Statements of intrinsic value

Traditionally, Australian policy statements dealing with various aspects of the environment have examined the values of the environment purely in human terms.  It is a mark, I believe, of the sophistication (or lack of it) of their underlying philosophies that non-human values are considered of such little significance that they are not even worth mentioning.

The National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity (1996) however, made a clear statement which has been picked up and repeated by a number of jurisdictional strategies.

"There is in the community a view that the conservation of biological diversity also has an ethical basis. We share the earth with many other life forms that warrant our respect, whether or not they are of benefit to us. Earth belongs to the future as well as the present; no single species or generation can claim it as its own."

For example, the Australian Capital Territory Nature Conservation Strategy (1998) states:

A RESPECT FOR NATURE ETHOS
There is a widely held ethical basis for conserving biodiversity.  It is expressed in the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity in the following terms: 'We share the earth with many other life forms that warrant our respect, whether or not they are of benefit to us.  Earth belongs to the future as well as the present; no single species or generation can claim it as its own.

Buddist teaching contains an important requisite to "protect all sentient beings from suffering" - implying a need to value and care for all sentient life forms.  This concept goes some way towards a respect for nature ethos.   Taken together with Buddist teachings on the interconnectedness of all things, this sets Buddism apart from most other religions in so far as the philosophy contains the building blocks of current ecological thinking.  As far as I am aware, however, modern Buddist leaders, such as the Dalai Lama, have not used this foundation to move Buddism towards a 'care for the planet' ethic (see, for example, the Dalai Lama's books: The Power of Compassion, and Ancient Wisdom, Modern World). 

With the exception of the work of Saint Francis of Assisi, the concept is notably absent from Christian teachings.  The respect for nature ethos is implicit or explicit in many tribal religions and cultures.  It has had various advocates within Western culture, Spinosa being an early example.  Leo Tolstoy's short story "King of Assyria" is based on the concept.  Many authors within the Deep Ecology movement have espoused the need for respect for nature values.  A respect for nature ethos is explicit in the writing of Rachael Carlson (eg: Silent Spring) in the late 1960s, and in the work of David Ehrefeld (around 1972).   

Internationally, governments which signed the United Nation's World Charter of Nature (1982)  agreed to "respect the inherent worth of nature beyond human purpose".  Australia is a signatory to the Charter. 

There are other Australian policy statements which contain the concept to a lesser or greater extent.   The Victorian State Conservation Strategy 1987 (page 10) referred to "conservation for nature's sake".  The Victorian Biodiversity Strategy (supporting the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act) strategy document 2, 1997: "Victoria's biodiversity:  sustaining our living wealth" p.7:

"Beyond all this, the environment is something more than a commodity for our benefit. We share the Earth with many other life-forms that have their own intrinsic value.  They warrant our respect, whether or not they are of immediate benefit to us."


At the Commonwealth level, Our Country, Our Future - the Statement on the Environment by the then Prime Minister RJL Hawke (1989) referred to the concept (see "Why is the environment important" p.3).

 

A plea

I urge you, whenever the opportunity presents itself, to advocate the explicit recognition of the need to respect nature in all policy documents, whether they be government, or corporate.  Moreover, as humans, we must not be content with statements of philosophy or rhetoric.  I believe that we must act to protect the non-human inhabitants of this planet, at our expense.

 

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