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Sustainable Values, Sustainable Change

A Guide to Environmental Decision Making

Sustainability is a nearly ubiquitous concept today, but can we ever imagine what it would be like for humans to live sustainably on the earth? No, says Bryan G. Norton in Sustainable Values, Sustainable Change. One of the most trafficked terms in the press, on university campuses, and in the corridors of government, sustainability has risen to prominence as a buzzword before the many parties laying claim to it have come close to agreeing how to define it. But the term’s political currency urgently demands that we develop an understanding of this elusive concept.

While economists, philosophers, and ecologists argue about what in nature is valuable, and why, Norton here offers an action-oriented, pragmatic response to the disconnect between public and academic discourse around sustainability. Looking to the arenas in which decisions are made—and the problems that are driving these decisions—Norton reveals that the path to sustainability cannot be guided by fixed, utopian objectives projected into the future; sustainability will instead be achieved through experimentation, incremental learning, and adaptive management. Drawing inspiration from Aldo Leopold’s famed metaphor of “thinking like a mountain” for a spatially explicit, pluralistic approach to evaluating environmental change, Norton replaces theory-dependent definitions with a new decision-making process guided by deliberation and negotiation across science and philosophy, encompassing all stakeholders and activists and seeking to protect as many values as possible. Looking across scales to today’s global problems, Norton urges us to learn to think like a planet.

344 pages | 9 halftones, 10 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Biological Sciences: Conservation

Earth Sciences: Environment

Philosophy: Ethics, General Philosophy

Philosophy of Science


“This book systematically investigates the philosophical foundations of sustainable development in the context of the history of environmental policy. Given the failures and inadequacies of many past policies, Norton proposes effective strategies for sustainable policy choices based on heuristic decision models. Previous environmental quality and sustainable development decision strategies were static and did not accurately achieve the desired outcome. These methods still persist with many policy makers. The author advocates that the optimal process is flexible and taken in small steps that regularly assess progress toward the best outcomes. He also provides strong arguments for a greater amount of pluralistic input in the decision process. Historical and current case studies provide compelling evidence of the author’s recommendation. . . . Recommended.”

B. R. Shmaefsky, Lone Star College-Kingwood | Choice

“Norton provides a thoughtful account of the issues currently vexing sustainability, refracting them through the lens of environmental values and then drawing together these insights into a practical program of action. . . . Sustainable Values, Sustainable Change is a novel bridge linking environmental values to adaptive management, and practitioners in both fields will benefit from a close reading and reflection.”

Marc Tadaki and Kai M. A. Chan, University of British Columbia | BioScience

“Norton has greatly expanded our understanding of sustainability as an idea, as a practice, and as a decision challenge. No one writing today can match his intellectual rigor and disciplinary breadth on this topic. This book makes it clear that those who would dismiss sustainability as an intellectually vacuous notion or impugn it as a morally flabby argument about caring for the future are just not doing their homework. Norton, however, has done his homework (and created some for the rest of us!). Even better, he has fashioned a new way to think about sustainability and the philosophy of valuation and decision making it requires, especially under conditions of global change. Tight, compact, and accessible, magnifying and further developing the theme of evaluating sustainable change, this is an excellent distillation of Norton’s extensive and groundbreaking work.”

Ben Minteer, Arizona State University | author of "Refounding Environmental Ethics" and coeditor of "After Preservation"

Sustainable Values, Sustainable Change distills the considerable wisdom that Bryan Norton has acquired over four decades at the forefront of environmental philosophy and policy analysis. It provides a concise and readable entrée to his thought while providing significant new insights into the link between pragmatist epistemology and Norton’s advocacy of a procedural approach to democratic decision making in environmental matters.”

Paul B. Thompson, Michigan State University | author of "The Agrarian Vision" and "From Field to Fork"

“Environmentalists, economists, and philosophers have continued to debate the concept and goal of sustainability for decades. In this engaging and important book, Norton moves beyond these often futile debates to develop an action-oriented pragmatic approach to defining and achieving sustainability through experimentation, incremental change, and adaptation. By focusing on the mechanisms of decision analysis, and reflecting Norton’s decades of engagement with the search for sustainability, this book fundamentally changes the conceptual and practical background in which future discussions of sustainability must take place.”

Sahotra Sarkar, University of Texas at Austin | author of "Environmental Philosophy: From Theory to Practice"

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Part 1: Change, Complexity, and Decision Contexts

Chapter 1: Responding to Change
1.1. Waves of Change
1.2. Strategies for Achieving Sustainability
1.3. Sustainability: A Contested Concept
1.4. Aldo Leopold and Changing Times

Chapter 2: The Decision Context
2.1. Two Orientations: Theoretical or Practical?
2.2. Decisions in Environmental Conflict Situations
2.3. Most Environmental Problems Are Wicked
2.4. Strategies for Living with Uncertainty

Chapter 3: A Brief Philosophy of Adaptive Ecosystem Management
3.1. The Case against Computation
3.2. The Current Situation in the Field of Evaluation Studies
3.3. Two Kinds of Rationality
3.4. Expect Surprises! Introducing Adaptive Management
3.5. Adaptive Management as Embedded Science
3.6. An Epistemology for Adaptive Management

Chapter 4: Contesting Sustainability: Who Will Own the Word?
4.1. What Is Sustainability? And, What Is to Be Sustained?
4.2. What Should We Measure? Sustainability in Economics and Ecology
4.3. Scale, Boundaries, and Hierarchical Systems
4.4. A Schematic Definition of “Normative Sustainability”
4.5. Conclusion of Part 1: A Way Forward

Part 2: A Process Approach to Sustainability

Chapter 5: Introducing and Grounding a Procedural Approach
5.1. Pluralism and Corrigibility
5.2. John Dewey: Publics and the Public Interest
5.3. Heuristic Proceduralism: A General Method
5.4. Public Participation: Dynamic Evaluation and Sustainability
5.5. Method: Toward a More Holistic Approach to Environmental Valuation

Chapter 6: Heuristic Proceduralism: A General Method
6.1. Dynamic Evaluation
6.2. Discourses, Spaces, and the Place of Technical Languages
6.3. The Capabilities Approach
6.4. The Role of Specialized Disciplines in Adaptive Management Processes

Chapter 7: Tools of the Adaptive Trade
7.1. Static and Dynamic Deliberation: Two Functions of Tools of Evaluation
7.2. A Peek into the Box of Dynamic Tools
7.3. Living and Flourishing with Many Tools
7.4. Tools, Heuristics, and Transformatives: A Messy Workshop for Messy Problems

Chapter 8: Constructing Sustainability: Imagining through Metaphors
8.1. A Single Metaphor?
8.2. Moral Imagination and the Role of Metaphor
8.3. Ecology and Metaphor
8.4. Can the Many Metaphors of Conservation and Ecology Be Integrated?

Chapter 9: Adaptive Collaborative Management: Empirical Findings and Case Studies
9.1. Pluralism and the Multigenerational Public Interest
9.2. An Overview of the Literature on Evaluating Collaborative Processes
9.3. Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Motivations
9.4. Endangered Species and the South Platte Water Plan
9.5. Thinking like a Watershed: Remapping the Chesapeake

Chapter 10: Addressing Third-Generation Problems
10.1. Scaling Up: The Emergence of Third-Generation Environmental Problems
10.2. Learning to Think like a Planet
10.3. Ideas and Action: Callicott on Leopold on Planetary Ethics
10.4. The Special Challenges of Rapid Climate Change

Epilogue: Policy Analysis or Problem Solving?
Appendix: Adapt’s Ten Heuristics


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