Paper recommendation: human value shifts and conservation

I would like to recommend the following paper.

Implications of human value shift and persistence for biodiversity conservation

by Manfredo MJ,  Teel TL,  Dietsch AM, Conserv Biol. 2016 Apr30(2):287-96. (LINK)

 In addressing human values, this is one of few articles in mainstream conservation journals that deals with some of the deeper issues underlying the present environmental crisis. The paper shows that values change only very slowly, but that there is a general shift occurring (in the USA) from domination-oriented values towards mutualism-oriented values. This value change is slow, but goes in the general direction of a more sustainability-oriented humanity.

My only slight criticism of this paper is that the authors recommend focusing on working within people’s value systems, because changing value systems may be impractical. I would argue that these two options should not be framed as mutually exclusive: it seems reasonable to work within existing value systems, while also encouraging and fostering the shift in values that is (according to this study) already underway. This is particularly the case because the authors argue in their introduction that changes in values can be stimulated, for example, by being exposed to new information or crisis situations.

The dimension of human values is greatly under-researched in a conservation context. This paper is an authoritative empirical exception that will hopefully stimulate further work in this important area.

2 thoughts on “Paper recommendation: human value shifts and conservation

  1. That’s a good point Joern about the need to simultaneously work within value systems while also trying to shift them. However, I think the authors’ recommendation about working within them is probably because many conservationists talk about changing values without recognising just how difficult this can be! I agree though that understanding how to expedite or encourage value shift for sustainability is a really important topic for future research. One question I have is to what degree values operate as a ‘ceiling’ for sustainability outcomes. I.e. is value shift necessary or is it sufficient to work within the current dominant value system? This could be interesting to explore in Transylvania…

    • Hmmm interesting question. I think in Transylvania, actually there is a “crowding out” of traditional stewardship values happening (at the expense of instrumentalist/monetary values). That is, the “existing” value system appears to be in flux. Personally I think working within existing systems can help to buy us time, but I very much doubt that — ultimately — we don’t also need to develop a new set of societal values. Material growth as the (apparent) primary value just isn’t going to cut it in the long term …!

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