The Nature of Values: Environmentalism

University of Leeds: Environmental Challenges: Rights & Values of the Ecosystem Services.

The nature of values

Not all values can be measured by money. These can represent different ways of seeing and relating to the world.

On the other hand, they can also be called incommensurate because they represent different sets of personal preferences that may not overlap. Different people make decisions for reasons that may not be compatible with each other.

Financial incentives are often used to encourage society to be economically productive and follow a certain course of action relative to the value of an individual. Sayings such as “money can’t buy you love,” “greed is the root of evil,” and “money makes the world go round,” represent different values, they are incompatible, one is not wrong and the other right, however, it is important to recognise their value.

Confusion is often a result of identifying only one value, which is commonly financial incentives. Society’s difference between policies is their love for nature over money.

Society benefits from the market interaction of individuals; it also benefits rich people more than poor people. If the number of people looking for jobs exceeded the number of jobs available, society might appear to benefit if the indicator is a national increase in industrial production (if a company increased production size, more jobs would be available). However, individuals would suffer if there was cheap migrant labour, wages and benefits decrease and no jobs available.


Laws to protect labour markets so that individual rights of workers to a fair wage and good conditions are protected. Protect certain species of plants and animals in wild nature. They are not for sale and anyone who captures or digs them up will be prosecuted.

Three types of values


Utilitarianism is a family of normative ethical theories that prescribe actions that maximise happiness and well-being for all affected individuals.

Adam Smith’s invisible hand, “[The rich] consume little more than the poor, and despite their natural selfishness and rapacity…they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.”

The environmental cost of greenhouse gas pollution of household waste in the price of fuel or waste disposal creates a market that provides overall environmental benefits.


Deontology is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action.

These are negotiated by the government and then enforced. It might be illegal to pick certain species of orchids or trade in certain types of wildlife. In these cases, the exploitation of orchids or wildlife is not controlled by the invisible hand of the market but by the enforcement of laws.


Prudence, temperance, courage, justice

The Greek philosopher Aristotle regarded those virtues as a goal that society should strive for or as a guiding principle that directs the way we live and act. In that, we should morally aim to live in harmony with nature and enjoy the happiness that this brings.

What problems could result from category errors?

This can result in some strange decision-making, with unintended consequences.

“Category error is made by looking at the direct value of products which results in monetary value assessments rather than looking at the intrinsic value. To generate direct values may require conversion of the biological diversity and its components on the ordinal scale and this ranking shall cause irreparable consequences to society and individuals.”

The intrinsic value is a measure of what an asset is worth. This measure is arrived at using an objective calculation or complex financial mode, rather than using the current trading market price of that asset. Our capacity to have values of life comes from our environment, the heaviest influences are our contacts in our day-to-day life and culture and the society we live in.


Strongly comparable values.

Cardinal Scale

Values that apply financial costs.

Ordinal Scale

Weakly comparable values.

Convention on Biological Diversity

The conscious intrinsic value of biological diversity and the ecological genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational, and aesthetic values.

This index helps clarify information and knowledge regarding the reduction or loss of biological diversity, noting that the fundamental requirement for the conservation of biological diversity is the in-situ conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings.

Acknowledging further that special provision is required to meet the needs of developing countries, including the provision of new and additional financial resources and appropriate access to relevant technologies. Stressing the importance of, and the need to promote, international, regional, and global cooperation among States and intergovernmental organisations and the non-government sector for the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components.

Audiences and bias in the media

Utilitarian values about nature can represent “use wildlife or lose it.” The discourse here is that if wildlife has a monetary value, then society is more likely to preserve it than if it does not provide financial returns. The invisible hand of the market will ensure a continuous supply. In contrast, there may be a discourse about nature conservation that is rooted in moral values of love, happiness and mutual respect.

Confirmation Bias

Sought out information that conforms to their perspective to confirm their beliefs.

News plays an important role in creating balanced reports that present different discourses fairly, however many media outlets target confirmation bias audiences.

Can you balance these three discourses?

  1. Elephants are magnificent animals that have an intrinsic right to live in their natural habitats.

  2. To ensure sustainable conservation of elephants, they should be culled and the profits from the sale of meat and ivory used to manage the herds for posterity.

  3. Preserving elephants for future generations is imposing an excessive cost on present generations through alienation of land for national parks, thereby denying local people their traditional livelihoods.

No. Each point has far different values.

Three benefits of the policy

- To understand different policy perspectives & self-presentation within a policy process

This is expressed through the language that policymakers use.

Identity is constructed through linguistic means. This has implications for how actors are categorised and treated in policy contexts.

- Attention to language (inter-relationship)

The active and unconscious use of communication; persuasion, rationalisation, influence.

The costs and benefits that they consider in deciding on their behaviour.

- Language of the interaction

The overly procedural approach in devising new spaces for communication.

Ensure equality of voice, defence of deliberation against strategic action and sensitivity to the scope, scale, and complexity of environmental issues.

The roots of this lack of attention to the details of language even within those analysts of policy who see the policy as essentially communicative. Uncertainty exists because of scientists’ incomplete understanding of ecosystem functioning; however, environmental problems are invariably linked to issues of resource distribution, and there are always economic, social, and political implications of any environmental policy.

When ecological systems interact with economic, social, and political systems through the policy process, the level of uncertainty associated with environmental problems is greatly magnified.

The assumption is that actors don’t draw on a comprehensive discursive system, instead this is evoked through storylines.

Cape York – Case Study 176

Analysing dominant policy perspectives – the role of discourse analysis | David G. Ockwell & Yvonne Rydin.

Pastoralists tend to burn land to promote the growth of green grass for their cattle to feed on. They justify their use of fire for several reasons including hazard reduction where it is argued. There are several aboriginal reserves where indigenous communities are free to pursue their traditional burning practices.

Aboriginal burning caused the recession of earlier rainforests in favour of savanna or whether the recession of the rainforest was the result of climate change characterises the lack of scientific consensus surrounding this debate as an ‘inherent circular argument concerning the cause and effect of climate change, vegetation change and burning through the late Quaternary.’

Burning in tropical northern Australia has changed in modern times, coinciding with the displacement of Aborigines by European settlers.

Dry-season high-intensity flames now define anthropogenic burning with increased fuel loads over larger areas. This has reduced fire-sensitive vegetation in some areas. There has also been a lack of fire in other areas, which has enhanced fire-sensitive ecosystems

The Permit to Light Fire system operated by the Queensland Rural Fire Service (Queensland State Government, 1990) provides that landholders can, in theory, be prosecuted if they light a fire outside of the terms of a Permit. The problem, however, has always been in proving who lit a fire.

Cape York Peninsula Sustainable Fire Management Project provides an online service where fires on Cape York can be tracked by satellite, when cloud cover does not interfere, the origin of fires can sometimes be identified. Unless the fire was lit on your land.

Coordinating the Permit to Light Fire system, Rural Fire Services implement a series of controlled burns at the beginning of the dry seasons.

- Process Interested landholders request for the Rural Fire Service to carry out burning on their land. They do this by flying a light aircraft along the boundaries of participating properties and dropping flammable bombs, this is performed to prevent or reduce the spread of wildfires.

- Agency Queensland’s Environmental Protection Agency also supports the pro-burning policy discourse. This agency is responsible for achieving ‘ecologically sustainable development’ under the terms of the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

Environmental Protection Agency actively uses fire as a land management tool on National Park land as part of their land management policy. This is also in line with the rationale for the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy’s fire-relevant policies.

- Claim A landholder is required to disclose to the local Fire Warden any arrangement they have with other government agencies that obliges them to protect some aspect of their property from fire for environmental reasons. The only instance where such an agreement might limit burning is when a public road runs through the property.

Once a landholder has informed their Fire Warden of any such agreement, it is then up to the Warden to consider this when detailing the conditions of the Permit to Light Fire. Wardens are all local stakeholders themselves chosen by the Rural Fire Service’s local knowledge of their area of responsibility.

- Controversial “Some stakeholders, however, are critical of this practice as being too indiscriminate and not accounting for environmental considerations in terms of whether the various affected ecosystems are able to cope with regular, or indeed, any fire” Russell Smith highlighted in 2003.

‘The local volunteer Fire Warden should not be responsible for policing environmental issues’ based on them not possessing sufficient knowledge to do so. This agency is responsible for achieving ‘ecologically sustainable development’ under the terms of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Queensland State Government, 1994).

The pro-burning policy stance in Cape York does not, however, have unanimous support from all stakeholders. Whilst many stakeholders are pro-burning, including Aboriginal communities, pastoralists and government scientists whose rationales for burning were summarized above, there are also two key stakeholder groups who are primarily anti-burning.


The value of discourse analysis in understanding the policy dominance of the pro-burning discourse in Cape York, we analyse primary data in the form of the transcript of a seminar hosted by the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre in 1992, ‘Tropics Under Fire. Fire Management On Cape York Peninsula’.

1) Analysis of later conferences and extensive consultation with Cape York stakeholders have demonstrated that there has been little change in attitude since the 1992 seminar was held.

2) The 1992 seminar constituted the widest and most equally proportioned representation of the various stakeholder groups. The transcript thus provides a useful summary of both the pro and anti-burning discourses from the perspectives of all the key stakeholders and interest groups.

“It might be argued that the anti-burning discourse is placed in the position of challenging the established pro discourse, a task that is bound to require additional discursive resources as the existing policy scenario is well established. Those stakeholders who are anti-burning must promote a new storyline of ‘fire is undesirable’ and actively dismantle the ‘fire is desirable’ storyline. This suggestion of an embedded bias towards the established ‘pro’ storyline is, however, somewhat undermined by the framing of the seminar itself.”

‘Tropics Under Fire’ and the illustration on the front cover of the conference transcript of a bird and other iconic animals fleeing smoke and flames lit by a giant, match-wielding human hand suggests that at least within CAFNEC there could be a bias towards the ‘fire is undesirable’.