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Ecological Historicity, Novelty and Functionality in the Anthropocene

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While many recognise that rigid historical and compositional goals are inadequate in a world where climate and other global systems are undergoing unprecedented changes, others contend that promoting ecosystem services and functions encourages practices that can ultimately lower the bar of ecological management. These worries are foregrounded in discussions about 'novel ecosystems' (NEs), where some researchers and conservationists claim that NEs provide a license to trash nature as long as certain ecosystem services are provided. This criticism arises from what we call the 'anything goes problem' created by the release of historical conditions. After explaining the notion of NEs, we identify numerous substantive motivations for worrying about the 'anything goes problem' and then go on to show that the problem can be solved by correcting two mistaken assumptions. In short, we argue that the problem is a product of adopting an overly sparse functional perspective that assumes an unrealistically high degree of convergence in the trajectories of natural processes; our analysis illuminates why such assumptions are unwarranted. Further, we argue that adopting an appropriate ethical framework is essential to overcoming the 'anything goes problem', and suggest that a certain virtue-ethics conception of ecological management provides useful resources for framing and resolving the problem.
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Keywords: Anthropocene; Novel ecosystems; ecosystem function and functioning; historicity; virtue ethics

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2019) of 2.158. 5 Year Impact Factor: 2.047.
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