Genesis of Eden

Genesis Home

Takacs, David, 1996 Philosophies of Paradise,
The Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr., Baltimore.
ISBN 0-8018-5400-8

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.

Extract from: Values


The most obvious value biologists might promote for biodiversity-although one cited less often than others-is that it has value for science. As the raw material for biological study, biodiversity is essential for the scientific endeavor to continue unhindered. If we recognize science and its goals as unquestionable, overarching goods, then this value transcends mere subjective preference. "As living organisms," asserts Thomas Lovejoy, "we have a vested interest in not limiting the growth of that branch of knowledge known as the science of life. For that reason alone we must be concerned with the survival of each and every species." We are not just people with conflicting value systems: we are "living organisms" who depend on that science and the raw material it requires. Testifying before Congress in 1991, Lovejoy declared that "the variety of life on earth represents an extraordinary intellectual resource, and is essentially the basic library on which the life sciences can build ... the kind of rapid loss that we are experiencing in the .20th century is a form of book-burning and one of the greater anti-intellectual acts of all time."' The book-burning metaphor scares us, and the adjective anti-intellectual shames us into assenting to biodiversity's scientific value. Not only is biodiversity the "living library" of biology, it "can inspire larger activities"-living things may supply "inspirational value" for larger discoveries. Lovejoy notes that the discovery of how the venom of the bushmaster viper works led, by analogy, to the development of the prescription drug Capoten for high blood pressure, which nets $1.3 billion annually for its makers. An NSF panel advocates saving the endangered desert pupfish, which survives in only one western hot spring, as it might be a model for human understanding of heat tolerance. And biodiversity has scientific value in inspiring a curiosity that is perhaps more finely honed in biologists, but that we are all said to have. Funk says, "Learning about the unknown and figuring things out and understanding what's going on is part and parcel of our nature." Edward 0. Wilson also feels we have this drive to know; biodiversity is necessary to satisfy the need to explore in each of us, as well as for the formalized exploration called science.' So biologists claim that biodiversity must be preserved as raw material for them to study, while simultaneously seeking support to study it. Biologists depict themselves as obligatory points of passage for a society that wants knowledge of biodiversity, wants to know what it is, how we can use it, how we can save it. The more they understand it, the greater the number of uses we find for it, the greater the demand for its preservation. Its scientific value increases concurrently with its other values.


As we might expect, ecologists and conservation biologists proclaim biodiversity's ecological value. These ecological arguments can be interpreted as human-value-centered and selfish or nonhuman-value-centered and unselfish, or some permutation of these. "Ecosystem services" may have value of and for themselves-in other words, it may be argued that keeping ecosystems healthy and functioning has value apart from any human valuer or any value humans may obtain from them. We may thus value biodiversity because we value the continued healthy functioning of ecosystems as such, regardless of any services biodiversity performs for us. More often, however, humans are said to benefit from such ecosystem services. Half a century ago, Aldo Leopold warned: "Recent discoveries in mineral and vitamin nutrition reveal unsuspected dependencies in the up-circuit: incredibly minute quantities of certain substances determine the value of soils to plants, of plants to animals. What of the down-circuit? What of the vanishing species, the preservation of which we now regard as an esthetic luxury. They helped build the soil; in what unsuspected ways may they be essential to its maintenance?"

More recently, Jane Lubchenco feels very strongly that people are in fact much more dependent on ecosystem services that are provided by both managed and unmanaged ecosystems than is generally perceived to be the case. So I think it's sheer folly for us to act in ways that are undermining the ability of both managed and unmanaged ecosystems to provide these services that we're depen dent on. And that we're doing that more and more as we pollute and destroy habitats, or alter habitats in one fashion or another. And I guess the bottom line is that we're changing the environment faster than our ability to understand the consequences of how we're changing it."

Most predictions of eco-doom are predicated on this argument, and many are stated in much more dramatic terms than those Lubchenco employs. As the argument runs, a myriad of organisms, especially "little things," comprise ecosystems that provide countless services that keep the Earth's biotic and abiotic processes up and running.' According to Souls, "Many, if not all, ecological processes have thresholds below and above which they become discontinuous, chaotic, or suspended." Biodiversity may regulate these processes; among its many talents, biodiversity is said to create soil and maintain its fertility, control global climate, inhibit agricultural pests, maintain atmospheric gas balances, process organic wastes, pollinate crops and flowers, and recycle nutrients.' Confusion in this line of argumentation ties back into why the concept of biodiversity has risen to prominence. Remember that biologists have scant understanding of the roles that species or populations play in maintaining ecosystems. In interviews, Lovejoy, Falk, and Ray confessed that you can strip away many species from an ecosystem without loss of ecosystem function. Ehrlich points out that by the time a species is endangered, it has probably stopped playing an important role in keeping the system functioning anyway." Furthermore, it is not clear whether we should focus on species as functional cogs in the ecosystem wheel, or whether ecological services are emergent properties of ecosystems themselves. With the biodiversity concept, these dilemmas become nearly moot. Biodiversity embraces lists of species, lists of ecosystems, the interactions of species within ecosystems, and the processes that species may maintain or control. When arguing on behalf of bio-diversity, one need not focus on the specifics-specifically, the specifics of what we don't know. It is enough to explicate some of the functions that keep ecosystems running, or that ecosystems provide for us, and then extrapolate to the dangers associated with declining biodiversity. Peter Raven bases his thinking on Leopold's observation "To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering":

"In every sense, in the sense of communities that will preserve soil, promote local climate, keep the atmosphere, preserve water, and every thing else, the first rule of being able to put together communities well or have the world go on functioning well, or to keep climates as they are, or to retard disease, to produce products we want sustainably, be cause, after all, plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria are the only device we have to capture energy from the sun effectively-in all those senses, and in the sense that we're losing the parts so rapidly, I con sider the loss of biological diversity to be the most serious problem that we have-far more serious than global climate change or stratospheric ozone depletion, or anything else."

"Habitat destruction and conversion are eliminating species at such a frightening pace that extinction of many contemporary species and the systems they live in and support ... may lead to ecological disaster and severe alteration of the evolutionary process," Terry Erwin writes." And E. 0. Wilson notes: "The question I am asked most frequently about the diversity of life: if enough species are extinguished, will the ecosystem collapse, and will the extinction of most other species follow soon afterward? The only answer anyone can give is: possibly. By the time we find out, however, it might be too late. One planet, one experiment."" So biodiversity keeps the world running. It has value in and for itself, as well as for us. Raven, Erwin, and Wilson oblige us to think about the value of biodiversity for our own lives. The Ehrlichs' rivet-popper trope makes this same point; by eliminating rivets, we play Russian roulette with global ecology and human futures: "It is likely that destruction of the rich complex of species in the Amazon basin could trigger rapid changes in global climate patterns. Agriculture remains heavily dependent on stable climate, and human beings remain heavily dependent on food. By the end of the century the extinction of perhaps a million species in the Amazon basin could have entrained famines in which a billion human beings perished. And if our species is very unlucky, the famines could lead to a thermonuclear war, which could extinguish civilization."" Elsewhere, Ehrlich uses different particulars with no less drama:

What then will happen if the current decimation of organic diversity continues? Crop yields will be more difficult to maintain in the face of climatic change, soil erosion, loss of dependable water supplies, decline of pollinators, and ever more serious assaults by pests. Conversion of productive land to wasteland will accelerate; deserts will continue their seemingly inexorable expansion. Air pollution will increase, and local climates will become harsher. Humanity will have to forgo many of the direct economic benefits it might have withdrawn from Earth's well stocked genetic library. It might, for example, miss out on a cure for cancer; but that will make little difference. As ecosystem services falter, mortality from respiratory and epidemic disease, natural disasters, and especially famine will lower life expectancies to the point where can cer (largely a disease of the elderly) will be unimportant. Humanity will bring upon itself consequences depressingly similar to those expected from a nuclear winter. Barring a nuclear conflict, it appears that civili zation will disappear some time before the end of the next century not with a bang but a whimper. 14

Stephen jay Gould presents an equally chilling picture. It is in our "enlightened self interest" to treat Mother Nature nicely: "We had better sign while she is still willing to make a deal. If we treat her nicely, she will keep us going for a while. If we scratch her, she will bleed, kick us out, bandage up, and go about her business at her planetary scale."" Nature is personified as a woman who cares not a whit about us; we, however, must value her supremely, as her biotic processes hold the key to our future. David Pimentel expresses this somewhat more soberly: "We can't have agriculture without these species, we can't have forestry without these species, we can't live without these species, and that's the essential part." Walter Rosen, Jane Lubchenco, and Gordon Orians offer similar arguments as in Orians's statement, "I'm very much concerned about preserving the capacity of living systems to provide the resources upon which a quality human life depends." Bryan Norton points out that since humans reside at the end of food chains, we surpass most other organisms in our vulnerability to extinction." Not only does biodiversity sustain us; it provides an "early warning system" that alerts us when it-and therefore humanity-may be in peril. Similarly, biodiversity is a "barometer of environmental health." According to Falk, endangered species are "meaningful primarily because they tell us where there is trouble. And not just geographically. They are excellent ways of spotting problems." Raven calls biodiversity "the key to the world's stability, in terms of the fact that rich biodiversity provides an index, a canary in the coal mine kind of thing, to the stability and healthiness of the world." Ehrlich ties his study organism to this way of thinking: "Butterflies are key indicator organisms for the health of ecosystems, systems that provide Homo sapiens with indispensable services without which civilization cannot persist."" These ecological-value arguments for biodiversity attempt to convey values much bigger than their spokespersons' individualistic preferences. Biodiversity keeps the world's ecology running, which in turn keeps human civilization running; or biodiversity is the ecological world in its entirety, which not only has immense value in itself, but also sustains humanity. Biodiversity's ecological value, therefore, looms inexpressibly large, virtually unknown, but incalculably important. The ecological argument does have its detractors, who suspect the claim that diminished biodiversity means diminished prospects for human survival." I would argue that since it's not necessarily untrue, why not err on the side of caution? Nonetheless, ecological gospels used to promote conservation have sometimes turned out to have been preached by false prophets. Ecologists and their audiences may have trouble separating signal from noise, data from intuition. Allegedly precise scientific concepts have been revealed to be somewhat imprecise. For example, Daniel Simberloff reviews some of the "false leads" and "red herrings" offered by ecologists in attempts to render conservation practice more rigorous and enduring; theories and data on optimal reserve size and shape and the effective population sizes necessary for long-term survival of species can be confusing and misapplied. Mills et al. note that some policy makers have seized upon "keystone species" as the most important foci for conservation efforts. These species are thought to be most crucial to survival of many other species and the ecosystems they inhabit. Unfortunately, the notion of a keystone species "is broadly applied, poorly defined, and nonspecific in meaning. Furthermore, the type of community structure implied by the keystone-species concept is largely undemonstrated in nature."" To return to a familiar example, ecologists used to proclaim that ecosystem stability stemmed from organismal diversity. The conservation corollary was: diminish the diversity, and the ecosystem web will gradually unravel, leaving it unstable and nonfunctional. Appealing as it was to common sense, how could this view of the world be false? It is reflected in Leopold's now-classic conservation dictum, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."" This mantra was easily conjoined to the desirable, romantic portrait of a balanced, homeostatic nature. Unfortunately, proponents of the diversity/stability hypothesis may have been projecting human ideals of harmony and stability onto the natural world. As David Ehrenfeld puts it, "these ecologists were themselves part of a human environment that instilled a strong, highly developed sense of a normative community, a balance."" And so they reversed the naturalistic fallacy where the "is" of nature is taken as the "ought" of humans by projecting the "ought" of humans as the "is" of nature. Thomas Dunlap shows that this view of complexly interconnected, elegantly balanced nature derived from ecological science played a crucial role in changing public attitudes toward wolves and other top carnivores. For the ecologically enlightened, these animals were no longer varmints; rather, they were positioned in an intricate web that kept nature stable and balanced. Sagoff notes that the diversity/stability hypothesis has been a cornerstone in arguments for virtually every piece of U.S. conservation legislation; he contends that biologists continued to use it even after a series of blows crippled the theory in the mid i970S." Although doubt continues to be shed on its correctness, all is not yet lost for the diversity/stability argument: a 1994 Nature study reports that the thesis holds for grassland ecosystems." Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Some ecological theories are like articles of clothing: if you hold on to one long enough, it may eventually come back into style. Furthermore, the natural world is so variegated that theories that hold true for some ecosystem types or geographical locations will not hold water elsewhere. In his book The Balance of Nature? conservation biologist Stuart Pimm illuminates the sources of misconceptions about diversity, stability, and homoestasis. Among other things, Pimm notes that under the label stability, ecologists group five distinct ideas; moreover, they conflate three definitions of "complexity" and focus on three levels of ecological organization. Thus, when generalizing about the relationships between diversity, complexity, and stability, ecologists may actually be talking about one of forty-five different relationships; and this is before they distinguish among particular systems with particular organisms in particular places." Perhaps those touting biodiversity's possible roles in maintaining ecosystem function tacitly recognize the fallibility of ecological science in supporting concrete, universal claims about biodiversity's ecological value. The "argument from ignorance" is built on the ground of what is not known, inasmuch as what is "known" may or may not turn out to be true a few years down the line. And if ecologists confuse and conflate the meanings of their own concepts, how is the layperson to make sense of these ideas? Little wonder that biologists do not rely exclusively on ecological values when promoting biodiversity's value to broader audiences. The final ecological argument highlights biodiversity's value for future ecologies. Habitat destruction and global warming, the fruits of current and past careless valuations of biodiversity, are leading to biotic impoverishment." Future enlightened humans will want (or need) to reconstruct ecologies, reconstitute diversity. Thus biodiversity has value for restoration ecology, the attempt to restore what has been lost. Wilson asserts that "the next century will, I believe, be the era of restoration in ecology." To Souls, "it is apparent that the emphasis in conservation biology will gradually shift from the protection of quasinatural habitat fragments (there will be none left that aren't either protected or doomed) to the opportunistic construction of artificially diverse landscapes." Souls calls this effort tirecombinant ecology." He believes artificial nature will someday transcend oxymoron to become standard. Most of the restoration will be technologically sophisticated, relying on captive breeding and futuristic biotech fixes. Souls suggests that "since we have no choice but to be swept along by this vast technological surge, we might as well learn to surf. 1126 Arguments for restoration ecology and the value biodiversity holds for this effort are predicated on the belief that people will come to recognize biodiversity's value more and more in the future. Biologists are banking on the belief that the construction of nature they are promoting will take root in people's hearts and minds. in fact, restoration efforts are under way all over the globe. In Costa Rica, Daniel janzen's Guanacaste National Park project aims to restore a huge swatch of degraded cattle pasture into a biodiverse tropical dry forest. In the Dominican Republic, the government is taking things one step further. It has declared a huge area of abandoned agropastoral land as Los Haitises National Park, with the intention that one day in the distant future, it will have the resources to restore it; as James Wise puts it, the country "is scrambling to protect a forest that used to be.

Restoration has its detractors." Hugh Iltis, who thinks efforts should be concentrated on saving what is in good shape already, dismisses restoration ecology and its proponents: "As Ernest Hemingway said about writing, people must start to develop a built-in, shockproof crap detector." Nevertheless, if ecological arguments for biodiversity become more substantive, and if biodiversity advocates prove successful in promoting them, then restoration ecology is the ultimate proof that we accept biodiversity's ecological value. Biodiversity is said to have value because it will be needed for restoration efforts; and restoration efforts will symbolize the success of those who promote biodiversity's value.


Although many are unaware of it, the free ecosystem services provided by biodiversity save us billions of dollars annually. To lose them might bankrupt us, not only ecologically, but economically. This argument for the value of biodiversity is difficult to sell ' because it is so hard to quantify in the only terms the audience for this kind of argument is interested in: dollar (or yen, pound, franc, peso) value. When biologists and others assert that biodiversity has vast economic value, they mean we can extract from nature materials and services that directly augment human wealth and well-being. In this, the ultimate selfish argument, we are the valuers, and we stand to benefit. Of course, biodiversity may also benefit; this, in fact, motivates many biologists who promote its economic value. If economically driven people can be convinced that biodiversity is priceless, they will invest more time, care, and effort in its conservation. Biodiversity may be rent, cleaved, and plundered so that we shall value it enough to preserve it (as I will discuss in more detail in the next chapter). Dan janzen asks, "What direct goods have the tropics provided?" He answers:

For a start, chickens, eggs, elephants, turkeys, beef, pyrethrum, corn, rice, coffee, corsage orchids, tea, chocolate, morphine, tobacco, cocaine, dahlias, cotton, marijuana, aquarium fish, marigolds, strychnine, par rots, bamboo, macadamia nuts, rum, pepper, honey bees, vanilla, milk, peppers, cinnamon, dates, quinine, rubber, gardenias, bananas, avoca dos, mahogany, pineapples, impatiens, humans, sorghum, rosewood, coconuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, manihot (tapi oca), squash, chimpanzees, pumpkins, beans, cane sugar, molasses, to matoes, cats, guinea pigs, citrus, white rats, palm oil, rhesus monkeys. How many potential polio victims realize that their vaccine was grown in a chicken egg, and chickens are nothing more than tropical pheasants specialized at preying on bamboo seed crops (which an Illinois farmer mimics with his chicken feed).21

This message, which is promoted with great vigor by many biologists, is that tropical rain forests (ocean depths, agricultural soils, abandoned lots) harbor chemicals, fibers, flesh, resins, enzymes, genes, and whatnot that we can manipulate, extract, breed, purify, and pummel into products that will cure our diseases, feed our hungry, and line our pockets. E. 0. Wilson is among the foremost promoters of this point of view, pitching hard-edged economics with poetic prose: "Any number of rare local species are disappearing just beyond the edge of our attention. They enter oblivion like the dead of [Thomas] Gray's Elegy, leaving at most a name, a fading echo in a far corner of the world, their genius unused...... Biodiversity," he declares, "is our most valuable but least appreciated resource." But enlightenment is spreading:

A revolution in conservation thinking during the past twenty years, a New Environmentalism, has led to this perception of the practical value of wild species. Except in pockets of ignorance and malice, there is no longer an ideological war between conservationists and developers.... If dwindling wildlands are mined for genetic material rather than de stroyed for a few more boardfeet of lumber and acreage of farmland, their economic yicld will be vastly greater over time. Salvaged species can help to revitalize timbering, agriculture, medicine, and other indus tries located elsewhere. The wildlands are like a magic well: the more that is drawn from them in knowledge and benefits, the more there will be to draw.

Many in both camps may be surprised to hear that the war between conservationists and developers has ended, "except in pockets of ignorance and malice." Those arguing for the economic value of biodiversity attempt to convince developers, be they megaindustrialists or starving peasants, to forgo short-term gain for longterm sustainability. They attempt to convince conservationists that putting fences around wild areas to keep out the masses no longer obtains in a world where the demand for increasing wealth, or just bare-bones sustenance, grows daily with no sign of abatement. And so, by Wilson's reckoning, "The race is on to develop methods, to draw more income from the wildlands without killing them, and so to give the invisible hand of free-market economics a green thumb.113'

Tom Lovejoy has been equally pragmatic. In an unpublished brief written to educate President Bush on biodiversity in preparation for the Earth Summit, Lovejoy highlights biodiversity's importance as a lisignificant new source of wealth drawn from the variety of nature." Elsewhere, Lovejoy has extolled "the storehouse of biological properties provided by the wealth of wild species (collectively referred to as biological diversity) with which we share this planet. The ability to reach into those resources at the level of the molecule is creating a significant new source of wealth where biotechnology and biological diversity intersect." He also argues that biodiversity has a contribution to make to pollution cleanup, medical diagnoses, and nanotechnology." These economic arguments have great appeal. In I979, Norman Myers published The Sinking Ark, still an indispensable reference for anyone interested in the gamut of reasons why we should value nature. In the i983 sequel, A Wealth of Wild Species, Myers narrowed his scope to economic reasons. Why? Because everywhere he went, that was what people wanted to know about: these economic reasons pack clout. Myers is the epitome of a biologist who values biodiversity for a host of personal, spiritual, aesthetic reasons." But to preserve nature for his spiritual contemplation, he sells it as dollars and sense. How does he justify this? "If species are enabled to survive through crass economics, should that detract from the pleasure of the purist who gazes at zebras and polar bears with a spirit that is not jaundiced with considerations of mere money?"" Myers has argued that the loss of wild species "could set back the campaign against cancer for years." Biodiversity has chemical value; we can exploit it for a panoply of medical and industrial uses. These arguments are not new; in ig5g, Hugh Iltis asked, "What month goes by when we do not read of a new antibiotic or a new drug that originated from plant sources?"" They are more widely touted today because successful examples are more numerous, the methods of extracting chemical value have become more sophisticated, and the line of reasoning has proven more successful in galvanizing conservation.

S. J. McNaughton notes, "Most people I don't think recognize that the most utilized over-the-counter drug, aspirin, was initially a botanical product that was derived from folk medicine people that chewed on willow twigs to get rid of headaches and aches and pains. Lots of that out there, I still believe." Aspirin's formal name, acetylsalicylic acid, derives from the willow genus Salix. Peter Raven's research, which he explained in congressional testimony, shows that gamma-linolenic acid derived from evening primroses is found elsewhere only in human milk; this substance may prevent heart disease, eczema, and arthritis. Vincristine and vinblastine are alkaloids derived from the previously obscure rosy periwinkle of Madagascar; they aid victims of deadly Hodgkin's disease and acute lymphocytic leukemia and bring the manufacturer of derived medicines si8o million/year. Taxol, from the Pacific Yew, a logging "waste product," may fight ovarian and breast cancer. It is not only plants that are itnatural biochemical factories," as Raven put it. Squalamine, found in all shark tissues, has been shown to kill bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Over three thousand antibiotics (tetracycline and penicillin among them) have been developed from microorganisms. n a , according to Wilson, over 40 percent of all prescriptions in the United States are organism-derived." Eisner travels the world, hawking chemical prospecting to all who will listen. Not only are the chemicals of an organism exploitable; in oft-quoted congressional testimony, Eisner called species storehouses of genetic information:

In these days of genetic engineering, a species is to be viewed as a de pository of genes that are potentially transferable.... The implications of this technology are tremendous and the subject of intense current discussion. The extinction of a species, in light of these advances, takes on new meaning. It does not simply mean the loss of one volume from the library of nature, but the loss of a loose leaf book whose individual pages, were the species to survive, would remain available in perpetuity for selective transfer and improvement of other species."

Nuances of economic analyses of biodiversity's worth are beyond the scope of this book," but biologists have a multiplicity of arguments showing that the economic value of biodiversity is beyond calculation. In a world where decisions are too often made using economic cost and profit as the sole criteria, what could hold more sway than that? Nonetheless, heavy emphasis on biodiversity's economic value remains problematic. Many species have no present or future economic value. Furthermore, tourism, industrial harvesting, and even supposedly low-impact exploitation of extractive reserves may destroy the very resources biologists hope to preserve. Janzen et al. note that if biodiversity is ever valued economically as it should be, it might cause political friction between neighboring nations with different bioeconomic policies, all wanting a piece of the biodiversity pie. "A war over biodiversity is not as far-fetched as it might first appear," they note."


At our interview, Dan janzen advocates broader consideration of biodiversity's economic value:

"If you take a bunch of people out of any tropical region, and they don't have that level of biological literacy, because they live in the middle of a sugar-cane field, or an oil-palm plantation, or in an urban ghetto where there's zero communication about-they don't know beans what their grandmother knew.... If you want those populations to manage their own natural resources, I don't know-water, pesticides, or air, or any of those decisions-we've got to get them back up to some basic understanding of what the natural history is of the organism that they are managing.... And you just go into how appalling, how appallingly biologically illiterate those communities are. Well, if you go then and you educate those people-and I say give them biocultural restoration, meaning give them biological literacy back-that is a very economic argument, a very pragmatic one. You're [producing a population who are] happier, healthier, saner, easier to manage, and can manage their own affairs better.... And a minister of finance gets interested ... not a minister of culture, but a minister of finance gets interested in this."

Biodiversity has social amenity value. It can improve standards of living, make people proud, and help them lead more fulfilled lives. In a way of thinking closely related to the economic arguments outlined above, biodiversity is said to have value as a resource for iisustainable development," another catchphrase of the late 1980s and 1990s. A World Resources Institute publication boldly asserts: "The conservation of biodiversity is the management of human interactions with the variety of life forms and ecosystems so as to maximize the benefits they provide today and maintain their potential to meet future generations'needs and aspirations." This philosophy also undergirds Global Biodiversity Strategy, partly sponsored by WRI: as biodiversity reinforces economic and social security, economic and social forces will in turn reinforce biodiversity.'o "Poverty in the Third World," declares Myers, "is a luxury we can no longer afford." Raven strikes a similar chord:

Until a clear majority of us live lives of dignity, with the reasonable ex pectation that our needs and those of our children can be met through our own individual efforts, the world will continue to be a hostile and unstable place, and the biodiversity on which an enhanced quality of life for us all might be based will continue to disappear rapidly.... People everywhere would clearly become more interested in preserving biodiversity if they were convinced that it is an essential resource for sustainable development.11

By Raven's reckoning, biodiversity holds the key to respectable standards of living, and thus to reasonable levels of security for all the world's people. Orians, Wilson, Lovejoy, janzen, and Brussard, among others, expressed similar views during our interviews. David Western suspects that "the best hope for all species is linked to a single, uncompromisable human goal-the improvement of human welfare."

The destiny of humanity is not glorious fields full of human draft animals picking beetles off bushes. Biodiversity conserved in wildlands has far more function than its very great value as a global gene bank and phytochemical cornucopia.... When humans have the option, it is pretty clear that they take the ad vantages of modern society and decorate the margins with biodiversity and unsullied water, air, views, and food. Someone challenged me on that once-he said that the oil palm plantation worker would rather have a TV set than a national park nearby. Who said either/or? "

In Janzen's view, natural selection historically kept human populations tied to the resource base; it gave us, not only biological diversity and human cultural diversity, but also human-biodiversity mutualism that sustained both. Humans enlisted biodiversity as a tool that increased their odds in the selection process; simultaneously, humans modified biodiversity and modified the evolutionary process, but not beyond recognition. Not only did biodiversity keep humans alive; it kept them enthralled. And humans, in turn, developed a psychological dependence on it: "Biodiversity provides a huge package of variety, which the human mind needs to be fully functional" janzen observes." So we doubly tempt evolutionary fate. By destroying biodiversity, we endanger the resource base humans require. And by ignoring the evolutionarily adapted human-biodiversity mutualism, we endanger our psyches.


According to E. 0. Wilson, "We really can't afford to lose any species; they are a crucible of future human creative effort."" He takes janzen's biocultural restoration effort a step further: by reason of our deeply rooted "biophilia," reintroducing rural-or urbanpeople to the secrets of the surrounding biodiversity provides not only intellectual fulfillment but genetic fulfillment as well.

Wilson's I984 book Biophilia brought to the public the idea that love of nature may have been hardwired into our genes by natural selection. Wilson first used the term in I979 in a Harvard University Press advertisement column in the New York Times Book Review, saying, "Our biophilic descendents will regard species extermination as the greatest sin of the twentieth century." He defines biophilia as "the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes." 64 The idea, however, was not new. Hugh Iltis had been pursuing the same theme for several years, albeit without using the neologism. A paper by Iltis, Loucks, and Andrews (rejected in i967 by Science and published in I970) declares: "Nature in our daily lives must be thought of, not as a luxury to be made available if possible, but as part of our inherent indispensable biological needs.... a monotonous environment produces wave patterns contributing to fatigue.... Biotic as well as cultural diversity, from the neurological point of view, may well be fundamental to the general health that figures prominently in the discussions of environmental quality.1161 In a nutshell, Wilson's biophilia hypothesis presents love of nature as a universal biological adaptation of humans, selected during the course of evolution. Contact with biodiversity can therefore awaken passions encoded in our genes and can rekindle human appreciation of and reverence for the Earth's biotic riches. Conversely, by ignoring our own biophilia, we simultaneously endanger our psyches and imperil the Earth. Wilson and others cite such evidence as humans' universal and deep fear of snakes, love of scenic vistas, affiliation with chimpanzees (our close genetic relatives), decoration of homes and environs with plants and pets, and reliance on animals for metaphorical expression. They note the prevalence of certain natural patterns in landscape paintings, the more rapid recovery rates of postoperative patients with views of parks than of those with views of brick walls, and the preponderance of leisure activities that involve nature (including the tidbit that in Canada and the United States, more people visit aquaria and zoos than attend all professional athletic events combined) as evidence of our biophilic impulses." iltis and Orians, who has also done work on what he calls "environmental aesthetics," cite similar examples. For example, Heerwagen and Orians published a study demonstrating that office workers without windows decorated their offices more often with reminders of the natural world. Orians writes, too:

Human beings, like all other species, select habitats from an array of options and, like other species, display strong emotional responses to landscape configurations and plant shapes. An evolutionary perspective suggests that strong emotions generated by objects or situations signal the action of long-term natural selection for those responses.... If the arguments advanced here have merit, only those environments emo tionally associated with high resource levels for people should be able to evoke strong positive responses.67

As Orians, Iltis, and Wilson see it, we "naturally" develop strong ties to what sustained us in the past.


In his 1987 book, Why Preserve Natural Variety? the philosopher Bryan Norton asserts that the most compelling basis for an enduring conservation ethic is that natural variety has transformative value:'9 contact with biodiversity can be the occasion for us to reconsider our shallow, consumptive preferences and make us adopt values that are, in some way, objectively better. By "objectively better," Norton means values that sustain ecological and evolutionary processesthe very processes that effected this transformation. In this transformation, we simultaneously consume less and value biodiversity more. And the more contact we have with biodiversity, the further and deeper the transformation will go. Where does the locus of this value lie? Are we the valuers, and does biodiversity merely stimulate something in our nervous system? Below I discuss the idea that biodiversity has "intrinsic value." One meaning of this may be that something inheres in biodiversity that ineluctably transforms all who come into contact with it. In one interpretation of Norton's theory, by having the power to transform, biodiversity is empowered to save itself. I asked Norton to clarify his notion of transformation." He believes that ideas about what we now call biodiversity have gone through three stages in the recent past. First, a focus on endangered species, or what he calls "elements," informed conservation; we see evidence of this in legislation such as the Endangered Species Act, which atomized nature into distinct parts. Around the time of the National Forum on BioDiversity in 1986, ideas were in flux. The "element" concept persisted, but hints of something broader informed the discourse, and, I'd add, were subsumed under the neologism. This view also influenced Norton in Why Preserve Natural Variety? Now, he regards biodiversity as a process. The focus is not on the elements but on biological complexity at all levels and on the interactions between levels. Norton does not see "transformation" as something external nature effects in a human observer. Rather, it occurs when, amid biodiversity, you find yourself surrounded by a process of great majesty and antiquity and feel yourself to be part of that process and responsible for its continuance. Norton urges that we no longer rely on unproven axioms about biodiversity's intrinsic value or right to exist when defending it; instead, the locus of value should be the human valuer. But if biodiversity is a complex historical process, then we are part of that process: a human valuer apart from the source of value does not completely make sense. Soul6's ideas about transformation (see below) somewhat clarify Norton's. When surrounded by biodiversity, the very dualism that suggests a phrase like "surrounded by biodiversity" vanishes, and one identifies with the natural world; one is inextricably part of it. The transformation of values occurs partly because if you are inextricable from the grand process of nature, by consuming it or altering it, you irrevocably hurt yourself. Note that this idea of transformative value dovetails nicely with janzen's biocultural restoration value or Wilson et al.'s biophilia value. In janzen's view, this process of transformation has historical precedent; it has been taken for granted during eons of human evolution, and must be resuscitated today for our survival. For those who believe in biophilia, transformation would work by reactivating what our genes encode. For either, evolution ordains transformation. No matter how we look at it, if biodiversity has the power to transform, then it puts biologists in a better position to talk about its values. Biologists spend their time focused on biodiversity; they immerse themselves in biodiversity and are transformed and renewed by it. Whether this power of biodiversity to transform is biological fact or complex social construction, biologists are among those most likely to be in biodiversity's thrall. This transformation, even if not universal, does occur. And the result, at least by my value standards and those of the biologists I profile here, seems beneficial: who can argue with life-changing experiences that make one consume less and preserve the natural world more? If we view humans as biological organisms adjusting to their changing environment, values can be seen as adaptations governed by selection. We are part of evolution that is self-conscious; transformation is when we realize this and select more adaptive values, where "adaptive" means those values that will allow ourselves and our offspring to survive." Linda Graber describes how devotees of wilderness believe they commune with a sacred power that illuminates their lives and their relationship to the universe. She borrows the term hierophany from religious studies to describe experiences in which something sacred shows itself to us. Wilderness becomes a center of purification for the sullied, overwhelmed, modern Westerner. Thomas Dunlap says turn-of-the-century Romantics shared a similar view: wild animals and places provided an antidote to the artificial, petty life of civilization, and experiences in nature were said to transform the experiencer. 72 Stephen Fox suggests that such a hierophany struck John Muir in Yosemite; Muir felt played upon by an overwhelming spiritual force and became a zealous conservationist as a result. Norton assigns a name to what happened to John Muir, and to many of the biologists I port ere. Biodiversity has transformed people. Transformation can work through the beauty of an organism: think of advertising campaigns using pandas or golden lion tamarins as icons of worship." Transformative hierophanies may come from understanding the beauty of the process of evolution, from experiencing the mysterious and unelucidated impossible intricacy of ecosystem relations, or simply from appreciating the riches of an undisturbed forest. Arne Naess writes of "highly dedicated persons who cannot help but work for conservation and for whom it is a vital need to live with nature."'

Whether or not the transformative value of biodiversity is a universal phenomenon is not really important. It does work, at least, with many people. Here and abroad, a lasting conservation ethic -one that will endure when the government changes hands or when the tourists migrate elsewhere-can only take root when people care, deeply, about the natural world. This love may still matter little when people are hungry, when they need this land or its creatures to satisfy their most basic needs. But after the basic demands of life have been met, you must have been transformed at some point and in some way by biodiversity if you are to value it at all. If biodiversity has transformative value, then familiarity with biodiversity breeds affection for it, breeds a desire to consume less and salvage more of it.


Going beyond the testable assertion that biodiversity has transformative value, some biologists proclaim its intrinsic value in and of itself, apart from any human valuer. Humans thus have no right wantonly to destroy biodiversity. Such assertions may be justifiable from certain religious standpoints. If God or some other deity or sacred process created the natural world alongside humans, then all creatures are imbued with sacredness: all have intrinsic value. Yet most biologists have no such religious views. In asserting biodiversity's intrinsic value as one of the reasons why we should conserve it, they move well beyond the realm of what we might expect scientists to acknowledge and defend." How the notion of intrinsic value is received will, of course, depend on what is understood by biodiversity. If biodiversity is a list of species, then one must try to understand what it would mean for a species to have intrinsic value. But if biodiversity is more inclusive-and I have suggested that many of the biologists promoting its value hold this view-then the question is, rather: Do all the Earth's creatures, their interactions, and the processes that gave rise to them and to us have value in and of themselves? This conception makes it more difficult to say no to the concept of intrinsic value, particularly if humans are part of biodiversity. But it still doesn't help much in daily life, when we may be discussing the wisdom of an activity that will eliminate an element of biodiversity-a species, a vacant lot, an ecosystem. We have seen that assertions of intrinsic value are not original to modern-day biodiversity proponents. Aldo Leopold, Charles Elton, and Rachel Carson all believed something of the sort. David Ehrenfeld's The Arrogance of Humanism contains a passionate defense of the idea. More recently, Ehrenfeld has elucidated some of the qualities inhering in nature that might comprise intrinsic value: "For the people of the next millenium, the qualities of nature-honesty, reliability, durability, beauty, even humor-will be necessary landmarks for survival, there for the finding, unless the damage we are doing now proves too great."" The Ehrlichs, who believe in nature's intrinsic value, assert, "This is fundamentally a religious argument. There is no scientific way to 'prove' that nonhuman organisms (or for that matter, human organisms) have a right to exist."" For deep ecologist Arne Naess, this lack of proof presents no problems. In a conservation biology textbook, he asks: "Is it my privilege as a philosopher to announce what is of intrinsic value, whereas scientists as such, must stick to theories and observations? No, it is not-because you are not scientists as such; you are autonomous, unique persons, with obligations to announce what has intrinsic value without any cowardly subclass saying that it is just your subjective opinion or feeling."" Naess just says no to value subjectivity; he urges biologists to do the same. Of course, many biologists, even if they are inclined to agree with Naess on intrinsic-value theory, will hold back from such pronouncements. We can understand why. Such pronouncements might be considered the antithesis of traditional scientific expertise. To proclaim intrinsic value without standard scientific proof for one's proclamation begs others to question your authority. Nonetheless, some biologists make such pronouncements. In i985, Souls wrote "What Is Conservation Biology?" to introduce the fledgling discipline to nonadherents and to stake out common ground for believers. Among these common precepts are normative ones, which "are shared, I believe, by most conservationists and many biologists, although ideological purity is not my reason for proposing them." As I have mentioned, these norms are to be taken as part and parcel of the discipline. They include the notions that diversity of organisms, ecological complexity, and evolution are normative goods. The "most fundamental" postulate of all is that "biotic diversity has intrinsic value, irrespective of its instrumental or utilitarian value."" Souls builds his science on this unimpeachable yet untestable assertion. The biologists I interviewed ran the gamut on biodiversity's intrinsic value.


If it seems a priori odd that some scientists believe and preach a concept like intrinsic value that cannot be proven scientificallyindeed, it can barely be expressed at all-it may seem totally bizarre that scientists talk about biodiversity's spiritual value. Yet, for example, at the National Forum on BioDiversity, Ehrlich noted: "Curiously, scientific analysis points toward the need for a quasi-religious transformation of contemporary cultures." He means that "a quasireligious transformation leading to the appreciation of diversity for its own sake, apart from the obvious direct benefits to humanity, may be required to save other organisms and ourselves." Sould believes that if biophilia is to become a real player in conservation, "then it must become a religion-like movement. Only a new religion of nature, similar but even more powerful than the animal rights movement, can create the political momentum to overcome the greed that gives rise to discord and strife and the anthropocentrism that underlies the intentional abuse of nature." Ehrenfeld declares: "Clearly, we have to take this valuing out of the purely intellectual sphere, at least until the present phase of the scientific revolution has run its course.... What is left, if we eschew the cost-benefit approach, are the realms of religion and emotion, which fallible scientists should not despise. Within the purview of religion are several very different ways to celebrate diversity-some invoking God and some not."'O Ehrenfeld has remonstrated eloquently against our overweaning faith in human reason, or "humanism." Science stands at the apex of the humanistic enterprise as the most finely honed use of reason to understand and control the natural world. Could biologists, these avatars of humanism really be preaching anti-humanist apostasy?

The answer is mixed. While some biologists profess a brand of spirituality that does not obtain in our traditional notions of science, others account for their own and others' spiritual feelings about biodiversity in mechanistic ways compatible with our images of the typical scientific worldview. I develop this argument further in Chapter 7. Here I start to show how some biologists are shaping history by fostering what may be an unprecedented merger between modern science and religion. Biologists find spiritual value in biodiversity precisely because of, not despite, their science. People turn to spirituality, or profess spiritual feelings, when confronted with vast unknowns that defy logical explanation. In an analog to traditional religions, biodiversity's spiritual power is linked to our lack of knowledge of it. Since some biologists spend their professional lives surrounded by biodiversity, its unfathomable complexity and its sublime beauty combine with feelings of humiliating ignorance to infuse intense spiritual feelings. The more they learn, the more awe they feel; and the unknowns, the gaps the sacred world of science can't fill, leave further room for values and spirituality and aesthetics to rush in. Biologists have few axiomatic laws for their claims about biodiversity. As a result, the spiritual may become axiomatic, the scientific problematic. Some historians have revealed a tradition of ascribing sacrality to wild places. Max Oelschlaeger traces a strand of such spiritual devotion back tens of thousands of years. Linda Graber's Wilderness as Sacred Space shows how American aficionados promoted wild places as valuable because they were holy sites, potential altars for human spiritual nourishment. J. Ronald Engel's Sacred Sands reveals how those who wished to preserve the Indiana Dunes in the early twentieth century used these tactics, and Susan Schrepfer contends that partisans of California's redwoods held and promoted similar feelings. A large swatch of the U. S. conservation movement is woven from this fabric. Stephen Fox believes the movement is tantamount to a religious backlash against modernity. Historian Richard White suggests that environmentalism originally stemmed from science, then turned against science to become quasi-religious."


Writing around the time of the National Forum on BioDiversity, environmental ethicist Eugene Hargrove asserted that "since the aesthetic tradition linking the natural history scientist with the artist and poet no longer plays a significant role in the professional life of biologists and other environmental scientists in this century, value issues in conservation seem mysterious, if not obscure."" In advocacy on behalf of biodiversity, biologists contradict Hargrove's assertion; they continue and revitalize this tradition. Biodiversity has aesthetic and emotional value. Biologists find it beautiful, and this beauty moves them, sometimes profoundly. I fear I draw some arbitrary distinctions throughout this value taxonomy where none may be called for. Those who say biodiversity has intrinsic value may also posit that biodiversity's beauty is inherent, and not in the eyes of the beholder. Part of janzen's cultural-restoration argument holds that biodiversity provides aesthetic fulfillment for rural people. The beauty and intricacy of individual organisms, landscapes, and organic processes in large part create biodiversity's transformative influence. Those who promote biophilia take biodiversity's aesthetic value for us as a given, and add the twist that we respond this way because we are genetically programmed to do so: according to Orians, "'beautiful' landscapes are probably highly functional ones in that they potentially provide rich combinations of resources for human existence."loo Biodiversity's spiritual value is similarly inseparable from its aesthetic value. When I asked Souls to elaborate on his aesthetic appreciation of biodiversity, he replied: "What you're really asking is: what tickles my pleasure center? Or my spiritual center, although the word spiritual can be misinterpreted easily. That part of you that makes shivers run up and down your spine, or makes tears come to your eyes or whatever, however you want to define it physiologically or operationally." What gives you pleasure is beautiful. What makes you feel transcendent you find beautiful. The more beautiful you find it, the more it moves you spiritually, the more you appreciate it, the more beautiful you find it. Again, not despite their science but because of their science, biologists feel compelled to comment on biodiversity's aesthetic value. They spend countless hours pondering it, engrossed by it. Their scientific understanding uniquely informs their aesthetic.