In this paper we investigate how irreversible social harms should be evaluated from an ethical perspective. First, we define a general notion of irreversibility, drawing on discussions in ecology and economics. This notion is relational in the sense that “irreversibility” is always “irreversibility for a certain party”. We also note that a change may be more or less difficult to reverse, with full reversibility and irreversibility as two extremes. Second, we examine what can make an irreversible change a harm, and why these kinds of harms have particular ethical significance. Here we draw on discussions from ethics, particularly regarding the capability approach. We also show how our notion of irreversibility connects to, and can add to, discussions in the fields of development studies and disaster management, particularly on the concept of resilience. Third, we suggest how potentially irreversible harms can be recognised and dealt with in policy-making. Finally, we show how our framework can be applied by evaluating the land acquisition process of two biofuel producers in Tanzania.
Policy Sciences – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 28, 2017
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