The precautionary ecosystem health principle: Weak anthropocentrism, environmental ethics, and sustainability
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This thesis will propose that an innovative synthesis between 'ecosystem health' (EH) and the 'precautionary principle' (PP) can open up new and fruitful avenues for sustainability theory. My precautionary ecosystem health principle (PEHP) will be grounded on a weak anthropocentric approach, guided by contributory value, and will be promoted as a replacement to non-anthropocentric and intrinsic value definitions. My PEHP framework will propose an adaptive, resilient, and dynamic approach instead of relying on fixed ecological benchmarks. I will argue that health is a thick descriptor, but I will argue against it being defined intrinsically. I will establish that we receive many different benefits from ecosystems, such as ecosystem goods, services, and cultural services. I will claim that there are different ways to estimate the value we place on these ecosystem benefits without having to resort to economic pricing, such as non-excludable goods and services. Ecosystem services and cultural services must be taken into account, as they are fundamental for the functional capacity of ecosystems and can enrich our lives in non-material ways, recreational, spiritual, and psychological. I will propose that catastrophic and irreversible harm should not be used as thresholds to guide precautionary action, but a resilience approach will be more appropriate to guide the PEHP. I will propose that a post-normal scientific approach to decision-making is a more appropriate approach to take in the PEHP because it acknowledges both the scientist and public's opinions on risk instead of just focusing on one or the other, and allows us to evaluate the benefits of ecosystem and cultural services instead of simply overlooking them for economic benefits. Overall, my approach will contribute to the area of sustainability theory by offering a philosophical analysis of the PP and EH and by integrating them together within a holistic weak anthropocentric framework the PEHP.
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