On the forms of harm stemming from the instrumentalization of large-scale ecosystems

Transforming Food Systems: Ethics, Innovation and Responsibility (2022)
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Abstract

One could argue that the use, extraction, and development of natural resources for human purposes, i.e. resource exploitation, constitutes a form of instrumentalization of the ecosystems from which these resources are derived. Moreover, that such instrumentalization may be carried out in a way that has adverse social and environmental impacts. Given that a number of ecosystems are indispensable for the satisfaction of human interests and needs, their instrumentalization may nevertheless be justified. In this context, if the amount and rate of instrumentalization of ecosystems leads to their depletion, people whose well-being depends on the ecosystems’ existence may be profoundly harmed. Those instrumentalization practices and actions that lead to states of depletion are generally considered as harmful, but only to those whose interests and needs are frustrated as a result of such practices and actions. In this paper, I argue that the way in which ecosystems are instrumentalized, and not just the quantity and rate, may also cause a philosophically relevant form of harm, and not necessarily to humans: A given ecosystem may be meaningfully harmed not only when it is depleted, but also when its functioning is altered in such a way that it cannot retain core capacities it had before it was instrumentalized.

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Sarah Espinosa
University of Vienna

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