Protection of the Environment, the Biosphere and Biodiversity

  • Johan Hattingh
Reference work entry


What exactly does the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity entail? To what extent are they in crisis currently, what are the drivers behind this crisis, and why is it important that one should do something about this crisis? What exactly should one focus on when protecting the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity, and why should one do so? In this chapter, an overview is given of the conceptual, philosophical, and ethical challenges related to finding answers to these questions. The crux of this discussion is devoted to different kinds of values that can be used to justify protection. The most commonly used arguments for the protection of the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity appeal to their instrumental value. In this context, distinctions are made between the direct use value, indirect use value, amenity value, option value, and existence value that humans can derive from protection of the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity. While these values can be emphasized in isolation from one another, causing either a destructive overemphasis of use value or a romantic overemphasis of the nonconsumptive (use) value of the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity, the notion of ecosystem services is discussed as a framework within which these instrumental values can be combined serving as they do as the basis of human well-being. On the other hand, intrinsic value arguments are often emphasized in environmental ethics to counter the reduction of the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity to mere commodities, or to objects of management at arm’s length from humans and thus at their disposal to use at will. Under the best interpretations of these intrinsic value arguments, the focus falls on a respectful reverence for the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity, the components that make them up, as well as the ecosystemic and evolutionary processes they entail – conceptualized not as commodities but as prerequisites for the existence, continued evolution, and flourishing of all life on earth. Under this interpretation of intrinsic value, the use of the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity is not precluded but strongly qualified in that any such use should be careful, considerate, and equitable to enhance and not undermine the conditions under which life (including both human and nonhuman life) can continue to evolve and flourish on earth. In the introductory parts of this chapter, discussion is devoted to issues around definitions of, and conceptual overlaps and differences between environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity, as well as conceptual difficulties that are caused by the vagueness of these terms, efforts to define them objectively, and approaches to them that only emphasize their constituent elements, neglecting a holistic vision that also emphasize the ecosystemic processes they entail and their evolution over time. This chapter concludes with an outlook on the future of the environment, the biosphere, and biodiversity.


Ecosystem Service Earth System United Nations Environmental Programme Biodiversity Loss Environmental Ethic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Afeissa, H. (2009). Intrinsic and instrumental value. In J. B. Callicott & R. Frodeman (Eds.), Encyclopedia of environmental ethics and philosophy (Gale, cengage learning, Vol. 1, pp. 529–531). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.Google Scholar
  2. Callicott, J. B. (1999). Beyond the land ethic: More essays in environmental philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  3. Carson, R. (2002). Silent spring. New York: Mariner Books. (1st. Pub. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).Google Scholar
  4. Costanza, R. (1991). Ecological economics: The science and management of sustainability. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Davis, M. A. (2009). Invasion biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Ehrenfeld, D. (1988). Why put a value on biodiversity? In E. O. Wilson (Ed.), Biodiversity. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  7. Faith, D. P. (2008). Biodiversity. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition). URL:
  8. Fox, W. (1995). Toward a transpersonal ecology: Developing new foundations for environmentalism. Totnes, Devon: A Resurgence Book.Google Scholar
  9. Gardiner, S. M. (2011). A perfect moral storm. The ethical tragedy of climate change. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gaston, K. J. (Ed.). (1996). Biodiversity: A biology of numbers and difference. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, New Series, 162 (3859), 1243–1248. Also available at:
  12. Holland, A. (2001). Sustainability. In D. Jamieson (Ed.), A companion to environmental philosophy (pp. 390–401). Malden, MA/Oxford, UK: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jacobs, M. (1995). Sustainable development, capital substitution and economic humility: A response to Beckerman. Environmental Values, 4, 57–68.Google Scholar
  14. Johnson, D. L., Ambrose, S. H., Bassett, T. J., Bowen, M. L., Crummey, D. E., Isaacson, J. S., Johnson, D. N., Lamb, P., Saul, M., & Winter-Nelson, A. E. (1997). Meanings of environmental terms. Journal of Environmental Quality, 26, 581–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kempton, W. M., Boster, J. S., & Hartley, J. A. (1995). Environmental values in American culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  16. Laurance, W. F. (1999). Reflections on the tropical deforestation crisis. Biological Conservation, 91, 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Luck, G. W., Daily, G. C., & Ehrlich, P. R. (2003). Population diversity and ecosystem services. Trends in ecology and evolution, 18(7), 331–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. l., Randers, J., & Behrens III, W. W. (1972). The limits to growth. A report to the Club of Rome. New York: Universe Books. Also available at:
  19. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis, p. vi, available at:
  20. Morin, E. (1999). Homeland EARTH: A manifesto for the new millennium (Advances in systems theory, complexity and the human sciences). London/England: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  21. Næss, A. (1973). The shallow and the deep, long-range ecology movement. Inquiry, 16(1), 95–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Norton, B. G. (2003). Searching for sustainability. Interdisciplinary essays in the philosophy of conservation biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. O’Neill, J., Holland, A., & Light, A. (2008). Environmental values. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Pimm, S. L., Russell, G. J., Gittleman, J. L., & Brooks, T. M. (1995). The future of biodiversity. Science, 269, 347–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Primack, R. B. (2006). Essentials of conservation biology (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.Google Scholar
  26. Raup, D. M. (1991). Extinction: Bad genes or bad luck? New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  27. Reaka-Kudla, M. L., Wilson, D. E., & Wilson, E. O. (Eds.). (1997). Biodiversity II: Understanding and protecting our biological resources. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.Google Scholar
  28. Rolston, H., III. (2001). Biodiversity. In D. Jamieson (Ed.), A companion to environmental philosophy (pp. 402–415). Malden, MA/Oxford, UK: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Routley, R. (1973). Is there a need for a new, an environmental ethic? In Proceedings of the 15th World Congress of Philosophy (Vol. 1, pp. 205–210). Sophia: Sophia Press.Google Scholar
  30. Solow, R. M. (1993). Sustainability: An economist’s perspective. In R. Dorfman & N. S. Dorfman (Eds.), Economics of the environment: Selected readings (3rd ed., pp. 178–187). New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  31. Soulé, M. E., Estes, J. A., Berger, J., & Del Rio, C. M. (2003). Ecological effectiveness: Conservation goals for interactive species. Conservation Biology, 17(5), 1238–1250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stern, N. (2010). A blueprint for a safer planet: How we can save the world and create prosperity. London: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  33. Swilling, M., & Annecke, E. (2012). Just transitions. Explorations of sustainability in an unfair world. Claremont: UCT Press (in South Africa). Tokyo: United Nations University Press (in North America).Google Scholar
  34. TEEB. (2010). The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity: Mainstreaming the economics of nature: A synthesis of the approach, conclusions and recommendations of TEEB. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. Hosted by UNEP, this report is available at:
  35. The Ecologist. (1972). A blueprint for survival. The Ecologist, 2 (1). Also available at:
  36. The Royal Society. (2012). People and the planet. The Royal Society Science Policy Centre report 01/12. Also available at:
  37. Turner, G. (2008). A comparison of ‘The limits to growth’ with thirty years of reality. Canberra: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).Google Scholar
  38. WCED. (1987). Our common future. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development to the United Nations. Available at: Known as the Brundtland Report, also published in 1987 at Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  39. Wilson, E. O. (Ed.). (1988). Biodiversity. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  40. Wilson, E. O. (1992). The diversity of life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations