Restoration, obligation, and the baseline problem

International Social Science Journal (Chinese Edition)

No.4, 2018


Restoration, obligation, and the baseline problem (Abstract)


Alex Lee, Adam Perou Hermans, and Benjamin Hale


Should we restore degraded nature, and if so, why? Environmental theorists often approach the problem of restoration from perspectives couched in much broader debates, particularly regarding the intrinsic value and moral status of natural entities. Unfortunately, such approaches are susceptible to concerns such as the baseline problem, which is both a philosophical and technical issue related to identifying an appropriate restoration baseline. Insofar as restoration ostensibly aims to return an ecosystem to a particular baseline state, and depends upon clearly identifying this baseline for success, the very project of restoration appears impossible to get off the ground. Recasting environmental restoration in terms of obligations, instead of status, value, or worth, can avoid this and other classic challenges. If obligations to restore nature follow from intersubjectively validated reasons to justify our actions, we can salvage restoration from the threat of the baseline problem.