Friday, December 20, 2013

LD Jan/Feb 2014 - Environment vs Resources - Aff Values

Resolved: Developing countries should prioritize environmental protection over resource extraction when the two are in conflict.

For the introduction and definitions to this topic, click here.
This is the second of a two part exploration of the Affirmative position of the topic.

The Affirmative Values

You may be surprised to learn there is an entire study of environmental ethics and from this we can derive strong support for the Affirmative case.  The Affirmative will be able to approach the values of environmental protection from a very broad ethical framework or from a more localized point of view which looks at the direct needs of the stakeholders.  Consider the following:

UT 2010:
Sahotra Sarkar, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin and leader in the study of environmental ethics, worked with the conservationists and energy producers to develop strategies that balance economic development and biodiversity protection while respecting the needs of indigenous people. "We really are talking about people's values," Sarkar says of his approach to environmental questions, "not just facts."...Sarkar... dismisses the idea that environmentalists from developed countries know what's best for habitats around the world and can impose those values on less-developed regions. "Local residents are privileged stakeholders," Sarkar, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, wrote in an article on the ethics and politics of conservation published last month in the journal Biological Conservation. "Given that not every biotic feature can reasonably be targeted for protection, what we decide to protect must be a cultural choice," he wrote.

The Affirmative world can be as big or small as the debater can defend.  For this reason, I will try to take broad swipe at the philosophical values possible for the Aff from global to local points of view.  If you are a regular reader of Everyday Debate, in a previous article on the Philosophy of LD (see here) I spoke about virtue ethics and the requirement to establish a common understanding of the purpose of humans.  Environmental ethics is another such ethical framework which requires an understanding of the purpose of the environment and its subsystems.

Intrinsic Worth

At, perhaps, the highest level of philosophical positions Affirmative can look to the intrinsic of value of life and its relation to the environment.  One may claim the purpose of the environment is to sustain life.  While initially intuitive, this position must be properly framed since Negative will no doubt claim resource extraction is an essential activity to sustain life.  The answer to this lies in an examination of the locus of the Negative position.  The life being preserved by resource extraction is anthropocentric and ignores the broader context of the biosphere. What is our duty to preserve other kinds of life?  This debate is not an animal-rights debate.  It is about finding value in the environment by recognizing it as something that is intrinsically good and thus worth preserving.

McDonald 2004:
Anthropocentric moral philosophy, it is argued, only acknowledges the intrinsic value of humans. "An anthropocentric value theory, by common consensus, confers intrinsic value on human beings and regards all other things, including all other forms of life, as being only instrumentally valuable... Intrinsic value is immediately introduced as a central topic or issue in environmental ethics. This statement of the problem introduces the relational aspect of intrinsic value to instrumental value within the context of anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric ethics. Because anthropocentric ethics only confers intrinsic value on humans, and instrumental value on the balance of the world, it is judged inadequate as an environmental ethics. The implication is that an adequate environmental ethic requires that the nonhuman sphere, in some sense to be defined, is recognized as having intrinsic value...."

Interestingly, we can look back to the University of Texas press-release cited previously and note Professor Sarkar says, environmental protection is a cultural choice.  Indeed, the anthropocentric ethic can more precisely be described as a Western, cultural ethic common in the so-called developed world.  There may even be a religion-based perspective that all things on the earth are to be subjugated to humans.  Many native and indigenous cultures already place a much higher intrinsic value on nonhuman life and ecosystems. Accordingly, some religions also hold to the idea that man has a caretaker's duty to protect the environment.  The claim that Negative may be espousing a value criteria which is simply incapable of properly weighing Affirmative values based upon the common academic consensus of the context of environmental ethics is an extremely powerful mechanism for dismantling the Negative position.

While we can claim the value of life and perhaps construct a value criterion such as recognizing the intrinsic value of the environment or ecosystems, Professor Robert Paehlke (formerly of Trent University) sees ecology as one of the core values.

Paehlke 2000:
Human well-being, and indeed human survival, depends on the success of an almost endless list of plant and animal species, often in ways we barely understand. Our global food reserves would endure for but a matter of months should our food production capabilities suddenly decline. That capability is determined in turn by rainfall and temperature, by the activities of many insect species such as bees, and by microbiological life within the soils of the planet. All of these in turn are affected by both plants and animals. Our well-being is determined by other species in other ways as well, not the least of which is our deep need for contact with, or awareness of the existence of, wild nature. The significant place of wild nature in human history has been captured by Max Oelschlaeger, who writes: 
"By abandoning the view that nature is no more than an ecomachine or a stockpile of resources to fuel the human project, preservationists tend not to be bulls in an ecological china shop. They typically reject a strictly economic approach to valuing wilderness, and entertain other considerations such as rarity species diversity, and even beauty. And by adopting a holistic view, preservationists are attentive to the pervasive linkages and interactions essential to any concept of a wilderness ecosystem."

This view supports the intrinsic value of ecosystems and provides the criteria of appreciation of wild nature as supporting the values within the framework of environmental ethics.  All humans are somehow connected to the beauty and importance of nature even if we do not fully comprehend why.  There is a sense of peace and security in the beauty of a thriving ecosystem and a profound sense of loss in their destruction.

Who Owns the Environment?

Answering this question is as much a matter of philosophy as one of law.  Remarkably, many governments make claims of ownership on the environment. For example, many states in the U.S. claim it owns the rain and have made it illegal for individuals to collect rainwater.  In some jurisdictions, nations claim ownership of oceanic fisheries despite knowledge the fish migrate over wide areas of the world's oceans.  Air, water, animals, air-borne particles and seeds, and many other things, move about the planet without regard to political borders, and governmental laws.  If there is a particular hill on my legally owned land which I decide to excavate for my own purposes, I suppose under U.S. law, no one can stop me as long as my efforts do not violate the rights of others.  I may claim I own my little parcel of the earth but what exactly does ownership mean with respect to the others? What about those who feel violated because they can no longer enjoy the view of now excavated hill from their parcel of the earth?  Thus we examine the relationship between legal claims and the protection of the environment. The interconnection of eco-realms defies borders and laws and thus speaks to the weakness of environmental laws to truly protect the environment.

Plicanic 2004:
The ecocentric ontology (prima ontologia) and the ensuing ecocentric ethics has long-term consequences for the shaping of human nomos. It demands that man create law and social order in compliance with the mentioned premise of the “natural law.” This means a departure from the western man's centrality in ontological duality which places man apart from Nature (cosmos). In creating order, the rules of behaviour, and laws, man must take into account his position in Nature (he is part of Nature and not its master) and his vital connection with other biotic communities.

So we add to the discussion the unthinkable notion that the environment itself is an entity which has rights and thus any law or government which fails to recognize this premise is illegitimate.  It should not come as a shock that an ecosystem exists as an entity with rights since, as Christopher Stone, eloquently explains, the history of law has assigned rights to non-entities such as states or corporations which do not exist outside of a legal context.  Such a notion was literally unthinkable in history and continues to be subject of debate in some circles.

Stone 1972:
Yet, long before [Justice Thurgood] Marshall worried over the personifying of the modern corporation, the best medieval legal scholars had spent hundreds of years struggling with the notion of the legal nature of those great public "corporate bodies," the Church and the State. How could they exist in law, as entities transcending the living Pope and King?
...Now, to say that the natural environment should have rights is not to say anything as silly as that no one should be allowed to cut down a tree.  We say human beings have rights, but - at least as of the this writing - they can be executed.  corporations have rights, but they can not plead the fifth amendment;...Thus to say that the environment should have rights is not to say that it should have every right we can imagine, or even the same bod of rights as human beings have.

Thus Stone proposes a kind of guardian ad-litem structure to protect the rights of the environment, much like the legal guardians of children, invalids, corporations, etc. In any case, if an intangible entity such as a corporation can have rights, how much more so, a tangible such as a tree or an entire ecosystem?  So what does this mean for the Affirmative debater?  It demonstrates how to extend the system of legal rights to the environment and perhaps, even assigning moral agency which increases intrinsic value.

Plicanic 2004:
The system of (human) rights is one of the central elements of the social organisation of western cultures. The right is actually a materialisation of justice (a just state respects the rights; human interaction is just if rights are respected). If in our search for the answer to the question, we depart from the actual philosophical context of rights, a single conclusion is possible. Justice in relationship to others (and hence also natural entities) is only possible if they have rights.

With the assignment of rights, we can now look to the fair distribution of just desserts and uphold the value of justice.  We can only give "each his due" when we recognize the rights of nature as well the rights of human beings.

Plicanic defines justice in a legal context as the correctness of law and derives natural equilibrium as a criterion for justice.

Plicanic 2004:
The incorporation of Nature in the very essence of law inevitably triggers a redefinition of legal values. The natural equilibrium, i.e., the equilibrium of life (including human life), as a central value of ecocentric ecological awareness is becoming a legal value. In this sense, we could speak of the expansion of the legal subject, i.e. the expansion of values which are the subject of legal protection.The following is of crucial importance: natural equilibrium is becoming a basic and a common legal value. The definition of natural equilibrium as a criterion (framework) of correct law places the maintenance of natural equilibrium as a legal value in initial position. It is obvious that the natural equilibrium is thus becoming a fundamental legal value, a fundamental criterion of the correctness (justice) of law.

The Pragmatic Values

So now we can move the discussion toward a more pragmatic view and talk about the core values of environmental protection. As I have mentioned above, defending the value of life will require one to answer the Negative side's rebuttal, that resource extraction is essential to sustain life. Of course none of this means we should not place higher prioritization on environmental protection.  The quality of life is a value which can supersede life itself. We may live, but at what cost in terms of the joy of living, happiness, peace and safety? What about impact on human health? In a way, quality of life is a container for other values. We tend to judge the quality of our lives based upon how well we are doing at attaining our other values.
Let's examine one such value.


The value of health is important as the link which connects environmental protection with the legal framework of human rights.

Shelton 2002:
...the links between human rights, health and environmental protection were apparent at least from the first international conference on the human environment, held in Stockholm in 1972. Indeed, health has seemed to be the subject that bridges the two fields of environmental protection and human rights. At the Stockholm concluding session, the participants proclaimed that:
Man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. . . . Both aspects of man=s environment, the natural and the manmade, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights Β even the right to life itself. 
Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration established a foundation for linking human rights, health, and environmental protection, declaring that: 
Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.

Shelton describes how environmental protection can be prioritized while at the same time permitting governments to act with "eyes-wide-open" as it were.

Shelton 2002:
Procedural human rights are emphasized in environmental agreements. Several dozen international treaties adopted since the Stockholm Conference call upon states to take specific measures to ensure that the public is adequately informed about environmental risks, including health risks, posed by specific activities.11 In addition to the right to information, the public is also given broad rights of participation in decision-making and access to remedies for environmental harm. The protections afforded have increased in scope and number since the adoption of Principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Among the many international agreements utilizing procedural human rights to achieve better environmental protection in order to protect human health, the important Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, (Aarhus, June 25, 1998), signed by thirty-five Sates and the European Community, takes a comprehensive approach. The Convention builds on prior texts, especially Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration, which it incorporates and strengthens. The Preamble forthrightly proclaims that Αevery person has the right to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and wellbeing, and the duty, both individually and in association with others, to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.

This idea of informed consent, in my opinion, demonstrates prioritization since actors are fully informed of the potential environmental health impacts of their actions in advance of moving forward with projects.  The value of protection of health, as a human right drives the protection of environment in principle. It at least provides a justification for actors to first consider the environmental impact of action and this is the definition of prioritization.

The Moral Values

On one level, the values at stake are driven by the market economy and so a cost-benefit analysis will be an inevitable outcome in this debate.  It is probably a rather unfair debate if that is the only evaluative standard.  How does Affirmative place a real dollar value on protection of the environment? At best one may be able to place a monetary value on environment damage in terms of health costs, loss of life, etc. with no real assurance that the next development project will produce the same quantified value of environmental impacts.  In reality, and I touched upon it earlier in the analysis; some things are beyond valuation.  For example, how does one price the impact of seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time?  what is the economic value of bird-song?  There are things in nature which can not be economically valued and yet are worth preserving at any cost.

Sagoff 2004:
Objects of ethical and aesthetic judgments do not as such have economic value but moral and aesthetic value; as the eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, they have a dignity, not a price.  These things are said to be good from the perspective of the world or from the perspective of a particular moral community. For example, we think of hallowed places, such as the  battleground at Gettysburg, as being important because of what happened there - because of sacrifices that occurred in the past, not benefits that may accrue now or in the future. We may think of some places as being so beautiful or majestic that they are worth preserving for their expressive and symbolic properties and not just for the uses we may make of them...

Immanuel Kant's views on environmental protection are notably anthropocentric as pointed out be several authors.  This may be problematic if you combine Kantian moral philosophy with the non-anthropocentric framework of normative environmental ethics.  In an of itself, it is not particularly troubling when the anthropocentric view is aimed toward preserving the environment rather than justifying its destruction.

Ataner 2012:
Adopting a Kantian perspective on ecological issues alleviates (at least potentially) the usual need for the advocate of environmental preservation to invoke considerations regarding the public good (health, welfare, wealth, etc.) in contraposition to concerns regarding the interests of the private owner (in using the things he owns as he pleases, to his benefit, for instance in making a profit, etc.). Instead, it demands that we ask the following basic question: is the sustainable use of natural resources a rational, normative imperative from the standpoint of the Kantian conception of freedom as such? 

Kant's view on the morality of environmental protection is somewhat complex and academics have written entire papers taking various paths (usually in defense of Kant's views) to explain Kant's position.  At the heart of the Kantian moral philosophy is the familiar categorical imperative.  The principle position basically claims one's duty to the environment is rooted in one's duty to self.

Oliviera 2011:
It should also be noted that the duty to preserve natural beauty does not arise from our duties to others, but from duties to ourselves, our duty to cultivate our moral disposition. The text that explains this shift in the grounding of duties towards nature is certainly the Doctrine of Virtue, which appears in the second part of The Metaphysics of Morals. This is the work where Kant distinguishes nature-related duties and duties to nature.
"A human being can therefore have no duty to any beings other than human beings; and if he thinks he has such duties, it is because of an amphiboly in his concepts of reflection, and his supposed duty to other beings is only a duty to himself. He is led to this misunderstanding by mistaking his duty with regard to other beings for a duty to those beings."
Kant is concerned, then, with duties that are grounded on morality’s supreme principle, whereby mankind is seen also as an end, and not just as a means. Such duties do not concern nature primarily, but have implications for it.

In the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant explicitly lays out his position.

A propensity to wanton destruction of what is beautiful in inanimate nature (spiritus destructionis) is opposed to man’s duty to himself; for it weakens or uproots that feeling in man which, though not of itself moral, is still a disposition of sensibility that greatly promotes morality or at least prepares the way for it: the disposition, namely, to love something (e.g., beautiful crystal formations, the indescribable beauty of plants) even apart from any intention to use it.
With regard to the animate but non rational part of creation, violent and cruel treatment of animals is far more intimately opposed to man´s duty to himself, and he has a duty to refrain from this; for it dulls his shared feeling of their pain and so weakens and gradually uproots a natural predisposition that is very serviceable to morality in one´s relations with other men. Man is authorized to kill animals quickly (without pain) and to put them to work that does not strain them beyond their capacities (such work as man himself must submit to). But agonizing physical experiments for the sake of mere speculation, when the end could also be achieved without these, are to be abhorred. Even gratitude for the long service of an old horse or dog (just as if they were members of the household) belongs indirectly to man’s duty with regard to these animals; considered as a direct duty, however, it is always only a duty of man to himself.

Kant therefore, sees our predisposition for respect of nature as a kind of reflection of our moral capacity. So whatever it is, that makes us capable of acting morally can be "weakened" or "uprooted" by improper treatment of the irrational nature.  This view does not require any kind of utilitarian framework, and has no need to assign moral agency to governments of corporations.  The decision to protect nature arises strictly from each individual's duty to oneself and no one else.


For now, I will conclude this discussion of the value of environment protection or more properly its prioritization.  There is obviously, much more ground that can be covered. For example, we did not discuss sustainability and our obligations to future generations.  No doubt, at this point in your LD career (we have been debating since September), you will be able to think of values that can be applied to the Affirmative position.  Check this article for advice on selecting values.


Philosopher Brings Human Values to Environmental Decisions
University of Texas, News
April 14, 2010

Environmental Ethics and Intrinsic Value; John Dewey and Environmental Philosophy
State University of New York Press, 2004
Hugh P. McDonald

Environmental Values and Public Policy 
(in Environmental Policy, 4th ed., 2000 , Vig and Kraft eds, CQ Press pp:77-97) 
Robert C Paehlke

Should Trees Have Standing? - Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects
christopher D. Stone, Professor of Law, USC.; 1972

The Concept of New (Ecocentric) Legal Philosophy
Gatherings, Journal of Internation Community for Ecopsychology
Dr. Senko Plicanic, 2004

Health and Human Rights Working Paper Series No 1
Human Rights, Health & Environmental Protection: Linkages in Law & Practice
A Background Paper for the World Health Organization, 2002
Dinah Shelton, Professor of Law, Notre Dame London Law Centre, London

Price, Principle and the Environment
Cambridge University Press
Mark Sagoff, 2004

Kant on Freedom, Property Rights and Environmental Protection; McMaster University
Attila Ataner, 2012

Law, Environmental Policy and Kantian Philosophy
Bioethics / Medicine / Technology / Environment
Maria Lucia de Paula Oliveira, 2011


  1. How would you feel about human dignity as an aff value? Would that be too squirrely?

    1. I do not think human dignity is squirrely but I also do not think it is a uniquely Affirmative value. Surely Neg can claim it potentially preserves or enhances human dignity. Go back and read the Hume excerpt in the Neg Position post and you will see a great deal of human dignity being restored to people as a result of resource extraction.

  2. How does societal welfare sound as a value? Along with utilitarianism as the criterion

    1. I think it is very workable. I think util definitely works as long as one is very explicit about util as a governmental criterion for decision making. It has nothing to do with util as a criterion for moral decision making on an individual level.

  3. do you think i could use mother nature as my value criterion and life as my value? They are what we are trying to protect? any ideas on this?

    1. You can use life as a value, but I have no idea how to use "mother nature" as a criterion.

  4. If I were to use societal welfare as my value and consequentialism for my criteria, do you think that I could include arguments about environmental ownership and the rights of the environment in my argument along with how human life would be impacted?

    1. Consequentialism seems a little broad to me but I think governments or societal structures do well to serve the greatest majority (while protecting minority rights). So this is consequentialist. I think the idea of rights of environment would fit this framework if the environment is a more or less equal member of society.

  5. What do you think of a value of morality and maximizing societal welfare as my value criterion?

    1. Honestly, it depends on your definitions. Based on your framework, the value of morality (perhaps doing the right thing) is upheld by maximizing societal welfare which is typically a government obligation. Therefore, by extension, you are defining moral action by an institutional actor. This is why I think definitions are important. A value of government legitimacy works with your criterion.

  6. How do you feel about using eco-centrism as the value and defining it as "a point of view that recognizes the ecosphere, rather than the biosphere, as central in importance, and attempts to redress the imbalance created by anthropocentrism." I found this definition, and it seems to go well with the criterion of rejecting anthropocentrism. Do you think that value/value criterion combination will be good?


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