Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Geoethics at the
Earth System Governance Conference 2018

(by Martin Bohle, IAPG Board of Experts)

The Earth System Governance project is a ten-year-old global project and network of mainly and social and political scientists; interfaces of their interests with geoethics are many. Their annual gathering, open to third parties, took place in Utrecht (5-8 November) in the Netherlands. About 400 people gathered there, among them Martin Bohle (IAPG Board of Experts), who  together with Cornelia E. Nauen (speaker, Mundus Maris) and Eduardo Marone (IAPG-Brazil coordinator) made a contribution  to a panel on "ocean governance". Their paper “Not out of the blue: Ethics to Intersect Civic Participation and Formal Guidance” (below the link to download slides) draws also on geoethics. They argue that ethical frameworks (such as geoethics), civic participation and formalized guidance are features of socio-ecological systems, which support each other and that, togeher are essential for the governability of building the human niche.

The ESG2018 contribution borrows concepts from various lines of scholarly inquiry. To introduce them: the concept ‘socio-ecological systems’ refers to the combination of natural process, technological artefacts and human practices (e.g. techno-commercial operations) that set the environments in which people live. Examples are multiple, such as urban areas or small-scale fishery or seabed mining; the essay uses the latter two examples. The notion ‘niche building’ summarizes the physical and mental processes by which people shape technological artifacts, their operational practices as well how these artefacts intersect natural environments. The notion ‘governability’ refers to features that determine how governance structures may function; for example, using normative guidance and participation of people (civic participation). The former may take, for example, the form of an ethical framework, or formalized guidance for people’s practices. Likewise, civic participation tales various forms. The notion ‘blue economy’ is a term on the political agenda to label the development of ‘socio-ecological systems’ in the marine environment, essentially going well beyond fishing and shipping. The ‘blue’ techno-commercial operations in the marine environment, for which small-scale fisheries and seabed mining are examples of socio-ecological systems that are used in this essay, are embedded into global supply-chains and are subject to multi-level regulation/management. These features make them ‘complex-adaptive’ (or ‘wicked’). Hence, agents in these systems face a ‘wicked game’. People (or human agent, stakeholder) and institutions (or governments, governance arrangements) shape complex-adaptive socio-ecological systems through their practices on how to design production systems and consumption patterns, including justification of the related design choices. People act (or react) being an intrinsic part of these systems and patterns. Yet, people (and institutions) also do experience the same systems and patterns as constraining them, including constraints which they may perceive as counter-intuitive. Hence when shaping the ‘human niche’, people and institutions are entangled in a process on how to make sense of their own activities and provide, by the sense-making process, an essential feedback loop within the ‘human niche’. It is within the sense-making that geoethics has its essential role.

Download slides:

ESG 2018 website: http://www.earthsystemgovernance.net/utrecht2018/


IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics: