Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 9, Issue 8, pp 1029–1044 | Cite as

Biodiversity and environmental values: in search of a universal earth ethic

  • Bryan G. Norton


While biodiversity protection has become a widely accepted goal of environmental protectionists, no such agreement exists regarding why it is important. Two, competing theories of natural value – here called ‘Economism’ and ‘Intrinsic Value Theory’ – are often cited to support the goal. Environmentalists, who have recently proposed the articulation of a universal ‘Earth Charter’ to express the shared values humans derive from nature, have cited both of these theories as support for biodivesity protection. Unfortunately these theories, which are expressed as polar opposites, do not work well together and the question arises: is there a shared value that humans place on nature? It is argued that these two value theories share four questionable assumptions: (1) a sharp distinction between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘instrumental’ value; (2) an entity orientation; (3) moral monism; and (4) placeless evaluation. If these four assumptions are denied, an alternative value system emerges which recognizes a continuum of ways humans value nature, values processes rather than only entities, is pluralistic, and values biodiversity in place. An alternative theory of value, which emphasizes protecting processes rather than protecting objects, and which values nature for the creativity of its processes, is proposed as a more attractive theory for expressing the universal values of nature that should motivate an Earth Charter and the goal of biodiversity protection.

biodiversity creativity social values value theories 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bryan G. Norton
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Public PolicyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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