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Time and temperance: how perceptions about time shape forest ethics and practice

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We each have perceptions of how much time we have left and what we should do with it. These perceptions have implications for our treatment of natural forests. Such forests simply cannot compete in terms of generating revenue per unit area with land use alternatives such as intensive agriculture or forest plantations. Treating our life and living ecosystems as if they were infinite does not make them so. We need to reformulate an ethic that has a better understanding of time. We need that ethic embedded in policies and institutions that are temporally aware and serve future generations. The latter have no advocate to plead their case. This paper takes a preliminary look at some questions that deserve our attention: What is time? How much time is left? Should we adopt a precautionary approach as a result? What is it worthwhile for us to do with time – what constitutes value within it? Does value change over time? Can we share values without sharing time? It concludes with some suggestions for changing our forest ethics and decision-making. It is also a call to personal and collective temperance.
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Keywords: alternative land use; forest ethics; forest policy; temperance; time

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Senior Research Associate, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), 4 Hanover Street, Edinburgh EH2 2EN, UK.

Publication date: 2005-09-01

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