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Walsh AJ, Shepheard M. The role of virtue in natural resource management. 2011.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/9356
The role of virtue in natural resource management
In recent years in Australia, the most common policy response to a variety of urgent natural resource management dilemmas has been to rely on institutional mechanisms that appeal to private interest in the hope that these mechanisms will produce socially desirable outcomes. Market mechanisms have become the darlings of resource policy. This is clearly evident in debates over water policy, where a key assumption has been that the self-interest of market agents, as opposed to the good intentions of citizens, is the best way of managing this scarce resource. Behind this lies the thought that virtue is scarce and hence the good intentions of citizens cannot be relied upon; we should be thrifty in our dependence on virtue and, accordingly, our institutions should be virtue parsimonious. Yet such tacit ideas sit oddly with the ideals of stewardship that are endorsed in other areas of government policy, in which there is an expectation that resource users, and in particular farmers, should be responsible and care intrinsically for the resources society has entrusted in them. Here, good intentions do seem to have a role to play. Policy on one hand is driven by a belief that farmers will adjust resource use only in pursuit of private property, and on the other hand that they ought be prepared to subordinate the same private interest to the broader public good. In this chapter, we focus on the appeal to private interest as the dominant engine of public policy. We shall argue to the contrary that it is vital that we maintain ideals of responsibility and stewardship, which rely on the virtue of resource users and managers, as integral parts of policy. In making this case, we focus primarily on water use in Australia. We argue that minimising the reliance on virtue in water policy is not a rational response to the challenges facing us today. We shall defend policies that embed responsible use on the part of farmers and others into the core of our legal frameworks.