Volume 39, Issue 1, Spring 2017
Applying the Capabilities Approach to Ecosystems
Resilience as Ecosystem Capability
The capabilities approach has attracted broad interest in environmental ethics. One very interesting application is the environmental or extended capabilities approach which promotes the notion of environmental capabilities that contribute to the flourishingof nonhuman beings and ecological systems. The approach, however, lacks any account of the capabilities of ecological systems. The environmental capabilities approach can be applied at the ecosystem level with the flourishing of an ecosystem understood in terms of capabilities. Ecosystem flourishing presumes the ability of a given system to maintain its characteristic functions, diversity, and quality, and to do so even in the face of various disturbances. Resilience can be understood as a central capability of ecosystems to maintain their characteristic functioning in disruptive circumstances, which is particularly important with regard to human-induced environmental changes. This approach evokes duties of ecological justice regarding ecosystems. These duties in terms of the environmental capabilities approach can promote more holistic decision making.