Integrating Ethics into the Management of Water Ecosystems

Ethical assumptions about how water and water ecosystems (e.g., rivers, lakes, wetlands) should be used constitute powerful drivers of water management and investment strategies. Through a process of "unwrapping" and analyzing the underlying values held by diverse stakeholders, debate can focus on the values directly. But then what? How can we engage with various categories of stakeholders to facilitate a "revaluation" process? The premise of the Water Ethics Network (http://waterethics.org] is that drawing attention to the role of ethics within various water subsectors (water supply, resources management, industrial, etc) is a very important first step. This Café discussion will explore some next steps: How to engage on the subject of water ethics with different kinds of stakeholders, e.g., rural communities, urban neighborhoods, local governments, small industries, large industries, water managers (perhaps the most challenging of all!), environmental groups, indigenous organizations, religious groups, etc. The motivating theme for trying to influence the policy agenda is the urgency of climate change on top of demographic and economic pressures. Not only are our water ecosystems under very increasing stress, but the solutions implied by the conventional water management paradigm (e.g., command-and-control of natural ecosystems) pose an even greater threat than climate change itself. Without critical reassessments of conventional strategies, and the underlying (and largely unexamined) ethics about environmental stewardship, the rush to infrastructure as a response to climate change will have only science and economics to challenge it. We have seen from the climate debates that science and economics are not enough; we need to address the values dimension at the same time. This café will be one small step in that direction.

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