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Justifying Conservation Efforts

Article by Manuel Avalos

Intrinsic vs. Instrumental Value:

The UCSC iGem project presents an optimistic solution to tackle the current issue of rising carbon emissions. This piece will argue from an ethical standpoint why this research holds moral worth to both the environment in which we live in, and as practical guide for furthering the development of an energy independent society. Before considering environmental ethics, it is essential that we first make a distinction between intrinsic and instrumental value. Intrinsic value places an emphasis on valuing an action or thing for its own sake, such as happiness (Zimmerman, 1). However, instrumental value would describe placing value on an action or thing simply from what we are able to gain from it, such as money. In both contexts we define “value” as that which we have deemed to have importance and worth.

Environmental Worth:

Should our environment as a whole gain moral worth? By environment, we seek to evoke a biophysical definition including both ecosystems and organisms within it as a whole. Some may argue that many species and ecosystems have only instrumental value. For example, do we place value on livestock such as cattle as strictly being a means for nourishment? In an article concerning the intrinsic value of an ecosystem, Ronald Sandler examines the difficulty in evaluating worth on any particular ecosystem or species in order to justify conservation efforts. If it is the case that we should only place instrumental value on a ecosystem or species, Sandler states that it is also the case that what we gained from that ecosystem may by interchangeable with something else in order to achieve the same ends. However, he argues that many of these ends are irreplaceable and as such they can be granted intrinsic value (Sandler 2012). For example, consider destruction of a species due to the loss of habitat from climate change. Another cannot replace the beauty and role that this particular species played and as such we truly have lost a vital part of something we hold important. Given the current rising carbon emissions, we believe it is imperative to grant the environment as a whole intrinsic value. This stems from the belief that we operate within a complex network that cannot be substituted if lost. Moreover, we believe it is not the case that the environment merely provides instrumental value.

What Butanol Can Offer:

First, we begin by labeling the use of fossil fuels as having only provisional instrumental value. It is given its worth from the energy it provides us in order to maintain a specific way of life. However, notice that we have also placed the term “provisional” to account for the current status of fossil fuels. There is a finite amount of this energy source, thus the value we place on it will fluctuate in accordance with how much remains. Furthermore, the end that we seek from its use, energy, is interchangeable with various other sources. The production of Butanol from H. volcanii is a prime candidate for substituting this source because it provides a means of preserving the intrinsic value of our environment. By shortening the carbon cycle, we have gained an opportunity to prevent further damage to our surroundings and establishing a method of creating our own energy source. This in turn, will establish a society that not only respects the importance of its surroundings but has also chosen to live in harmony with it. Sources:

Sandler, R. (2012) Intrinsic Value, Ecology, and Conservation. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):4 Zimmerman, Michael J., "Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), .