Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

In charge for this group are:

Jes Lynning Harfeld
Assistant Professor at Department of Learning and Philosophy

Finn Arler
Professor at Department of Planning
Head of the Research Centre Ethics in Practice

Mogens Rüdiger
Professor at Department of Culture and Global Studies

Kristian Høyer Toft
Associate Professor at Department of Learning and Philosophy

Bo Poulsen
Associate Professor at Department of Culture and Global Studies

Since World War II a unique historical expansion of the human race ratio has taken place (from 2 to now 7 billion people), together with a multiplication of the material exchange with its surroundings. The consequence is an extreme increase in the human influence on the planet. Geologists even talk about the antropocene period where humanity has become the strongest transformation power on earth. These tremendous changes form the basis of the problems occupying the group of researches working with sustainability and environmental ethics. The question of sustainability relates to the impact of the changes in the long run and to the huge challenges caused by the development. Which obligations emerge out of considerations for future generations and how can we pass the values we treasure on to our descendants?

Sustainability is not only about ensuring reasonableness or justice across generations and about identifying values worth passing on. It is also about fair distribution within generations in a world, where some countries’ inhabitants have abundance of food while other are starving, and where some countries have huge increases in population while others have stagnant or even decreasing populations. How can the world’s goods and evils be distributed across generations and across nations in a fair way? Who has the right to what and why?

Considering other species and the environment as a whole, the expansion of humanity fundamentally has changed the game. No place on Earth is untouched by humans and at many places human influence is massive. In countries like Denmark more than 95 % of the biomass of land vertebrates consist of humans, pets and livestock. Environmental ethics are basically about how humans can act reasonably under these circumstances, taking their environment, including all relevant parties and values, into due consideration.

The members of this group have worked on a wide range of subjects within the area of sustainability and environmental ethics, including greenhouse effect and distributive justice, land grabbing, nature perception and land use, democracy and landscape planning. It is characteristic for their work that they strive to keep a close connection between theoretical considerations and empirical studies of the ethical practice in the specific areas. 

At the moment the group is working on a project of ethics related to energy policy and planning. The main ambition is to combine ethical investigations of obligations and dilemmas of energy planning at various levels with historical and empirical studies of the ethical practice in the area. The expectation is that the two types of investigation will influence each other in constructive ways. The project has its own homepage: