1993 volume 25(5) pages 723 – 739

Cite as:
Reed M G, Slaymaker O, 1993, "Ethics and sustainability: a preliminary perspective" Environment and Planning A 25(5) 723 – 739

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Ethics and sustainability: a preliminary perspective

M G Reed, O Slaymaker

Received 11 July 1992; in revised form 10 October 1992

Abstract. Geographers or students of human - environment relations have an important role to play in addressing the questions and issues associated with environmental sustainability. It is the authors' thesis that a central weakness in geography's response to environmental problems and to issues of sustainability is the lack of engagement with questions of ethics. An overall ethic of care, respect, and responsibility is proposed. Within this overarching framework, it is suggested that the society - environment relation may be a scale-dependent problem set, with a separate expression of environmental ethics associated with each scale. For example, an ethic appropriate at the planetary scale may differ from that which is pertinent at the local scale. This argument is advanced through examples from religious and secular interpretations of human - environment relations. In a preliminary way, both moral and technical issues associated with different ethical positions are raised and geographers are challenged to consider and debate their implications. It is concluded that without explicit environmental ethical premises, the sustainability debate is indeterminate.

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