Sun-Earth System
Value Systems of Nature
- Supplement
Understanding Environmental Issues
- Supplement
Risk & Uncertainty



  • The Value of Life by Stephen Kellert, Island Press, 1996. Chapters 1 and 2 (Course packet)
  • Natural Capitalism, Preface, Chapter 1

Question 1

The word "value" means worth. It also means the set of ethical precepts on which we base our behavior. Among some values that are reflected in many cultures are: fairness and justice, compassion and charity, species survival, duties, rights, ...

Chapter 2 of Kellert's The Value of Life discusses a typology of values that is specific to the way we think of nature or non-human species. Summarize in a table (see sample start below) these values, their definition, and their perceived or real benefit to society. To do this, think of how and for what purpose you might justify using the perspective of a given value system in a situation of having to decide behaviors with respect to the environment. For example, the utilitarian view is often advanced as a good foundation for public policy because it gets the greatest societal good, in many people's views.


Utilitarian Greatest good for greatest number (of people) ; exploitation of nature for people Security and physical well-being of society; often termed "Quality of life"
Naturalistic Etc…..  


  • Make a list of the values for inter-human behavior that you consider important for the maintenance of a "good" human society (how do you define good?).
  • Which of these do we implement, or apply as guidance for our behavior towards the environment? How would these "environmental " values be implemented or reflected in individual or societal behavior?
  • Which of these are presumed (reflected?) in governmental decision making in the United States?
  • Think of a course or other instance in which a teacher or decision maker has ascribed a (implicit or explicit) value to nature, or to parts of it. How would you classify this (set of) value?
  • Think of an example in which you make a decision affecting nature. Explain briefly how you would classify your value system in that instance.
  • Choose one environmental regulation of the United States. In two or three sentences, describe the main objective of this regulation. Describe briefly the set of values embedded in it.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION: Figure 1 taken from Chapter 3 of Kellert (page 41) shows a rough estimate from his studies of these classes of values towards living diversity in American Society. The data (frequency of values) represent over 3000 interviews in 49 states of the U.S.

Question 2 : You may do this question in groups. Remember rules for group work. Have each group member sign.

The following questions may be answered together as a single essay if you wish.

What are the fundamental tenets of "natural capitalism"? What values are being integrated, or at least reconciled, by these principles?

Using the example you cited above of a decision of yours affecting nature, discuss how that might be changed if you follow the principles of natural capitalism?

In an overall sense, what would the greatest shifts in societal values have to be in order for the principles of natural capitalism to operate in our society?

  ©Copyright 2003 Carnegie Mellon University
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 9653194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.