On the responsibility of conserving nature

Yea, this sustainability thing too, while we’re at it.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions.

A dude I talked to defined sustainability is leaving the world better than our ancestor left it for us.

Ah, but that’s subjective isn’t it, I retort. And why is it more moral to leave the world better than it was? Did our ancestors really left the world better than it were for them for us? If so, how?

I could go on questioning about how these statements cannot be properly justified. I think it’s a sweet idea — a really romantic one. But we are making too much assumptions here. For one, what we like might not be what the future generations like. We are imagining a future where we want to live in, however our ancestors will never have imagined our future. We may lament how great was nature a century ago but we are trapped in this digital world that makes communication so easy we probably wouldn’t want to really go back to the past. Unless you’re a hipster. Heck, even hipsters have their AT&T telephones.

But there is at least one thing to agree on. We like the future to have more opportunities so that future generations can choose their paths. We really don’t know what the future would want, the future will probably never know what their future¬†descendants¬†want either. We just keep the doors open, try to rid lesser trees, just in case they actually want the trees, squirrels and shit.

As for these moral responsibilities to leave the world better — or come’on, at least as good as we took over it — such obligations are unfounded. I do like it to be retain as a romantic idea but there’s too much uncertainty here. Who’s to define what’s good. How do we measure goodness after being defined? Can be chart our progress somehow? And then I realize these visions that can’t really be debated against and for reliably just fall into something we vaguely term good values — the commonly agreed upon framework of living in our society.