Marko Ahteensuu

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Biodiversity, Ethics, and Scientific Uncertainty: Philosophical Contribution to Conservation in the Era of Rapid Anthropogenic Environmental Change 

Growing awareness and evidence of climate change-related effects on biodiversity, especially the possibility of large-scale species extinctions, have motivated re-evaluations of the conservation priorities and suggestions to widen the conservation toolbox. For example, the proposal to conserve species threatened by climate change by intentionally translocating them to more favourable locations (variously called as assisted migration, assisted colonization or managed relocation) has resulted in a spirited debate. In my project I study the theoretical basis and ethical foundation of these suggested, and in some cases already implemented, new biodiversity conservation approaches and techniques. In practice this means undertaking terminological and conceptual clarifications, argumentation and policy analyses, ethical assessments, and philosophy of science-based analyses. The project is carried out in close collaboration with the assisted migration research group at the Finnish Museum of Natural History, University of Helsinki, and the Division of Philosophy at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

1. Ethical Quandaries Pertaining to the New Conservation Approaches

It has been argued that rapid anthropogenic environmental change necessitates questioning two basic tenets in conservation biology: (1) the traditional hands-off approach to conservation, and (2) using species historic range as a rigid benchmark. Both deserve systematic axiological examination. New approaches and techniques to conservation give rise to intriguing ethical issues and (intractable) disagreements, which will also be addressed. Sometimes imperatives conflict, e.g. the ones to protect a species from extinction and to protect ecosystems from external, esp. human-induced, disturbance (Conflicts between Principles). At other times it is difficult to see what is the rational basis of the perceived loss of value, for example, in relation to the (un)naturalness of a human-modified ecosystem (Demand for Reason Problems). Still at other times, e.g. in the case of novel ecosystems, it may be difficult to see what are the morally relevant features or distinctions to be made in the first place (Relevance Problems).

2. Foundations of Species Conservation Decision-Making Frameworks

In a survey study we will evaluate the applicability and usefulness of conservation translocation decision frameworks, which include fluxograms, decision trees and best practice guidelines. In a more theoretically-oriented study I will systematically consider (adjusted) expected value-based decision-making tools in environmental ethics and biodiversity conservation and defend the use of these tools against three common criticisms.

3. Risk and Ethical Reasoning

This subproject stems from the facts that traditional ethical theories are mostly silent in questions of risk and that, at the moment, there is no consensus among ethicists on how to deal with situations involving probabilistic information on possible outcomes. Needless to say, in real life most (ethical) decisions are made under risk or uncertainty. One paper will analyse different responses to risks and scientific uncertainties in new biodiversity conservation approaches and, more generally, explicate how risk and ethics relate to each other at different levels. Another paper will focus on the relationship of risk analysis (assessment and management) and moral blameworthiness in the context of post-accident apologizing.

4. Risk and Uncertainty: Bridging Theory and Practice

Technical concepts of risk have prevailed in natural science-based disciplines and various contexts of real-life decision-making, despite being problematized and even replaced by richer, multidimensional concepts in STS and social sciences. Besides exploring ways to bridge this gap, the subproject aims at providing a state-of-the-art analysis of several uncertainty representations, categorizations and estimation methods present in the fields of conservation biology and ecology.

5. Biodiversity Conservation, GMOs, and Synthetic Biology

6. Public Engagement and Responsible Science Communication

7. Food Security Definitions and Ethics (together with TIAS Collegium Researcher Helena Siipi)

Keywords: biodiversity, species conservation, risk, scientific uncertainty, ethics


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