Sustainability as a Promise of Flourishing in Light of the Animal Question

Sustainability as a Promise of Flourishing in Light of the Animal Question

Panel at the Conference of the Australasian Animal Studies Association (AASA) Online Conference, 30 Nov – 2 Dec 2021

Co-convened by Dr Dr Iris M Bergmann and Dr Hélène Le Deunff

Registration and conference information

About the Panel

This panel engages with the notion of sustainability centring the animal. It questions the dominant sustainability discourse and engages with some of its fundamental themes and ethical assumptions. It offers a reassessment of the sustainable development goals and opens up to new perspectives on what sustainability means when centring the animal question.

Since the 1970s, sustainability narratives have gained prominence in institutional design and governance discourse and practice. The UN and its 193 member states have adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SD), comprising 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, from the perspective of the animal question, the dominant sustainability discourse is critiqued as being anthropocentric and speciesist. A central critique is that, rather than facilitating animal flourishing and offering alternatives to dominant economic models, dominant practices maintain exploitative forms of growth as a means to achieve sustainability, at the expense of nonhuman animals. Indeed, despite the professed coupling of social and ecological systems under the SD agenda, widespread species-based violence, suffering, and extinctions are escalating. Far from discarding promises of sustainability, the aim of this panel is to engage with this notion and explore how to advance its utility for animal flourishing.

This session offers four presentations of conceptual, ethical, and practice-oriented inquiries into the animalisation of sustainability, before opening to discussion. The first talk investigates unacknowledged strong anthropocentrism manifest in guiding documents of the Catholic Church, demonstrating that strong anthropocentrism as a worldview disables any transition to sustainability and animal flourishing. The second presentation outlines the parameters for an interspecies sustainability and presents a model of situating practices, organisations and institutions at varying scales on a transition toward interspecies sustainability. The third presentation experiments with a different understanding of what gets to count as “sustainable water access”. It proposes that animal water flourishing can help humans reimagine water well-being as multi-species and cooperative, for more sustainable futures. The final presentation analyses why and how the SDGs should take animals into consideration. The panellists will then further discuss their arguments and possible future directions, and take questions from the audience.

The session takes 90 mins, including 60 mins of presentations and 30 mins of roundtable discussion and audience questions.

About the Panellists

Dr Dr Iris Marie Bergmann
Panellist and Co-convenor

Iris Bergmann has recently completed a PhD dealing with the intersection of sustainability and animal protection in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney. Her research advances a notion of interspecies sustainability which she applied to the thoroughbred racing industry to interrogate their practices. Iris currently works as independent scholar.

Website | Twitter | ResearchGate

Dr Hélène Le Deunff
Panellist and Co-convenor

Hélène Le Deunff recently received her PhD in Environmental Humanities from the University of Sydney’s School of Historical and Philosophical Enquiry. Her work explores the human-animal-water interrelations. Her research is informed by theoretical and methodological frameworks from multi-species ethnography, more-than-human thinking, Science and Technology Studies, and post-human feminist work on water.

Research Profile

Dr Jan Deckers

Jan Deckers is a senior lecturer in health care ethics as Newcastle University (UK). His latest book is Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned?, Ubiquity Press, 2016.

Research and Teaching

Dr Helena Röcklinsberg

Helena Röcklinsberg is university lecturer and researcher in animal and food ethics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Her work covers fundamental ethical issues in our responsibility for other animals (ranging from insects to cattle), ethical decision-making and the value dimensions in animal regulation.


Presentation Abstracts

Iris M Bergmann
Interspecies sustainability as a radical transformation to sustainability

The theory, practice and politics of sustainability have implications for animals as the politically most powerless and most vulnerable inhabitants of this planet, at macro, meso and micro scales. Therefore, in previous work, this author has drafted a framework for interspecies sustainability that explicitly centres the interest of animals in the sustainability discourse, that is anti-speciesist and critical in nature. It is further argued here that conceptualising sustainability as interspecies sustainability advances a deeper understanding of sustainability that is required to mobilise a critical mass of society to engage to protect and repair nature, to sustain our life support systems, to achieve justice in all domains and for all species, and to transform the systems that destroy the conditions required for animal flourishing. The path toward interspecies sustainability requires radical and systemic transformations in all areas of human influence. Indeed, it is widely acknowledged, including at the UN level, that a deep transformation to true sustainability is required globally. Transformations to sustainability has developed into a significant field of scholarly inquiry in its own right. This presentation provides a first outline of what the notion of interspecies sustainability, and critical animal studies bring to the discourse in transformations to sustainability, and vice versa, what transformations to sustainability scholarship brings to the further development of the notion of interspecies sustainability, and to critical animal studies.

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Hélène Le Deunff
Animalising water flourishing and flourishing animality

Human-Animal relations are a crucial yet undertheorized node in water policy and planning. Other species’ freshwater concerns are systematically silenced in discussions of the most immediate human needs for clean drinking water. Animal interests are also routinely downplayed in decisions made to guarantee quantities of water for less immediate human ends. Even the most recent integrative approaches in the management and development of water sources, which seek to reconcile human flourishing with the renewal of the earth’s life support systems, tend to disregard propositions that would predominantly benefit other-than-human animals. However, the disconnection from animal water concerns and the primacy given to human interests explain many of the problematic features that underlie the contemporary ecological catastrophe.

This paper engages with the animal turn in development studies to explore how practices conducive to animal flourishing can function as a foundation for a new understanding of sustainability and provide new handles on water management.

The paper argues that the terms of sustainable development goals on water access are fraught with a limited understanding of water flourishing. Drawing on posthuman feminist theories of water and Pacific indigenous thinking, the paper questions and reveals alternatives to anthropocentric and instrumental relations to waterworlds and their non-human inhabitants. It makes the case that extractive relations to water and the erasure of animal water concerns are linked and reinforce each other. By posing distrust and competition as the default position in the apportioning of water as a resource, these frameworks limit the kinds of answers that can be offered to the crisis. Rather than extending the status of “water users” or “stakeholders” to animals in human-led negotiations, the paper proposes to allow instances of animal water flourishing to help humans reimagine water well-being as multi-species and cooperative.

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Jan Deckers
How sustainable is recent thinking by the Catholic magisterium on animal ethics?

I sketch recent thinking by the Catholic magisterium on animal ethics and argue that its position is unsustainable. To develop real sustainability it needs to move away from its strong anthropocentric position on nonhuman animals and engage much more with the question of how human dietary choices can be made more sustainable. I will sketch a qualified vegan ethic as a critical corrective.

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Helena Röcklinsberg
Reinterpreting the SDGs from the animal perspective – an ethical evaluation of the underlying assumptions

The presentation builds on the paper by Torpman and Röcklinsberg (2021) titled “Reinterpreting the SDGs: Taking Animals into Direct Consideration”. The SDGs are neglecting the interests and welfare of non-human animals. Our aim in this paper was to ethically evaluate the assumptions that underlie the current anthropocentric stance of the SDGs. We argue that there are no good reasons to uphold these assumptions, and that the SDGs should therefore be reconsidered so that they take non-human animals into direct consideration. This has some interesting implications for how we should understand and fulfil the pursuit of sustainability in general. Most noticeably, several SDGs—such as those regarding zero hunger (SDG 2), good health and wellbeing (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6)—should be achieved for animals as well. Moreover, the measures we undertake in order to achieve the SDGs for humans must also take into direct account their effects on non-human animals.

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