Environmental Ethics and Environmental Policy:
The case of Mountain Ida (Psiloritis), Crete
Environmental policies so far have been primarily shaped by specific organizational structures such as the state, which take into account environmental challenges. The influence of civil society actors, including those at the local level is not negligible. When studying such policies, environmental ethics is of particular importance, given its aims to formulate rules and attitudes towards the ultimate goal of sustaining life on the planet in the best possible conditions. This is done through the redefining of the theory on the instrumental or intrinsic value of nature, which is the central concern in the development of environmental philosophy and environmental ethics. Environmental policies reflect concerns similar to those of environmental ethics’ theories such as anthropocentrism, biocentrism, ecocentrism, and deep ecology. At the same time, environmental policies refer to principles of environmental ethics. The most frequently used principle in environmental policies and programs, more particularly, is the principle of sustainability and sustainable development, which is based on the principle of beneficence and non-injury and follows the principle of environmental and intergenerational justice.
This paper attempts to explore whether and how these principles are reflected in environmental policies (national and European) relating to the area of Mountain Ida. The area offers a good example of a case study due to the interventions undertaken concerning the environment by the state, the European Union and local government.
The Mountain of Ida is located in central Crete and embraces some of the most important ecosystems, which host a substantial number of endemic species of flora and fauna and show rare geomorphologic features. As in most mountainous regions of southern Europe, in this region as well, informal agricultural and livestock breeding systems have been in existence, whereby environmental and social sustainability were indivisible. The system consisted of rules which locals have adopted and implemented without the interference of the state or other entities. Livestock farmers had the leading role in rural economy and in maintaining agro-ecological zones which contributed to the absence of the desertification of the area.
Over the last three decades policies were applied from above, attempting to "improve" the livestock sector and farmers’ economic status, by increasing their income (through subsidies) and strengthen infrastructures for the development of further activities. However, these policies were mainly anthropocentric and did not take into account the environmental threats which had significant impacts on the socioeconomic conditions of the area and intensive consequences on the Psiloritis environment. At the same time, structural changes led to the separation of environmental and social sustainability and disturbed the pre-existing agricultural and livestock system. Slowly
but surely, these changes began to displace the livestock farming and started the discussion on the use of the area for other activities. Other social groups and users have been claiming the management and exploitation of natural resources. Today, the discussions focus on new activities such as alternative forms of tourism, establishment of renewable energy sources (RES), and the creation of a geo-park. The configuration of these new conditions and the need for determining land use has brought to the fore the debate about sustainable management of the natural environment of Psiloritis. The main contributors to this debate were the local government and the local social institutions through their collective action.
It is relatively early to assess the results from the application of environmental and developmental policies, but we can draw some conclusions, which will contribute, to more effective future implementation. These conclusions relate to the local community, which has become much more receptive, than in the past, towards initiatives with environmental concern and protection of natural resources.
Strong oppositions or conflicts have not appeared as responses from the local community to the top-down policies. This is most likely a result of the positive economic impacts on the life of the local community. Furthermore, local financial or other interests have not yet been affected.
Sustainable development approaches include those, which are led on the one hand, by major economic actors and the state, while on the other, by communities and alternative economic and institutional actors. Treadmill and weak sustainable development approaches prioritize economic development, not considering environmental impacts to be significant. However, ideal model and strong sustainable development approaches prioritize the environment and aim towards minimal levels of environmental impacts, as well as a more socially just oriented economic system.
The development policies implemented so far in the local communities of Mountain Psiloritis, what must be noted is the recent shift to more effective development models related to environmental protection. The policies of the early 1980's, find and reinforce the sheer economic growth model of the treadmill of production. In the late 1990's however, new environmental policies go a step further and consolidate the weak model of sustainable development, which begins slowly to lay the foundations towards a rather limited environmental protection.
When aiming towards strong sustainable development, changes are required such as the restructuring of institutions, the diversification of production and consumption patterns, the establishment of environmental friendly technologies and systematic use of social and environmental indicators. At the same time participation of residents in the decision-making is needed, either individually or through local groups. However, the diverse theories of environmental ethics - anthropocentrism, bio-centrism, and eco-centrism and related principles of beneficence and non-injury as well as the those of sustainability and intergenerational justice - are also reflected in the experiences of local communities with environmental and developmental policies of the last thirty years. Anthropocentrism appears to dominate through the model of the treadmill of
production as well as that of weak sustainable development. Some signs of change towards stronger environmental ideas and actions are recently the focus of discussions, especially by younger groups in the local community of Ida. Yet, overall, residents and local authorities do not appear prepared to accept the ecocentric dimension of environmental ethics.
Key words: Environmental Policies, Environmental Ethics, Rural communities, Sustainable Development, Local government, Local communities, Psiloritis/Ida, agro-tourism, geo-parks, Cretan rural communities.