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Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

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ESEP 14:27-32 (2014)  -  DOI:

Reconciling utilitarian and non-utilitarian approaches to biodiversity conservation

Michel Loreau*

Centre for Biodiversity Theory and Modelling, Station d’Ecologie Expérimentale du CNRS, 09200 Moulis, France
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ABSTRACT: Two broad types of approaches have been used in biodiversity conservation: (1) non-utilitarian approaches, which put the emphasis on the aesthetic, emotional, spiritual, and ethical values of nature, and (2) utilitarian approaches, which put the emphasis on species and ecosystems as resources or service suppliers for humans. Here, I argue that the long-standing divide between utilitarian and non-utilitarian perspectives is a reflection of the separation between humankind and nature that lies at the root of the global ecological crisis. Neither perspective challenges this separation fundamentally; therefore; neither alone offers a solid foundation for biodiversity conservation. Resolving the current ecological crisis requires, first and foremost, reconciling humans with their own nature, which in turn requires refocusing both human development and nature conservation on fundamental human needs. Contrary to a widely held idea, fundamental human needs do not involve a purely utilitarian or anthropocentric worldview. Quite the opposite, they provide powerful non-utilitarian arguments for nature conservation, and they are fully compatible with the recognition or attribution of intrinsic values in the human and non-human world. Human nature is neither fundamentally selfish and utilitarian, nor fundamentally altruistic and non-utilitarian; humans simply have a set of fundamental needs that require satisfaction, and these needs include respecting and loving the world around them.

KEY WORDS: Biodiversity conservation · Environmental ethics · Ecological economics · Ecosystem services · Intrinsic value · Instrumental value · Human nature · Fundamental human needs

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Cite this article as: Loreau M (2014) Reconciling utilitarian and non-utilitarian approaches to biodiversity conservation. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 14:27-32.

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