Stewardship of natural resources: Definition, ethical and practical aspects [Book Review]

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 12 (3):263-277 (2000)
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Stewardship is potentially a usefulconcept in modernizing management philosophies. Use ofthe term has increased markedly in recent years, yetthe term is used loosely and rarely defined in landmanagement literature. The connections between thispractical usage and the ethical basis of stewardshipare currently poorly developed. The followingdefinition is proposed: ``Stewardship is theresponsible use (including conservation) of naturalresources in a way that takes full and balancedaccount of the interests of society, futuregenerations, and other species, as well as of privateneeds, and accepts significant answerability tosociety.'''' A religious interpretation would require thephrase ``and ultimately to God'''' to be added.Stewardship has both secular and religiousinterpretations and it will be desirable to developboth of these aspects in parallel. A task forphilosophers is to establish whether the ethical basisof stewardship is sufficient to address environmentalconcerns or whether it is necessary to embrace widerethical approaches. Stewardship occupies similarground to several other concepts of use and managementof resources, particularly sustainability. It canbuild on sustainability by encouraging a broader viewof who and what should benefit from managementactivity. In particular, it focuses attention on therole of managers in providing public benefit and onenvisaging other species as a form of ``stakeholder'''' inmanagement decisions. Stewardship is applicable acrossthe widest range of fields of resource use and alsohas relevance to aspects of land tenure and propertyrights. Application of stewardship will require someadjustments in the roles of private managers/ownersvis-à-vis government. It might providemanagers with an expanded role and, importantly, amore positive image, both of themselves and in theeyes of the public. Stewardship could alsobe developed in a way that has relevance to citizensin general (as opposed to managers and owners ofresources), through their interactions with naturalresources as consumers.



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