this is the main message of this paper. Not surprising, because it is one of the main points promoted by SANZ. Another is its advocacy of “strong sustainability.”

Besides an introduction the paper is divided into a part on principles of strong sustainability, a scenario for transition to strong sustainability and (the largest section) a scenario of a strongly sustainable NZ.

It is this last section which provokes. It restricts itself to just a “strong sustainability” scenario with matching wide acceptance of the needed ethical attitudes by the population. It doesn’t consider “weaker” alternatives because the writers consider them to be ineffective, leading only to disaster.

The paper envisages a society where we live in harmony with nature. Where many of the environmentally threatening aspects of the economy no longer exist. Employment though is no longer seen to be a problem as many roles will be more labour-intensive. Working hours will be shorter and there will be more leisure time. Communities will be structured to require less travel.

Although global climate change will have less direct affect in New Zealand than elsewhere we will have to adjust to huge changes in global trade and migration.

Predicting the future?

It’s always difficult to predict the future. One just has to consider the unprecedented, and unpredicted, details of the technology change we have all experienced over the last 30 years. So many readers will disagree with details of this scenario. For example, the widespread change to “organic farming” methods will probably appeal to some but may be less sensible than forms of sustainable factory production of food.

Similarly this scenario will draw political and ideologically motivated responses. Many people will accept as inevitable the departure from “business as usual” model of unrestricted. But they may not like the seeming inevitability of a more socialist society. And of course there will be those who see this scenario as an expression of a green “religious” approach.

However, ideological and political conflict always accompany social change. These conflicts are unavoidable because sustainability will require big changes. For the sake of our future I hope that a broad support for sustainability can develop despite this conflict.

New approaches to sustainable approaches to current economic, social and political questions will be needed in the transition to sustainability. One weakness of this paper is that current questions get little consideration. Political and social involvement of those promoting sustainability will be needed to ensure such voices are heard.

The paper itself is presented in a format more familiar to glossy corporate reports. Reports meant to impress but often not read. Such glossy productions are not amenable to practical use – try annotating documents like this. And SANZ is probably effective in  its activity directed at commerce and academia. But dissemination of their arguments would be helped by on-line forums and blogs suitable for involvement of individuals in discussion of their policies.

Nevertheless, this paper will contribute to the wider political and social discussion. It, and the ideas presented, need to get into mainstream forums and publications. This will help to promote the discussion we need to have.

Our future depends on it.


See also: SANZ – Sustainable Development in New Zealand.

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