Human Time, Ecological Space, and Global Justice

Yukinori Iwaki, PhD Candidate


Requirements for a (minimally) decent life come from two overarching dimensions in which a person exists: human time and ecological space.  Time is necessary for various human activities such as the reproduction of physical well-being, the exercise of personal autonomy, caring activities for one’s dependants (including the birthing and rearing of a child), labour to produce and accumulate social wealth, etc.; and also, to live a life means to live a certain length of time in the first place.  Meanwhile, for a person to live a decent life, he needs to interact, socially or individually, with the ecological space that provides the material means of life.  For example, for societies to produce the goods and services that are conducive to human life (i.e. social wealth), they need material inputs available from ecological space, and for a person to subsist at all, he needs to get water and foods by putting labour upon ecological space.  In short, a person lives a life in time and ecological space.

My argument on these assumptions is this:

(a) The existing global economic system in which the advantaged population in the globe are complicit as contributors to or beneficiaries of its preservation deprives the disadvantaged population in the globe of secure access to ecological space, on the one hand, and of the time they need for living a minimally decent life, on the other;

(b) The deprivation of human time and ecological space under the existing global system constitutes what I call the ‘absolute harm’ against the disadvantaged – the state of affairs in which one’s life is made to sink below an absolute criterion (minimum threshold) of human well-being;

(c) In so far as the advantaged are complicit in the preservation of this harmful global system, and thereby gain extensive command over ecological space, on the one hand, and maintain an extensive degree of discretionary time, on the other, they owe the disadvantaged what Tim Hayward calls ‘ecological debt’ and what I call ‘temporal debt’; and

(d) The facts that there is the urgent circumstantial reason for someone to put things right (namely, the absolute harm constantly caused and perpetuated under the global system), that the advantaged are complicit in the harmful global system, and that they gain ability to put the situation right through this complicity, together, hold the advantaged remedially responsible for putting the situation right.