Following is a paper written for a spring 2011 class on environmental ethics at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Toward a Restorative Environmental Ethic

This paper examines how the themes, principles and practices of restorative justice can inform an environmental ethic and the shift in worldview and values which environmental ethics seems to imply.  One of the central philosophical and ethical problems to emerge from our global environmental crisis and the human quest to locate and remedy its root causes is the anthropocentric nature of the worldviews and values which dominate the biosphere today.

Restorative justice as a practice seeks to include all parties affected by a criminal act or omission in establishing how to best meet victims’ needs and who is responsible for meeting those victims’ needs, as well as reintegrating offenders into the community with the intention to avoid further harms and promote security. Could the motives of restorative justice shed light on a movement away from “speciesism,” that is, “the widely held belief that the human species is inherently superior to other species and so has rights or privileges that are denied to other” species (Ryder “Speciesism”), and into just relations with the wider Earth Community?


According to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, environmental ethics is “the discipline in philosophy that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents” (Brennan & Lo, “Environmental Ethics”). A relatively new and challenging branch of moral philosophy, environmental ethics emerged in the 1970s in response to a number of pressing issues related to anthropogenic environmental degradation and human population growth across the globe (Brennan & Lo, “Environmental Ethics”). Its challenge emerges from the impetus to expand moral concern beyond anthropocentric confines to include other forms of life both sentient and non-sentient (Gudorf & Huchingson 1). Such an expansion of moral consideration would seem to inherently require a shift in worldview for most individuals and perhaps all human social institutions in existence today.

Ryder’s definition of “speciesism” is expanded here to include moral consideration of more than just “sentient animals,” which is how he originally limited his definition. The underlying assumption of this paper is that the environment and its ability to sustain life is a holistic enterprise such that even the lithosphere is worthy of moral consideration. This regard for the interrelatedness of living and non-living, sentient and allegedly non-sentient life is expressed by Gaia theory:

The key insight of the theory is wonderfully holistic and non-hierarchical: it suggests that it is the Gaian system as a whole that does the regulating [of the conditions required for life to exist], that the sum of all the complex feedbacks between life, atmosphere, rocks and water give rise to Gaia, the evolving, self-regulating planetary entity that has maintained habitable conditions on the surface of our planet over vast stretches of geological time (emphasis in original, Harding 64).

            Accordingly, a positive goal for an environmental ethic is the realization of Earth Community, a concept which has been elaborated by the ecological thinker and theologian—who referred to himself as a “geologian” owing his promotion of an Earth-based spirituality—Thomas Berry, who writes,

In reality there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. This capacity for relatedness, for presence to other beings, for spontaneity in action, is a capacity possessed by every mode of being throughout the entire universe (4).

It is toward the conscious integration of the human being into the Earth Community that we explore environmental ethics, that it may benefit all beings in the universe.


Restorative justice as a recognized field of practice has a similarly brief history to that of environmental ethics.  The term “restorative justice” emerged in the 1970s along with several other terms descriptive of community-based practices which attend to the more personal dimensions of crime; however, it wasn’t until the 1990 publication of Howard Zehr’s influential book Changing Lens: A new focus for crime and justice that it began to be analyzed as a specific movement within the field of criminal justice (Roche 219). Social theorist Vanmala Hiranandani notes that while there is no general consensus on a definition of restorative justice or its theory, there is “a general agreement that the underlying values of restorative justice include respect, inclusion, democracy, responsibility, honesty, humility, inter-connectedness, reparation, healing and empowerment” (164).  Nonetheless, Hiranandani offers a widely cited definition put forth by Tony F. Marshall: “[Restorative justice is a] process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and  its implications for the future” (164-5).[1]

Restorative justice represents a shift in thinking of crime and punishment as a matter to be handled solely by the state as an official mediary between its citizens, appointing a coterie of professionals to make decisions about who was impacted, how they were impacted and how victims of wrongdoing are to be compensated, concentrating almost solely on the perpetrator (van Wormer “Restorative Justice”). It therefore differs from traditional retributive justice in its victim-centered approach which emphasizes the relationships between the victim and the perpetrator as well as the larger community, and its attention to the prevention of future harms (Hiranandani 165; Roche 218; van Wormer “Restorative Justice” 2). Restorative justice processes militate against anonymity by bringing perpetrators into a humanizing relationship with their victims with the aim of not only “repairing” or restoring what is due to victims, but building empathy in offenders and trying to preserve their self-esteem (van Wormer “Restorative Justice”). It has the potential to allow offenders to feel some agency in redressing their wrongs, and to take responsibility for their actions in a more direct relationship with those who have been harmed.

The philosopher Trudy Govier, writing on revenge, forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation even in the aftermath of grievous wrongs asserts, “Even for those who have committed serious wrongdoing, repentance and moral transformation remains possible. …It is both dangerous and unethical to write off a human individual or group as permanently and incorrigibly evil” (“Forgiveness and Revenge,” 140). Offenders are not cast as irredeemable persons to be banished from the community and forever marked as “other” or taboo.  Restorative justice recognizes that recidivism can be prevented through healing or repairing harms to the extent possible and helping offenders to reintegrate into the community, instead of reinforcing or nurturing an identity of “criminal.” Restorative justice thus condemns the act, not the person who committed the act.

Looking ahead to the application of restorative justice’s values to the development of an environmental ethic, an ethic so developed holds the promise of broad viability in our culturally diverse world. “Restorative justice theory and practice has developed internationally, with many roots in the indigenous traditions of the Asia Pacific region, including the aboriginal cultures of Australia and New Zealand” (Androff, 124). Katherine van Wormer adds that “the values on which restorative justice is based are universal even as the principles of social work, the helping profession, are universal” (“Restorative Justice” 6), although we affirm that “few now need reminding of the importance of the charge that universalists always carry with them ‘a clump of their native soil;’ few need lessons in the need to ensure that universalism must mean greater justice between different cultures” (Linklater, 481).


It may be helpful to provide some examples of restorative justice processes on both the individual and the societal level to illustrate its fundamental differences from the more familiar retributive justice paradigm, and how its values of “respect, inclusion, democracy, responsibility, honesty, humility, inter-connectedness, reparation, healing and empowerment” (Hiranandani 164) are enacted. Because of the numerous ways that the principles of restorative justice are applied, the following is not an exhaustive account of its possibilities or of its current usage around the world, but merely provides a few examples among many varying models.

Individuals. On the individual level, restorative justice processes are often offered as an alternative to prosecution and if an agreement cannot be reached then adjudication of crimes is referred back to the state (Schatz). Mona Schatz, who cites the 1999 work of Leena Kurki (Incorporating Restorative Justice and Community Justice Into American Sentencing and Corrections) provides the following examples of restorative justice processes:

Family group conferencing is one of the most applicable features of restorative justice. …Family group conferencing includes the victim, offender and their families as well as representatives of the community.  A trained facilitator moderates the conference.  This model promotes family solution-building, rather than institutionally prescribed remediation(s). …Conference attendees decide upon an appropriate final agreement with the needs and wishes of the victim taking priority and the process the responsibility of the family.

Victim-offender mediation…is used as a diversion to formal prosecution or as a condition of probation after the court has accepted an admission of guilt.  This alternative gives victims a voice in the justice process and hold offenders directly accountable for their actions.  The goal of victim-offender mediation is to give victims the opportunity to directly inform offenders of the impact of their criminal behavior, offender accountability and recovery of the victims’ losses.

Community reparative boards or “sentencing circles” are a third useful model…[which] consists of community members who receive training to learn the “how and why” of reparative board meetings. Reparative boards, composed of several members, have a pre-agreed list of responses for different crimes. The reparative board holds a hearing, listening to the information presented, and in conclusion, the board determines the appropriate response.  This type of restorative justice is most applicable in victimless crimes.  After a dialogue between all parties impacted in an offense has taken place, a contract is written.  The defining difference in this strategy is that the community reparative board monitors the progress of the offenders’ compliance with the sanctions (emphasis in original, 79-80).  

            It is important to note that community reparative boards work “with the criminal justice system to find consensus on a sentencing plan,” hence the pre-agreed list of responses to different crimes, but the entire interested community is invited to speak and listen at the hearing in order to create the story of the events which transpired and thus create a context in which repair, restoration and prevention of future offenses can occur (McCold, 29).

In all of these examples, the role of the “professional” is subordinate and in service to the victims’ needs, carefully attending to the process of storytelling and thus meaning-making of the crime and its context in the larger community.  A striking feature of restorative justice conferencing, in particular, is the inclusion of allies and supporters of both victims and offenders, which mitigates the isolation that an overly individualistic society can foster. While it underscores the fact that victims are not victims only, nor are perpetrators defined solely by the crimes they commit, it also points toward the fact that many factors contribute to criminal actions, and many more people connected to both the victim and the perpetrator can be impacted by crimes.

Societies. On the societal level, there are growing examples of restorative processes to cite.  The most obvious and perhaps most comprehensive example is the national truth and reconciliation model which has grown out of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC) of the mid-1990s, emerging in the aftermath of the overthrow of the South African apartheid regime. The philosopher Richard H. Bell contends that the SATRC sought to “get to the truth of apartheid’s evil and restore dignity to apartheid’s victims” (91). Its processes recognize, as Bell puts it, that “justice is not simply found in the rule of law but in human practices that create a civil society, where all people have equal claim to human dignity and accept responsibility for the well-being of all its citizens” (emphasis in original, 92).

Although the SATRC has been the subject of much criticism (see Mamdani; Soyinka; Terreblanche), its successes inspired similar efforts in Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Peru and the Southeast Asian island nation of East Timor (van Wormer, “Community Reparations”). The exact mandate and scope of such truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs) varies per the cultural and political context of a given nation, and further, we may ask what “reconciliation” means for large groups of people.

It is perhaps easier to conceptualize reconciliation on the individual level, whereas any group of people will be heterogeneous, containing myriad and sometimes conflicting emotions, experiences, perceptions and fears. Trudy Govier offers the following account of the levels at which reconciliation can occur:

  • Individual
  • Family
  • Small group or community
  • Intergroup or intercommunity
  • National
  • International (“Taking Wrongs Seriously” 11).

Govier warns that the notion of reconciliation as it applies to groups can be a slippery matter, for the word “reconciliation” as well as “restoration” would seem to imply that functional, healthy relationships existed before the breach in trust and security occurred whereas in some cases, this is just not so. The oppressive forces of colonialism have defined the relationships of black and white South Africans and it would be impossible to speak of “restoring” a relationship in such a historical context. This is true for societies with a colonial legacy the world over. Therefore, Govier argues that “to reconcile in such contexts has to mean building relationships based on norms of equality and respect; it cannot always mean rebuilding them” (emphasis in original, “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 12).

Bearing this in mind, Govier provides a useful conceptual framework for considering how wrongs occurring on a collective level may be “righted:”

(“Taking Wrongs Seriously” 179).

In some cases, restitution, defined as “what was wrongly taken away is (in a fairly literal sense) given back” (Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 179), is impossible. Certainly actions cannot be undone, the dead cannot be brought back to life, the lost childhood innocence of “child soldiers” pressed into the military cannot be restored (Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously”). Here, redress of some kind is required which may be symbolic, such as official public acknowledgment of wrongs perpetrated which should not have happened, or material, as in the case of rehabilitative and compensatory forms of redress.  Rehabilitation might involve the provision of prostheses for lost limbs and job training to assist adjustment to the loss, or the provision of pensions for secondary victims such as family members of those killed. It is generally “directed at improving the physical and mental health of victims and survivors” (Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 179). Compensatory redress is usually “money transferred to victims and survivors with the intent of compensating them for their loss” (Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 179).

While the smaller scale processes of the restorative justice paradigm are helpful towards envisioning locally based practices which might inform an individual and community-based shift away from harmfully anthropocentric values, the large-scale examples seem to bring the most to bear on the development of an environmental ethic. But first, we will examine some of the limitations of the retributive model of justice with regards to sustained degradation of the environment and non-human life.


The paradigm of retributive justice conceptualizes crime as “a violation of the state, defined by lawbreaking and guilt” and “determines blame and administers pain in a context between the offender and the state directed by systematic rules” (Zehr 181). In cases of environmental harms, the state frequently chooses to monetize losses and considers such compensatory redress sufficient to address the needs of the victim(s) (the environment, including humans) and the threat of fines sufficient deterrent to future violations (Stone 301-302). Moreover, as legal theorist Christopher D. Stone writes, common law overtly treats non-human life as rightless “objects for man [sic] to conquer and master and use—in such a way as the law once looked upon ‘man’s’ relationship to African Negroes” (303). Therefore, as it currently stands in our legal system, the only damaged parties which can be considered by common law are human beings, thus rulings which are made to benefit “the environment” are actually properly understood as rulings made for the benefit of human beings for it is on a homocentric, utilitarian basis that legal claims are argued and considered (Stone).

While rehabilitation in the form of environmental restoration sometimes forms part of legal settlements involving environmental degradation, the global scale at which damage is occurring defies adequate appraisal, and the ability to police all potential and actual offenders seems spurious. Further, a reliance on de facto forms of justice reflects the dubious assumption that humanity can technologically repair or restore the environment to its previous state before the degradation occurred, leading to the misapprehension of this approach as a form of restitution. Echoing Stone’s conclusions above, Fred Besthorn’s research into approaches to and justifications for environmental restoration in the United States affirms that the “fundamental belief [driving environmental restoration is] that natural ecosystems have only instrumental or use value. That is, they exist for human purposes” (216-7).

In light of the sixth mass extinction underway on Earth and its anthropogenic origins (Jowit), the value and meaning of retributive justice comes into question in these cases. At what point does money lose its actual value? Nature cannot be replicated, lost species cannot be brought back from the dead nor can cultural traditions which depend upon a specific ecology and which are erased by chaotic climatic change or unchecked development be purchased from a new, human manufacturer.[2] At some point, the relative finitude of the natural environment renders human monetization schemes meaningless.

The widening scope of environmental degradation means that we may even now be accepting money in place of the lives of human beings on Earth today as well as those of future generations, an idea which would evoke moral repugnance in most people. From the standpoint of environmental ethics, such moral repugnance should be aroused with regard to exchanging money for the well-being and lives or existence of non-human life. As long as non-human life is so reduced to an “object,” its well-being will be at the caprice of human needs and desires. So we now turn to the restorative justice paradigm for its promise of initiating the moral regeneration and new moral discourse which a transition from speciesism towards full human membership in the Earth Community would require.


There is a welter of accounts of what restorative justice is and its practices entail (Harris; McCold; Roche; van Wormer). Among the useful conceptions for this discussion is social theorist David Gil’s depiction of a “radical” model of restorative justice. A radical restorative justice seeks to cultivate critical consciousness with respect to the structural causes of crime, for example, examining matters of socioeconomic inequalities and distributive injustice as important contributing factors to the commission of crimes and the likelihood of recidivism. Through recognizing the role of society’s institutions and values in the criminal actions of individuals, an imperative to transform those institutions and values emerges. As another theorist, F.J. Schweigert puts it

It may, therefore, be more accurate to speak of a restorative theory of justice rather than a theory of restorative justice. Restorative justice, as it is being practiced and articulated, is more than merely a part of justice or a set of programs within criminal justice.  It is fundamental rethinking of the meaning and ground and practice of justice itself (as quoted in Harris 564).

This paper thus explores the themes of restorative justice in their potential to transform relationships and institutions, with the understanding that prevention of future crimes against the environment may have less to do with the individual actor than with the behavior encouraged by current social and political discourse and its stance toward the moral considerability of nature, as well as the value structures enshrined in human institutions.

Structural and Cultural Violence. Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist whose studies of peace and conflict exported much of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s theory and practice to the West, developed several concepts which are helpful for defining the systemic nature of current-day environmental degradation. Galtung coined the term “structural violence” which refers to

an indirect form of violence built into social, political and economic structures that gives rise to unequal power and consequently unequal life chances. It includes exploitation, alienation, marginalization, poverty, deprivation, misery etc. and exists when basic needs for security, freedom, welfare and identity are not being met (Linklater 354).

Later in his career, Galtung developed an additional concept of “’cultural violence,’” which is “’any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form’” (as quoted in Linklater, 355). Through these lenses, individual acts are not reduced to transgressions to be punished because greater emphasis placed on the social, cultural and political contexts in which those acts occur. Careful analysis of the complexities surrounding human behavior exposes the need to transform and heal those contexts rather than simply make scapegoats of individuals.

Galtung’s concepts refer to human beings as the victims of structural and cultural violence but the definition applies equally to non-human life once moral consideration is extended to those beings. Within the industrial growth paradigm, non-human life is marginalized, exploited, alienated as “objects” for human manipulation, and denied freedom of movement, identity and cultural expression, and so on. Non-human life is virtually excluded from public discourse, rendering it powerless to act on its own behalf on its own right.

Thus the imperative of environmental ethics arises from the structural and cultural violence of socioeconomic systems which give no moral consideration to non-human life and grant it no legal standing. Industrially advanced countries are very much caught in a cultural dilemma in that, as Christopher Stone has pointed out, “Many of our so called ‘material comforts’ are not only in excess of, but are probably in opposition to, our basic biological needs” (306). Our current global situation is not one of regulating a few offenders, of finding fault with the actions of an isolable group of people, but of transforming the rationale behind the industrial growth paradigm and its narrative of “progress” and its vision of how “the good life” may be achieved and maintained.

In support of these radical goals, restorative justice’s victim-centered approach addresses anthropocentrism with regards to the suffering and marginalization of non-human life; its focus on the entire community as responsible for creating positive peace and justice addresses the need for transformation of the structural and cultural causes of environmental destruction; and its goals of building the healthy relationships necessary to reintegrate offenders into society addresses the need to reintegrate industrialized humans into just relations with the Earth Community.


We turn now to a discussion of two different ethical concepts which pre-existed and which complement the restorative paradigm of justice; one from India, the other from Africa. Although both of these ethical concepts are radically different from the modern western ideals of rugged individualism and utilitarianism, they remain anthropocentric and will be extended beyond the strictly human sphere to encompass nonhuman life as well.

Sarvodaya: The Well-Being of All. In her article “Restorative Justice in International Relations: A Gandhian Approach,” Vanmala Hiranandani offers a Gandhian account of the structural violence which must cease, in order to achieve the well-being of all. Gandhi’s ultimate goal was to achieve sarvodaya, or “the well-being of all without any discrimination between the rich and the poor, strong and weak, or good and bad” (Hiranandani 189).

Unlike classical or neoclassical economics and their utilitarian principles that believe in ‘the greatest good of the greatest number,’ Gandhi believed in the holistic well-being of all (Sarvodaya), not merely of the greatest number. Sarvodaya was a philosophical position of morality that Gandhi believed must underpin all human actions. In contrast to the emphasis in mainstream economics on personal acquisitiveness and material advancement, Gandhi adopted a holistic approach to well-being: in his view, societies must strive to promote not just the material, but more importantly the spiritual, psychological, corporal, and social well-being of all. Gandhi’s concept of Sarvodaya also incorporated a firm belief in Antodaya, that is, the welfare of the least advantaged. Antodaya was the pathway to Sarvodaya (welfare of all) (Hiranandani 189-190).

In contrast to the familiar, economics-bound utilitarian approach to human decision making in the industrialized world, Sarvodaya conceives of well-being as extending well beyond the material sphere and addresses the impoverishment which can result on other levels, i.e., spiritual, psychological, corporal and social, through an over-emphasis of any one of them. And if we understand that the environment and its non-human contents are easily amongst the least advantaged in the Earth Community, given very little consideration in the overall rationale behind the industrial growth model of human civilization and no voice to ensure their own welfare, this account resonates with a restorative approach to environmental ethics. In this view, neither the welfare of non-human life, nor the welfare of the human population of Earth is to be considered in strictly antagonistic terms.

Supererogatory or Obligatory? Yet one of the challenges of forming an environmental ethic in the industrialized world is the prevailing regard of the environment as both separate from and beneath humanity, who cast themselves as masters over nature (Plumwood; Ryder; Stone). In Plumwood’s ecofeminist analysis, the patriarchal mode of dominating that which is dualistically considered “other” is a result of or co-extensive with the denial of dependency upon that which is oppressed; in this case, non-human life or what could be termed “nature.”

Since an environmental ethic calls upon humanity to not only consider and honor its dependency upon nature but to also extend moral consideration to its constituents, it may be illuminating to consider the notion of supererogatory acts, or those acts which are considered to go above and beyond the duties that a moral agent has toward another. Such acts may be good but are not actually required. The term “first appears in the Latin version of the New Testament in the parable of the Good Samaritan” and while it has a long history in Roman Catholic thought, it has only since the 1960s been widely discussed in secular contexts (Heyd “Supererogation”).

Richard H. Bell provides a useful discussion in his book Understanding African Philosophy where he compares western philosophical notions of supererogation with the African universe of communitarian ethics. Bell calls upon the thought of Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Gyekeye in an attempt to understand the nature of social forgiveness, justice and reconciliation in Africa:

The scope of our moral responsibilities should not be circumscribed. The moral life, which essentially involves paying regard to the needs, interests, and well-being of others, already implies self-sacrifice and loss, that is, loss of something—one’s time, money, strength, and so on. There is, in my view, no need, therefore, to place limits on the form of the self-sacrifice and, hence, the extent of our moral responsibilities (as quoted in Bell 88).

Bell continues, “Such generosity promotes the welfare of another, and for Gyekeye, it ‘should be considered a basic moral responsibility,’ and is so considered in many African societies” (88).

Both Bell and Gyekeye write from a human-centered context and refer to relations between members of human societies, yet the widening of narrow self-interest hearkens to the task before industrial civilization today: making sacrifices in the expected or currently desired material standard of living to promote the welfare of that which is currently cast as “other” and without intrinsic moral worth, i.e., non-human life. However, an adequate environmental ethic would not ignore the relations between disparate human communities. Within the human sphere falls the question of which populations should be making deep sacrifices, and which populations should be aided in developing and improving currently inadequate infrastructure required to promote human welfare. What may be considered a supererogatory act from a nationalistic, ethnocentric or anthropocentric view may actually be required in an environmental ethic.

Ubuntu: A Vision of Interdependency. Bell also explores the operation of ubuntu, an Nguni word that expresses the “’ancient [African] philosophy which seeks unity and reconciliation rather than revenge and punishment’” (Alex Boraine, as quoted in Bell 89), which is tied to one’s personal identity. “Ubuntu is a conception of human nature according to which human beings depend on each other for their very existence” (Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 90). The presence of strong moral leadership in South Africa which called upon the ancient philosophy of ubuntu is thought by many to have been key to the prevention of civil war after the fall of the apartheid regime and the qualified successes of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC).

While it is inaccurate to characterize all Africans as sharing the moral outlook of ubuntu or to suggest that it forms the basis for all responses to gross injustices or even minor infractions, it offers a different model of relationships and responsibilities than that of retributive justice. What are considered supererogatory acts are recast as normal duties, and the deficiencies of the win-lose proposition of retributive models of justice become more obvious. I must promote the welfare of the “other,” and it is not only in their best interest but in mine as well, for my welfare is tied to the welfare of the other. This could not be more true than in the case of human dependency upon nature.

I believe the following passage from the Final Report of the SATRC illustrates our current juncture with the moral status of the environment:

“[I]ndividual and shared moral responsibility cannot be adequately addressed by legislation or this commission,’ but ‘what is required is a moral and spiritual renaissance capable of transforming moral indifference, denial, paralyzing guilt and unacknowledged shame, into personal and social responsibility” (emphasis in original, as quoted in Bell 90).

            Mere legislation within the current moral framework or even designing a truth and reconciliation commission to address crimes committed against the environment will not adequately address the problem presented by environmental ethics; only a new moral stance, a moral regeneration can provide the footing from which to proceed.


Perhaps the lessons around reconciliation within human societies can shed light on the process of forging a new moral discourse in the industrialized and “developing” world, which will dramatically affect the chances of survival for the entire Earth Community owing the fact of globalization, defined here as “the compression of time and space and the universalization of economic and social relations” (Linklater, 473).  Without reference to what scale of deployment might be practicable, a few pointers emerge:

Acceptance, respect and trust. Trudy Govier’s extensive research reveals that “[w]hat is crucial for reconciliation is that relationships of animosity and fear be replaced by better relationships characterized by acceptance, respect, and at least some degree of trust”(“Taking Wrongs Seriously” 18).On this point, perhaps it is the human community which needs to work on the fear and mistrust which feeds the desire to master or control nature in order to enjoy respectful, just relationships which operate within the limits set by the Earth Community.

Acknowledgment. Acknowledgment of wrongdoing plays a key role for “[m]ore than truth, more than knowledge of truth, acknowledgment involves a public consolidation and articulation of the truth” (Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 15). This seems to be an obvious key step along the way to a transformation of values, and would open the way to forgiveness of ourselves and certain relief for those who already inhabit a framework of environmental ethics.

Self-discovery. Salomon Lerner Febres of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission offers that “[t]he search for truth after a conflict…can constitute a second, precious opportunity for societies…. Bringing to light the truth is not only a way of acknowledging victims and identifying perpetrators and harms; it can also be a way to discover ourselves” (as quoted in Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 46). In this way an approach informed by restorative justice could open an avenue for deep questioning, self-reflection and the expansion of empathy and moral concern which is required to transition from an ecocidal civilization to an ecological co-habitation of the planet.

Testimony for posterity. The careful documentation of ecological harms could help create a shared sense of meaning and story around what happened and serve as testimony for the benefit of future generations. Again quoting Salomon Lerner Febres of Peru, “With the submission of its report to the country, the TRC believes that if it had ever been possible to claim ignorance or incomprehension of the drama that occurred in the early years of the conflict, it is no longer possible to do so” (as quoted in Govier “Taking Wrongs Seriously” 46).

Earth democracy. Societies in recovery from dictatorship and mass violence often have a difficult transition to democracy, a system of governance upon which those who have been most marginalized pin their hopes of future security. A movement towards earth democracy would be a likely outcome of a restorative approach to environmental ethics. Vandana Shiva’s proposal for earth democracy in her book of the same name, as well as the Earth Charter[3] provide useful starting points for serious consideration and arguably sophisticated frameworks.

Building relationships. Govier’s characterization of reconciliation as the building of equitable relationships has much currency in the propagation of environmental ethics. Continuing to relate to the planet through utilitarian economic abstraction will not create the conditions necessary to inculcate a sense of the intrinsic worth of non-human life. Building relationships implies the up close and personal process of dialogue, of attentive listening and using the empathic imagination.

Centrality of storytelling. Over and over again in the literature on societal forms of restorative justice, the need for storytelling is emphasized. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC) recognized that “Attention needed to be given to the decades of harm done to nonwhites by the former white-ruled regime in order for a new sense of justice” to form (Bell 93). For Bell, the SATRC process “in the best of worlds…can be understood as an historical philosophical dialogue, shaping a new discourse upon which South Africa may build a new civil society” (92). To restore and preserve the dignity of non-human life within an understanding of Earth Community would require human attention to the voices and preferences of non-human life and hearing their suffering.

These seven pointers gleaned from the lessons of reconciliation within human societies are helpful towards understanding how a new moral discourse in the industrialized world may be forged, but they are not without their problematic sides.


One of the main ideas behind restorative justice is to either reincorporate perpetrators into the community or, where relationships were unhealthy or nonexistent, to forge a healthy, equitable relationship between perpetrators and the community. When this notion is applied to the idea of Earth Community, several questions arise. In relation to the final point in the previous section, how are humans to listen to the voice of the “other” and ascertain the preferences of non-human life when the mode of expression may be so different from our own? Since restorative justice begins from a focus on victims and their needs, rather than perpetrators, how do we proceed when the victim is the environment?

Communication: More than Words. Fred Besthorn, a scholar of the intersections between ecology and social work, offers a few thoughts for consideration of the question of voice and listening to non-human life. Citing the work of philosophers Scott Friskics and David Abram on the possibility of dialogical relationships with nature, Besthorn argues from the perspective that human beings are embedded in a world constituted by “relational events” which are “physical, sensorial action experiences with living beings; human and non-human alike” (220). This world is inherently dialogical, with the assumption that relational events involve being addressed and responding and “networks of relational events take place in the context of self-speaking fellow creatures, both sentient and non-sentient” (220). In this view, speech or voice or the ability to dialogue does not require one to have a rational intellect or employ specifically human language.

Yet Besthorn leaves open the problem of interpretation of voice, of how exactly we are to address the “other” or how it addresses us. He does warn us that “Restorative Environmentalism must be careful not to succumb to the temptation to speak for the needs of the natural world through purely human monologues of re-creation” (emphasis in original, 223), but a precise plan for finding our way through the epistemological snarl remains as yet elusive. The best suggestion for a way forward may be to begin to practice listening again, for as David Abram’s phenomenological work The Spell of the Sensuous concludes, “to live, to be, to be present in the moment means to be addressed. What’s around us and what occurs to us addresses us” (Besthorn 221). If we are to apply restorative justice’s victim-centered approach, we must discover new ways or uncover old ways of hearing the voice of the natural world and assigning value to it. Or, if “voice” is too problematic, how could humans accurately discern the preferences of beings?[4]

A Legal Guardianship Approach. Legal theorist Christopher D. Stone has offered an alternative solution for granting legal rights to non-human life. Noting that non-human entities such as municipalities, corporations and other human institutions are presently allowed legal representation effectively as “persons” in the courts, Stone proposes we adapt the existing mechanism of guardianship, which is now used to represent and care for those persons who are deemed invalid or unable to protect and serve their own best interests, such as minor children, senile elderly people or others incapacitated. “On a parity of reasoning,” Stone avers, “we should have a system in which, when a friend of a natural object perceives it to be endangered, he can apply to a court for the creation of a guardianship” (303).

Recalling Besthorn’s warning against speaking for non-human life from a strictly human point of view, it is uncertain whether or not Stone’s approach could prove reliable without a preceding definite shift away from anthropocentrism. Stone’s proposal evokes the traditional Okanagan leader Jeanette Armstrong’s description of the indigenous democratic process of her tribe, where the voice of the land is included in decision-making through “land speakers,” which Armstrong herself was trained to be. She explains that land speakers are

trained by…Elders to think about the land and to speak about the land. What that means is that I don’t represent the people’s view and I don’t think of myself as an expert; I think of myself as one person who must continuously be responsible to my community. Each time a decision is made, even the smallest decision, my responsibility is to stand up and ask, How will it impact the land? How is it going to impact our food? How is it going to impact our water? How is it going to impact my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, what’s the land going to look like in their time? (71).

            Even within the decidedly more holistic indigenous worldview of the Okanagan, we see human concerns seep in and are left wondering if the modern, industrialized person isn’t tempted to overcorrect for our drift away from the Earth Community and completely de-center and negate the role of the human being. However, it seems that a chief problem never faced by traditional worldviews is the titanic power over the biosphere which humanity possesses today; we are now a major geological force on Earth (Berry). It is perhaps this power which challenges outmoded notions of supererogation to mature and forces the industrialized world at least to establish a new and deeper relationship with the human self and thus with the “other,” in order to realize Earth Community and assure its continuity.


We have seen how the themes of restorative justice can illuminate a way through the thorny issue of anthropocentrism in developing an environmental ethic, owing its victim-centered approach which calls upon universally available human values such as inclusion, responsibility, honesty, humility, interdependency, healing and respect. A focus on the transformation of structural and cultural violence through engaging all affected parties in the process of sharing stories and constructing a meaningful narrative of events holds the promise of moral regeneration and the new moral discourse required of the transition to full human membership and participation in Earth Community. And finally, the restorative focus on building healthy relationships based on respect and equality in order to promote trust and assure the future security of communities offers a way for the suffering, alienation and marginalization of non-human life to be acknowledged and ended. For the goal is not the mere absence of wanton, needless suffering and violence against other beings, but the expansion of the moral imagination, which will enable the human being to assume rightful, dignified membership in the Earth Community.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Jeanette. “An Okanagan Worldview of Society.” Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future. Ed. Melissa K. Nelson. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 2008. Print.

Bell, Richard H. Understanding African Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way into the Future. New York: Bell Tower, 1999. Print.

Besthorn, Fred. “The Environmental Restoration Movement as an Issue of Justice.” Restorative Justice Across the East and the West. Ed. Katherine van Wormer. Manchester, England: Casa Verde, 2008. Print.

Brennan, Andrew and Lo, Yeuk-Sze. “Environmental Ethics.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Stanford University. Web. 23 Jul. 2011. <;.

Gil, David. “Toward a ‘Radical Paradigm’ of Restorative Justice.” Handbook of Restorative Justice. Eds. Dennis Sullivan & Larry Tifft. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Govier, Trudy. Forgiveness and Revenge. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Govier, Trudy. Taking Wrongs Seriously: Acknowledgment, Reconciliation, and the Politics of Sustainable Peace.  Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2006. Print.

Gudorf, Christine E. and Huchingson, James E. Boundaries: A Casebook in Environmental Ethics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003. Print.

Harding, Stephan. Animate Earth. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2006. Print.

Harris, M. Kay. “Transformative Justice: The Transformation of Restorative Justice.” Handbook of Restorative Justice. Eds. Dennis Sullivan & Larry Tifft. NY: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Heyd, David. “Supererogation.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Stanford University. Web. 3 Aug. 2011. <;.

Hiranandani, Vanmala. “Restorative Justice in International Relations: A Gandhian Approach.” Restorative Justice Across the East and the West. Ed. Katherine van Wormer. Manchester, England: Casa Verde, 2008. Print.  

Jowit, Juliette. “Humans driving extinction faster than species can evolve, say experts.” Guardian UK.  7 Mar. 2010. Web. 27 Jul. 2011.        <;

Linklater, Andrew. “The Evolving Spheres of International Justice.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) Vol 75.3 (1999): 473-482. Print.

Mamdani, Mahmood. “A Diminished Truth.” After the TRC: Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. Eds. Wilmot James and Linda Van de Vijver. Cape Town: David Philip Publishers, 2000. Print.

Meadows, Donella. “Our Food, Our Future.” Organic Gardening Vol. 7.5 (2000): 53-60. Print.A

McCold, Paul. “The Recent History of Restorative Justice: Mediation, circles, and conferencing.” Handbook of Restorative Justice. Eds. Dennis Sullivan & Larry Tifft. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Roche, Declan. “Dimensions of Restorative Justice.” Journal of Social Issues Vol. 62.2 (2006): 217-238. Print.

Ryder, Richard. “Speciesism.”, n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2011. <;

Schatz, Mona. “Vital Voice for Restorative Justice: The Community Members.” Restorative Justice Across the East and the West. Ed. Katherine van Wormer. Manchester, England: Casa Verde, 2008. Print.

Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 2005. Print.

Singer, Peter. “A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation. Environmental Ethics. Eds. Louis P. Pojman & Paul Pojman. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2008. Print.

Soyinka, Wole. The Burden of Memory, The Muse of Forgiveness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Stone, Christopher. “Should Trees Have Legal Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.” Environmental Ethics. Eds. Louis P. Pojman & Paul Pojman. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2008. Print.

Terreblanche, Sampie. “Dealing with Systematic Economic Injustice.” Looking Back, Reaching Forward. Eds. Charles Villa-Vicencio and Wilhelm Verwoerd. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2000. Print.

van Wormer, Katherine. “Community Reparations.” Restorative Justice Across the East and the West. Ed. Katherine van Wormer. Manchester, England: Casa Verde, 2008. Print.

van Wormer, Katherine. “Restorative Justice Across the East and West.” Restorative Justice Across the East and the West. Ed. Katherine van Wormer. Manchester, England: Casa Verde, 2008. Print.

Weber, Thomas. “Gandhi, Deep Ecology, Peace Research and Buddhist Economics.” Journal of Peace Research Vol. 36.3 (1999): 349-361. Print.

Zehr, Howard. Changing Lenses: A new focus for crime and justice. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press. 1995. Print.

[1] M. Kay Harris (2006) presents a far more complicated view, noting that “references to restorative justice in the literature are exceedingly common, but there is divergence in specification of core features, values, range of applicability, and other matters” (555). For the purposes of this paper, I will rely on Hiranandani’s appraisal and approach it as a distinct paradigm of justice.

[2] This is not to say that activities necessary for human life cannot actually improve environments and favorably impact the conditions for flourishing life. See for example the permaculture approach which focuses on building healthy tilth (soil), a process which left to nature, is quite slow. Depending on local conditions, nature requires from 100 to 500 years to produce an inch of topsoil, whereas certain farming techniques can produce six inches of topsoil in fifty to sixty years (Meadows).

[3] The full text of the Earth Charter is available here:

[4] I extend my gratitude to Max Salamander for her Master’s thesis in progress which concerns the discernment of voice and preference of non-human life.