Water, water, every where – Reflections on water ethics

What is water ethics? What are the topics of water ethics? What does water ethics do? These are key questions of some of my talks and papers of the last six months.

I asked what water ethics as application-oriented ethics might be and what it can achieve critically (by reviewing the existing explicit and implicit normativities within water governance and sciences) and constructively (by suggesting how e.g. fair access and allocation of water might look like). I also explored the limits of water ethics as an academic activity. When does ethics become paternalist and post-democratic? When should it become socially and politically involved?

If water ethics as an application-oriented ethics deals with the human field of action related to water, then the question arises how this field of action looks like and who determines how it looks like. In the end, the answer might privilege some forms of knowledge and some academic disciplines over others. The history of water governance and sciences has shown often enough that techno-fix solutions and related world-views have not helped to improve water conditions of the poorest of the poor worldwide. As political ecology has shown, determining what water is also involves a considerable power issue. With this, water ethics clearly has a socio-ethical side asking for the legitimate social order.

By focussing on quantitative sciences and technologies, the role of the humanities have been marginalised. Yet, they have a lot to say about e.g. overcoming nature-culture-binarities. Therefore, some of the papers and talks dealt with the role of traditional humanities (such as literary studies) in sustainability sciences. In particular, I looked (together with Marcus Rockoff) at the aesthetical and linguistic construction of water-related extreme weathers in the Little Ice Age by Early Modern German poetry.

Water ethics papers

Water Ethics – Reflections on a Liquifying Topic is part of the edited volume our research group produced. Wasserethik zwischen Lösungsorientierung und Kritik is part of the anniversary publication on the occasion of the Tuebingen Ethics Centre’s 25th birthday. Climate Change in Early Modern Literature deals with an early modern poem that aims to give language and meaning to water-related extreme weathers.

Water ethics talks

Wasserethik – Reflexionen auf einen sich verflüssigenden Gegenstand (17 November 2015) was a talk I gave (in German) in a lecture series on research for sustainable development at the University of Tuebingen organised by the Tuebingen School for Sustainability (Thomas Potthast and Diana Grundmann). In October 2015, I participated in the conference “The Human Side of Climate Change” organised by the LINGCLIM project (Kjersti Fløttum and Vegard Rivenes) at the University of Bergen, Norway (16-17 October 2015). My talk And all at once the clouds descend, Shed tears that never seem to end – Looking at climate change from early modern literature (16 October 2015) builds on the paper by me and Marcus Rockoff and analyses three poems that deal with water-related extrem weather events (drought, floods and heavy precipitation, frost and snow). In July 2015, I gave two talks (one in German and one in English) about what water ethics might be and how it helps criticise and improve the Water Ethics Charter. At the conference of the International Society for Environmental Ethics in Kiel (22-25 July 2015), Rafael Ziegler and David Groenfeldt organised three excellent sessions on water ethics (“Philosophical reflection on water ethics and the idea of a water ethics charter”, “Normative perspective on water ethics”, “From local to global: Philosophies of Water and a Water Ethics Charter”). In the first session, I talked about What is and to what end do we study water ethics? A view to the Water Ethics Charter (24 July 2015). The same talk, I presented about two weeks earlier to my colleagues at the Tuebingen Ethics Centre. It’s German title was Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Wasserethik? Eine Kritik der Water Ethics Charter (7 July 2015).

And more talks and paper are in the pipeline. So, don’t swim out too far…

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