Monday, December 30, 2013

LD Jan/Feb 2014 - Environment vs Resources - Neg 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 Negative position of the topic.

The Neg Position Values

In studying the possible arguments of the Neg position, it is important to evaluate the exact meaning of prioritizing environmental protection with respect to resource extraction.  I expect there will be tendency to believe that resource extraction nearly always results in some environmental damage.  After all, if it did not, then why prioritize environmental protection in the first place?  Further, in situations where resource depletion is likely, there is an assumption of environmental harm.  Affirmative debaters will likely exploit the ideology of Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" and link it to the idea of harms against the common interest through negative environmental impacts.  Regardless of one's views on the possible harms of resource depletion, which can be tragic in its own right, the Affirmative case is very weak if resources can be extracted without negative environmental impacts. As I have already stated, if resources can be extracted without environmental harm, then why prioritize environmental protection? Indeed, it is reasonable to assume the decision to extract resources is preceded by careful analysis of the Pros and Cons and certainly environmental impact will be one such consideration but not necessarily the most important consideration.  This is how it works in the so-called developed world, so what about the developing world?

Buch-Hansen 2008:
The developing countries have repeated at numerous international conferences that they should not be the first to cut down on the utilization of natural resources like preserving the tropical forests and the biodiversity or limiting their emission of green house gases or other pollutants threatening major ecological systems. They are just imitating what the rich part of the world has already done for centuries.

Regardless of the calculus used by developing countries to make their decisions, Negative can always make the claim that if environmental protection is not prioritized in the developed world, why should it be in the developing world?  That is not to say, that just because the developed world exploited its own resources to the harms of the environment in the past we should allow developing countries to do the same.  It is to say, we should allow countries to decide based upon criteria which are important to their own interests and not the interests of the world at large.  This leads to a host of useful values for the Neg, such as sovereignty, governmental legitimacy, security etc. with criteria such as upholding the common good, utilitarianism, and so on.  All values and criteria relative to the developing country and not the world at large.

The Hierarchy of Needs

We can begin our analysis of values looking at the hierarchy of needs which establishes a sort of prioritization of needs whose fulfillment increases the well-being of humans and assures their survivability.

Ayers 2011:
For a better future, we must design a society that meets our needs. And what are those needs? The most famous elaboration is Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  Maslow believed that humans are happy when these needs are met.  He listed the needs in order of priority.  Humans must first fill their basic "physiological" needs shown at the bottom of the pyramid, and then provide for "safety."   Meeting these needs makes it more likely that a human will survive long enough to fill the next need of "love/belonging," which makes it more likely that they will propagate their genes.  Because natural selection does not operate at levels higher than love/belonging, many people to not progress to "esteem" and finally "self-actualization," which is defined as a person meeting their full potential.  A sustainable society would give people the opportunity to become "self-actualized," to meet their full potential.

The needs hierarchy establishes a basis for understanding, not only what humans view as their must fundamental requirements for survivability but also establish a clear picture of how the fulfillment of needs are prioritized.

Lawn 2006:
... the needs hierarchy indicates that once basic physiological needs have been satisfied, desires originating from a higher level of existence begin to emerge. As they do, an individual’s desires are no longer dominated by the need for food, clothing, and shelter, but by the need to satisfy emerging psychological needs. It is at this point that a healthy human existence requires the emerging higher-order needs to be satisfied along with basic physiological needs – what Weisskopf (1973) refers to as a healthy existential balance.

If one accepts that humans place first priority on those concerns at the base of the oft-depicted pyramid, it is simply a matter of deciding where on the pyramid one places resource extraction and environmental protection.  Neg can easily defend the idea that resource extraction is very often aimed at supplying the most basic fundamental needs of developing societies, such as feeding and sheltering people in a sustainable and secure way.  Granted, a good environment plays a role in sustainability but the question is, at what level of needs fulfillment do humans begin to prioritize environmental protection? It hardly seems like the most important value when basic needs go unanswered.

Needs Criteria

Linking resource extraction to sustaining basic human needs allows us to uphold a number of values useful for the Negative debater's position. First and foremost, I suppose, life is sustained by meeting basic human needs and this value may be esteemed over all other values since otherwise there are no humans alive to esteem the values.  Still, in my experience, life is notoriously difficult to win when anything less than massive loss of life is at stake. Nevertheless, life is a value that can and should be considered for the Negative debater.  Related are all of the values which seem to flow from life or more properly the quality of life.  These include dignity, well-being, happiness and so on.  While the Affirmative side may claim the intrinsic value of the environment or other qualities arising from environmental protection enhance the quality of life, they are not essential to achieving the fundamental levels of the sense of well-being if basic human needs are being neglected.  In fact, I think Neg can make the argument that environmental protection will only succeed at adding a certain level of enrichment to the quality of life, only through development can the higher needs of self-actualization be met.  Thus environmental protection is positioned as a nicety while resource extractions meets the needs which drive well-being such as sustenance, security, and the ever-increasing needs sustained by development.

Resolving the Conflict

This resolution affirms environmental protection should be prioritized over resource extraction when the two are in conflict. But the question is, when are they in conflict?  I can understand on one level, that tensions and conflict will increase when resources are extracted and the stakeholders are not being adequately compensated and in many cases, environmental concerns provide a convenient justification for protest and conflict.  Nevertheless, on a fundamental level, it can be argued that virtually all forms of resources extraction leave an environmental impact.  Basically, it is impossible to extract resources without some level of harm to the environment and so the two are always in conflict.

Buch-Hansen 2008:
Nature is by definition manipulated by humans as we throughout history have been eking out the needs for survival and hereby have created our environments.  Nature, untouched by humans, is no longer thinkable. Even the most remote small plant on a faraway mountaintop is impacted by the changing composition of the atmosphere, acid rains, the thickness of the ozone layer, etc. Nature is transformed into 'natural environments', manipulated by human development.

In fact, it can be argued Aff concedes the requirement for resource extraction.  Since the two priorities can only conflict if resource extraction is occurring, then we must conclude the requirement for resource extraction is a foregone conclusion, undisputed by Aff.  Based on this revelation Neg can claim resource extraction always comes first or it would not even be possible to have this debate.  For those times, when environmental protection concerns rise to the level which triggers conflict, it is not a question of prioritizing those concerns, it is merely a question of how to alter the methods of extraction to be more environmentally friendly.  It can be argued that prioritizing technological development will enable the resolution of the environmental/resource conflict.

Deliberate emphasis on technological development to organize space and design man-made capital in built-up structures to enhance sustainability can certainly enhance both intra- and inter-generational equity. Everyone concerned with development, not least development studies, must contribute to that. However, we will never escape the moral/political question on how to define needs for the present generations and ensure equity around the world nor avoid the principle of precaution to care for future generations. We should focus on supporting livelihoods and enhance welfare with the environment and not against it!

The idea of intra- and inter-generational equity is discussed in relation to who reaps the benefits of resource extraction.  Obviously, the generation of individuals that extract resources will gain benefits. Equity is increased when all of the stakeholders receive benefits.  Inter-generational equity occurs when future generations are included in the group of stakeholders. Inter-generational equity is used to enhance arguments for sustainability of resources.  Please note that sustainability, which can be key to the Negative position does not mean, we cease extracting resources, rather it means we continue to extract in a way which ensures benefits to future generations. This includes benefits which arise from environmental integrity. A truly equitable method of resource extraction ensures sustainability to the greatest possible extent and potentially solves conflicts which may arise from concern over environmental protection.

This develops into sustainability as a value or at least as a criterion for achievement of other values such as equity or justice (of the Rawlsian variety).

Value Wrap-up

I have a feeling that initially, this debate will be difficult for the Negative.  The need for resource extraction is a practical reality which is implicitly acknowledged by the wording of the resolution itself.  Since resources must be extracted from the environment, it means the environment will be impacted and there will be calls to protect the environment by mitigating the negative impacts of extraction activities. But, what is the bright-line for conflict between the two?  As long as the extraction activities are conducted in a way which mitigates environmental impacts Negative can claim the bright-line for conflict does not exist.  One way Neg demonstrates proper consideration for the environment is by adhering to the principles and practices which establish sustainability.  For this we can look to Rawlsian principles and ensure that the extraction activities maximize fairness for the least advantaged including future generations.  I definitely think you will find support in Rawls philosophies if you decide to advance sustainability but I leave it to you to do the research.  The topic is diverse and often complex.

At minimum, Negative can never allow the debate to be a "one or the other but not both" position.  Without resource extraction there can be no conflict.  With no conflict there can be no debate.  For me, this is one of the difficulties in framing this position.  Nevertheless, if one allows the debate to be a mutually exclusive choice, Neg's position will be that resource extraction is absolutely necessary to meet the direct needs of individuals.  Perhaps Affirmative can argue the best position is to cease all extraction activities which exceed the environment's ability to sustain itself and assimilate anthropogenic waste products but I think it is a utopian position.  Generally speaking judges, at least in our region of the LD debate world, are very reluctant to vote up utopian worlds.

In the first part of the Negative position, I discussed the necessity of resource extraction and framed it as the key to the kinds of economic and technological advancement which can potentially solve the conflict and in this part I discussed how provisions for equitable resource extraction solves the conflict.  I think for now you have enough to frame-up a value framework which can fully turn the Affirmative position.


The Cooperation Commons
Summary of: Governing The Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action
Author(s) / Editor(s) Ostrom, Elinor

The Sustainability Revolution: A scientific analysis of beneficial changes for societies, communitiies, and individuals;
John C. Ayers, 2011

Sustainable Development Indicators in Ecological Economics
Edited by Philip Lawn, Flinders University, Adelaid; 2006

Space - the essential dimension of sustainable development;Global Governance for Sustainable Development
Mogens Buch-Hansen, Roskilde University, 2008


  1. can i have solution as a value and the future as a value criterion? It is the best I got? Any ideas on this?

    1. I was wondering if governmental legitimacy would work as a value? That way you can tie it into Rawlsian philosophy and prove resource extraction should be prioritized.

    2. At least half of the rounds I have seen on this topic have used gov. legitimacy as a value. Most have used some form of "realpolitik" or similar idea as a criterion in order to establish practical obligations as a standard for determining legitimacy. The Rawlsian philosophy may also work but will require a very explanation.

  2. HI, I was going for an Eco imperialism sort of case, and I was wondering if these value and criterion worked together. I'm having trouble seeing which would work best. My value criterion I think is going to be the rational choice theory. And my value is going to be either sovereignty, self determination, autonomy or liberty.... Any thoughts??

    Thanks for your help!!

    1. I like the idea very much. As for rational choice theory, if it used with idea of applying a cost-benefit model it can work. For the value, autonomy or determinism are more geared toward individual choice whereas sovereignty is a value for states.

  3. Would justice work well as a value and if so what could I use for my criterion?

  4. Interesting point about your idea that all resource extraction harms the environment: That is only the case if you assume the resolution is talking about natural resources. You mentioned earlier that most will probably do this, but it could be a good angle from the neg standpoint to play with the definition of "resource".


Feel free to leave comments relevant to the topics and activity of competitive high school debate. However, this is not a sounding board for your personal ideologies, abusive or racist commentary or excessive inappropriate language. Everyday Debate blog reserves the right to delete any comments it deems inappropriate.