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

- Supplemental Information for the Environmental Educator -

For this exercise, students should have read:

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

Question 1

The purpose of this question is to encourage the student to reflect on how they and others perceive nature and the many values it offers. The table below is a sample of possible answers. It is adapted mostly from Stephen Kellert's The Value of Life.

Utilitarian Material benefit derived from exploiting nature to satisfy various human needs and desires. · Provide food, medicine, clothing, tools, and other products.
Naturalistic The many satisfactions people obtain from the direct experience of nature and wildlife · Engage the human spirit of curiosity, exploration, and discovery.
· Provide relaxation, calm, and peace of mind.
· Stimulate intellectual growth, creativity, and imagination.
· Enhance physical fitness.
Ecologistic - Scientific

An emphasis on biological patterns, structures, and functions of nature.

  · The ecologistic view emphasizes interdependence among species and natural habitats.
· The scientific understanding stresses structures and processes below the level of whole organisms and ecosystems.
· Explore the biophysical elements of nature.· Comprehend and sometimes control living diversity.
· Develop a capacity for precise observation, systematic analysis, and empirical study.
· Recognize material benefits from exploiting and mimicking natural processes.
· Instill a cautious respect for maintaining natural systems and a reluctance to overexploit species and habitats.
Aesthetic The physical splendor of the natural world. · Evoke a strong, primarily emotional, register in most people that provokes feelings of intense pleasure, even awe.
· Reflect an intuitive recognition of an ideal modeled in nature - suggest a striving after integrity, harmony, and balance in nature.
· Animate, direct, organize, and emotionally charge the human response.
· Provide encouragement.
· Provide templates of action for humans struggling to impose meaning and order on an existence filled with challenge and the potential for chaos.
Symbolic The use of nature for communication and thought. · Provide forms for expressing ideas and emotions.
· Build human ability to use language to exchange information among ourselves.
· Represent the symbolic transforming of nature within ourselves.
· Offer countless distinctions and opportunities for language development.
· Used in story, myth, and fairy tale to assist in resolving dilemmas of selfhood, authority, power, and parental and societal relationship.
· Offer a means for confronting fundamentals - and often painful issues - of identity, sexuality, and authority.
· Provide terms to facilitate everyday discourse.
· Produce poetry and vigorous discourse.
Dominionistic The desire to exercise mastery over nature. · Confront humans with significant challenges, physical and mental.
· Test and refine people's capacity for enduring, even mastering, the chore of survival in the face of worthy opposition.
· Hone people's ability to subdue and control the unruly and threatening elements of their world.
Humanistic The close (intimate) association with wildlife and nature · Provide an avenue for expressing and developing the emotional capacities for attachment, caring, bonding, intimacy, kinship, and companionship.
· Use in mental and physical therapies with disturbed, lonely, and estranged people.
· Provide healing in the natural environment.
· Increase the likelihood of cooperative, altruistic, and helping behavior.
· Enhance ability to direct these emotions toward others.
· Enhance confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to cope with the stresses of life.
Moralistic A value (sense of purpose) flowing from discerning a basic kinship, stamped by a common genetic code and elementary features of cell structure, binding all life together.

· Suggest a basic symmetry, design, and even purpose.
· A source of spirituality, suggesting a fundamental order and harmony in nature, even a guide to human conduct.
· Provide an ethic directing humans to minimize harm to other creatures viewed as fundamentally like ourselves.
· Develop religion, philosophy, and the arts based on the moralistic sentiments of spiritual connectedness and ethical responsibility for nature.
· Foster kinship, loyalty, and cooperation.
· Provide confidence, which flows from the conviction that a basic kinship binds all living creatures and the natural world together.

Negativistic The natural world as a powerful carrier of hostile and negative feelings: aversion, fear, and dislike, for example

· Evoke threatening and antagonistic sentiments to a degree as great as any encountered in the human experience.
· Encourage a healthy distancing and even respect for nature.
· Develop a sense of awe, respect, and even reverence for the natural world.

Summary taken from Chapter 2 of The Value of Life
by Stephen Kellert, Island Press, 1996


Following is a chart summarizing responses to the portion of the question asking for a "list of values for inter-human behavior that you consider important for the maintenance of a "good" human society." These responses were taken from Dr. Nair's "Science and Technology for the Environment" Spring 2001 course, taught at Carnegie Mellon University.


Question 2: (May be done in groups)

1. Strained Ecological - Living Systems
  • Services from living systems are critical to human prosperity
    (i.e. water storage, flood management, clean air, clean water, waste processing, etc.)
  • As strain on living systems increases, limits to prosperity will be determined by natural capital.
  • Ecological strains cause or exacerbate many forms of social distress and conflict.
2. Current Economic System Does Not Assign Value to Natural and Human Capital (Industrial Capitalism)

"At the beginning of the industrial revolution, labor was overworked and relatively scarce …it is people who have become an abundant resource while nature is becoming disturbingly scarce."

  • Assumes abundant resources
  • Neglects to assign value to large stocks of employed capital - natural resources, living systems, social systems, and cultural systems
  • Damage to ecosystems not factored into the cost of production
  • Acknowledges difficulty in assigning monetary values to natural and human resources:
    A. Many services from living systems have no known substitutes
    B. Assigning value difficult and imprecise
    C. No substitute for human intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, organizational abilities.
3. Economic - Environmental - Social Revolution is Inevitable

"… the conventional wisdom is mistaken in seeing priorities in economic, environmental, and social policy as competing. The best solutions are based not on tradeoffs or 'balance' between these objectives but on design integration achieving all of these together - at every level, from technical devices to production systems to companies to economic sectors to entire cities and societies."

  • Overturn long held assumption and values
  • Promote economic efficiency, ecological conservation, and social equity
  • Shift from an economy that emphasizes human productivity to one that emphasizes resource productivity.
  • Establish a shared biological - social framework drawing on industry and government's talent and energy to solve environmental and social problems.
  • Shift from neoclassical economics and accounting to one that accounts for the biological realities of nature
  • A reconciliation between human and living systems
  • Reduce resource use and improve the quality of life
  • Rethink the structure of the reward system of commerce
  • Policy and tax reforms
  • Corporation and institutions not paying attention will lose competitive advantage
4. Natural Capitalism

"Natural capitalism recognizes the critical interdependency between the production and use of human-made capital and the maintenance and supply of natural capital."

  • Behave as if all forms of capital were valued

  • All forms of capital are interrelated and interdependent

  • Four types of capital required for an economy to function properly:
    A. Human capital: in the form of labor and intelligence, culture, and organization
    B. Financial capital: consisting of cash, investments, and monetary instruments
    C. Manufactured capital: including infrastructure, machines, tools, and factories
    D. Natural capital: made up of resources, living systems, and ecosystem services

  • Four central strategies of natural capitalism:
    A. Radical Resource Productivity: Using resources more effectively, slows resource depletion at one end of the value chain, lowers pollution at the other end, and provides a basis to increase worldwide employment with meaningful jobs.
    B. Biomimicry: Reducing the wasteful throughput of materials by redesigning industrial systems on biological lines and enabling the constant reuse of materials in continuous closed cycles, and often the elimination of toxicity.
    C. Service and Flow Economy:
    - A shift from the acquisition of goods as a measure of affluence to an economy where the continuous receipt of quality, utility, and peformance promotes well-being.
    - A service economy wherein consumers obtain services by leasing or renting goods rather than buying them outright.
    - An Intelligent Product System whereby those products that do not degrade back into natural nutrient cycles be designed so that they can be deconstructed and completely reincorportated into technical nutrient cycles of industry.
    - Product is a means, not and end.
    - Increase employment
    - Stabalize the business cycle because customers would purchase flows of services, needed continuously, rather than durable equipment that is affordable only in good years.
    D. Investing in Natural Capital: Reversing the worldwide planetary destruction through reinvestments in sustaining, restoring, and expanding stocks of natural capital.
  ©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.