Placing a Value on the Environment How do we place a value on any aspect of our environment? How do we choose between two different concerns? The value of the environment is based on eight justifications: utilitarian (materialistic), ecological, aesthetic, recreational, inspirational, creative, moral, and cultural. The utilitarian justification is that some aspect of the environment is valuable because it benefits individuals economically or is directly necessary to human survival. For example, conserving lions in Africa as part of tourism provides a livelihood for local people. The ecological justification is that an ecosystem is necessary for the survival of some species of interest to us, or that the system itself provides some benefit. For example, a mangrove swamp (a type of coastal wetland) provides habitat for marine fish, and although we do not eat mangrove trees, we may eat the fish that depend on them.
Also, the mangroves are habitat for many noncommercial species, some endangered. Therefore, conservation of the mangrove is important ecologically. Another example: Burning coal and oil adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which may lead to a climate change that could affect the entire Earth. Such ecological reasons form a basis for the conservation of nature that is essentially enlightened self-interest.
Aesthetic and recreational justifications have to do with our appreciation of the beauty of nature and our de- sire to get out and enjoy it. For example, many people find wilderness scenery beautiful and would rather live in a world with wilderness than without it. One way we enjoy nature’s beauty is to seek recreation in the outdoors. The aesthetic and recreational justifications are gaining a legal basis.