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The Environment: values and choices

In our part of the world (the Western world), moral values and legal codes
are heavily influenced by ancient Greek philosophy and Christianity.
Aristotle (384 - 322 BC), reflecting ancient Greek ideas, believed that
living creatures were arranged in a hierarchy, according to the type of soul
(life) they have. Because of his rational soul man was considered to be
above all other life forms
In the Bible we find that God created man in his divine image (unlike
other creatures which implies that they are inferior to humans).

God blessed them (man and women), saying: "Be fertile and
multiply; fill the Earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the
fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that
move on the earth." (Genesis 1: 27 28)

The long standing belief that other forms of life are inferior to humans,
and were created simply to serve human needs can perhaps partly explain
the lack of respect for our natural environment
However, our relationship with the environment is also very much about
needs, desires, egoism, status, control of resources, greed and power.
Humans need space for dwelling, food production etc. Modifying natural
habitats and harvesting from nature is necessary and inevitable. Yet,
preservation of the environment is just as important.
Deciding whether to modify or preserving the environment is all about
what we consider to be most important (aesthetics, recreation, the
economy or even plain survival).
Sometimes it is felt that more value is gained by transforming a natural
habitat for other uses. In other cases conservation is considered to be
more important and development proposals are refused and areas are
The choice of whether to develop or conserve depends on many factors:
e.g. perceived needs, public support or otherwise, the ecological value of
a site etc.

The Hilton Hotel (St Julians) despite protests from some NGOs when it
was being developed, its development still went ahead - the project was
considered to be overall beneficial for the country.

A proposed golf course at Xaghra l-hamra (Manikata) was abandoned

following strong public opposition the area is now part of a nature park.

Even within conservation, there are two contrasting philosophies,

reflecting different underlying values:

Utilitarian (anthropogenic) conservation conserving

biodiversity because humans depend on it.

Altruistic or stewardship (biogenic) conservation

Conserving biodiversity for of its intrinsic value rather than for
the benefits humans derive from it.

Few people consider all species to have equal value. Yet most people
accept that life itself has a certain value this makes it morally wrong to
needlessly eradicate species.
At international level, the desire to control physical resources (oil, water,
minerals etc.) often leads to tension and war the value of such resources
becomes the primary concern, taking precedence even over human life.
Mans present relationship with the environment can be summed up in the
light of two seemingly contradictory attitudes:

The need, desire and greed for resources that is leading to a

continuing degradation of our environment

Greater awareness of the need to use the environment in a

more sustainable way than has been done so far

Further reading

SOK: A multidisciplinary approach - Module 4

Essay 2. The Environment: A choice amongst values? Pg. 189191