A remarkable paper! 'Water Ethics on a Human-Dominated Planet: Rationality, Context and Values in Global Governance', by Jeremy J. Schmidt and Christiana Z. Peppard, WIREs Water 2014. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1043
A discourse on water ethics has emerged as a field linking practical water demands, social practices, and hydrological constraints to philosophic norms. The field arose parallel to growing, global understandings of the interconnected nature of water management and governance challenges. As such, it has been inflected with issues and contests across a range of policy concerns—from holistic and integrated water management to economics, justice, and human rights. The emerging water ethics discourse challenges both traditional environmental ethics and conventional approaches to resource management on issues of gender, power relations, and ecological
concerns. It suggests an alternate, place-specific approach for linking shared water concerns to normative contests.
In his 1977 address to the Governor’s Conference on the California Drought, Luna Leopold—son of noted ecologist Aldo Leopold—argued that the complex challenges of water management across climatic and geographic variability, economics, technology, politics, and social customs required an ethical response, which he termed a ‘reverence for rivers’. Since then, ethical issues have taken on heightened importance in the realm of freshwater. The accelerated human appropriations of freshwater in the 20th century have been compounded by human perturbations to the climate and indicate that the hydrological cycle, while spatially and temporally variable, no longer persists within an envelope of stability. Issues of equity in water distribution and access worldwide have arisen alongside historical and institutional norms, social practices, and the processes linking science to policy. Furthermore, because ought implies can and water is (among other things) a decidedly material substance, practical constraints must be part of the conversation about normative aspirations regarding water supply, scarcity, treatment, access, and distribution. In this interdisciplinary yet distinct space—at the juncture of philosophical norms, social practices, hydrological constraints, and practical demands—a discourse on water ethics is rising.
This essay charts established and emerging discourses on water ethics in order to contribute to scholarly understandings of social, political and ecological challenges regarding inequalities in freshwater access and distribution. Such an inquiry is important because studies of hydrology reveal a complex and finite freshwater supply while demand for freshwater continues to accelerate. Contests over freshwater across multiple sectors and populations have moral consequences for human relationships and the conditions for ecological health. In this context it is necessary to resist the tendency to bury value judgments in the language of expediency or crisis. In the section, The Conceptual Terrain, we introduce the general, Western, 20th century terrain within which idea of water ethics began to take a persistent shape. Then, in the section, Water Governance, Ethics and Global Sensibilities, we specify how water ethics arose in conjunction with sensibilities that freshwater problems were in some sense global, even universal, and amenable to objective, rational forms of management. From there, the section on, Facts, Values and Freshwater, considers how particular demands of scarcity, specific claims regarding the value of water, and requirements of justice have simultaneously challenged and reinforced certain aspects of that emerging sensibility; and we suggest alternate modes of articulating and coordinating responses. We conclude with a section titled, The Upshot: the Future of Water Ethics Discourses. There we consider several insights that have emerged from water ethics discourse and identify major trajectories and themes for water ethics going forward.
She has penned the excellent Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis (my review is forthcoming); he blogs at The Anthropo.Scene and has co-edited (with Peter G. Brown) Water Ethics: Foundational Readings for Students and Professionals.
Read this article and check out the phenomenal reference list! And check out the books, too!