balvanera1_ERNESTO BENAVIDESAFP via Getty Images_amazonrainforestindigenousfire Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty Images

Why Value Pluralism Is Essential for Sustainability

The debate over torched rain forests in the Amazon this year tended to focus on commercial interests, on the one hand, and a purely aesthetic ideal of nature, on the other. But the values that different communities attach to, and derive from, natural systems are much richer than that, and must be considered when making policy decisions.

BONN – For much of 2019, news broadcasts and social media have been filled with unsettling images of forests engulfed in flames, leaving behind charred, dead landscapes, destroyed homes, and displaced people. Images of burning rainforests in Brazil and elsewhere have stirred powerful emotions and provoked reactions around the world, providing a glimpse of the many ways that people view and value nature. A sustainable future for our planet and its people will be achieved only if decision-makers understand and account for this value pluralism.

As the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) points out in its recent Global Assessment Report, “Nature is essential for human existence and good quality of life.” Yet decisions about the uses of our increasingly fragile natural resources and how to protect them often fail to account for all of the ways that different communities attach value to nature.

Fortunately, a group of the world’s leading scientists met recently in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country – the 2012 European “green capital” – to discuss a new IPBES report that will focus on “the diverse values of nature.” This forthcoming “Values Assessment” will present the most robust findings to date on how diverse communities value nature differently, and how natural systems benefit us all.

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