A Theory of Ecological Justice
Author : Brian Baxter
Publisher : Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2005
Pages : 219 pages
The idea behind this book is about the conception of human–non-human moral relations i.e. that: non-human organisms have a claim in justice against moral agents not to deprive them without good moral reason of the environmental basis of their continued existence and ability to reproduce themselves. This is where the idea of ‘ecological justice’ enters the picture. We should note in passing that Rawls balked at the idea that the relations between human beings and non-human organisms could properly be brought under the heading of ‘justice’ even though he was equally clear that human beings have some moral responsibilities towards nonhuman life-forms. We will need to consider these qualms at a later stage. In other words, this book is discussing whether the basic claim that organisms other than human beings are not morally considerable. Whether these organisms are still by no means universally accepted, or nor is it ever likely to be.
Furthermore, the author also attempts to reinforce the environmental politics which has moved from being a peripheral interest to a central concern within the discipline of politics. One way of doing that is through the publication of books that investigate the nature of contemporary environmental politics and to show the centrality of environmental politics to the study of politics per se.
To be more specific, the book is divided into at least two respects. Firstly, it purposes to show that there is a strong case for extending the very specific moral category of distributive justice to non-human life-forms. Secondly, it attempts to display that this concept covers all forms of life, and not just some. In order to make this comprehensive case for ecological justice we will have to argue firstly for the claim that all non-human organisms are morally considerable. This is because some very important theorists of the moral consideration of the non-human have not been willing to extend this status to all non-human organisms. The most favored limitation is that of sentience.
In addition, this book is written from the conviction that there is an important moral relationship which needs to be stated and defended, and that an acceptance of it will significantly contribute to a better position for the goal of protection of endangered life-forms on the agenda of human action. Furthermore, it is expected that this book will not only be of interest to academics and students working in the environmental field, but will also demand to be read within the broader discipline.
Some of the ideas or chapters in this book have been presented in various places, for instance, Chapters 4 to 6 and Chapters 9 and 10 was presented to a meeting of the Interdisciplinary Research Network on Environment and Society (IRNES) in 2001 at the University of Keele. A Theory of Ecological Justice is divided into four main themes which then have been detailed to thirteen chapters. Part I is about how to think about moral issues: universalist versus contextualist approaches. In part II, the issue discusses the case for the moral considerability of all organisms. Part III, further, more focuses on the case for ecological justice. The last one, part IV, is institutional arrangements for ecological justice.
According to Baxter, the term ‘ecological justice’ is one which seems first to have been coined by Low and Gleeson . They introduce it as follows: The struggle for justice as it is shaped by the politics of the environment . . . has two relational aspects: the justice of the distribution of environments among peoples, and the justice of the relations between humans and the rest of the natural world. We term these aspects of justice: environmental justice and ecological justice. They are really two aspects of the same relationship. (Low and Gleeson 1998: 2)
The final section of the book will be taken up with an examination of the institutional arrangements necessary, both within and between states, for the securing of ecological justice. In this regard the approach adopted will be one which eschews the utopian strategy, particularly prevalent among environmental theorists influenced by the anti-state arguments of the anarchist tradition, of seeking to draw up an ideal blueprint of the environmentally sustainable society in which the state is replaced by some more favored political structures. Rather, the developments in the actual world, such as the creation of international regimes for environmental protection in general and biodiversity protection in particular, and of conservation management strategies, will be closely examined with an eye to the possibilities which they permit for adaptation to the purposes of ecological justice. Some reasons for a strongly qualified optimism will be found as the result of this investigation.
Of course, a moral argument of the kind offered in this book is unlikely all on its own to convince the unpersuaded. Notwithstanding the points made above about the prevalence across time and space of human beings’ receptivity to the idea of moral obligations of some sort towards the non-human, the present situation is one which requires that receptivity to be deepened, extended and located within a basic understanding of what 6 billion and more human beings are in the course of doing to the planet. Although the claims made on this issue are the subject of ongoing controversy, one might expect that the prima facie importance of the issues would lead to at least an interest on the part of an informed public. Many, of course, are so interested. Many, however, are not, or not to any significant degree.
Summary by: Cut Mita