A Summary of “What’s So Good About Biodiversity? A Call for Better Reasoning About Nature’s Value”

The central theme of the book What’s so Good About Biodiversity by D. S. Maier, is that no value comes from the total number of species itself. If I were to sum the book up in a sentence it would be: “Every instance that one seeks biodiversity would be better served by seeking the reason you like biodiversity in the first place.”

Another big touchstone in the book is that most arguments for biodiversity are deliberately ignoring the counter factual. Biodiversity may have many good aspects, but pure diversity also increases the bad aspects in equal measure. Applying the precautionary principle to nature is overlooking that it can also be applied to the benefits of pushing forward with construction. “It would be better to be on the safe side and build the city, instead of wait and see if rare species ever turn out to be miracle cures.”

The book covers everything from disease resistance to option value. It begins as an examination of values and concludes by poking holes in every one of them. I don’t endorse any particular claim of this book. My position is that I suspect much if it is true and I care that we interrogate our position as hard as this book does. I think the best use of this book is as a litany of things to be prepared to respond to in one’s own definition of the value of nature. And to look very hard at biodiversity as an indicator of what we seek.

I’ll list some of the biggest topics here so you can skip to the one you think most relevant.

Thanks to Jonas Kathage for tipping me off to how important this book was. Check out his own write up of What’s So Good About Biodiversity.

Natural garden

Natural garden

Our Inherent Love of Nature: 221-223 1

Just because we have natural desires does not mean that they are good to continue to behave and reinforce. Saying that we naturally crave nature is not an argument in and of itself that this is good and we should all practice it.

Even if we do, “biophilia” would demand a world of our most rewarding plants and animals. Such as a beautiful greenspace park. Once more this doesn’t translate to biodiversity. (221) This becomes obvious when considering how swamps, snakes, spiders, fungus, precipices, lightning, sharks, worms, and other things that evoke terror, horror, disgust as natural biophobic reactions. (222)

And some of the supporting evidence for nature’s positive effect on the human psyche comes from such nature as “potted plants”, “dogs”, and “lawns.” (223) Even if we fully embrace biodiversity, biophilia might conflict with our natural desires for how to enjoy it. Many people feel compelled to go offroading through it. (226) None of these are related to biodiversity.



Biodiversity is for Scientific Insight:

Maier’s main quibble about biodiversity as a source of scientific insight is that knowing “the precise number of pushups that an individual Sceloporus occidentalis (western fence lizard) performs over the course of its lifetime … should suffice to raise questions about it’s worthiness.” Again, not all biodiversity is equal. Surely the hominids, parrots, and dogs are a better source of insight than the 100th flower or the 1000 grass. Science would not be equally interested in every corner of the earth. Pure knowledge can come from any source. It is not a reason on its own for choosing some action over others.

In order to support its own conservation, Nature must be an especially good source of knowledge. And it must do this in a way that surpasses the value of seeing what happens when you destroy it. The best course to gain the most knowledge would likely be to see how things die, go extinct, overpopulate, flux, and self-destruct in all kinds of interesting unusual ways. 234-235 As much or more knowledge can come from perturbing, mixing, even destroying nature.

While full recovery of entire species will take millions of years, humans operate on shortened timescales, and the recovery of interesting adaptations, phenotypes, niches, habitats, and behaviors is likely to occur much faster. Dramatic changes can happen in just 40 generations. (231 Judson 2008)

Scientific inquiry

Scientific inquiry

Precautionary Principle:

With the precautionary principle it is important to remember the counterfactual case. If we had instead developed more willingly on the biodiverse land, would we be in a better position today? One common rebuke is that some rare plant might contain the cure for cancer. Maier responds: There is a “vanishingly low probability that the medicinal benefits will actually be realized. That vanishingly low probability entails a vanishingly small expected net present value, which a cost-benefit analysis must weigh against the expected net present value of the benefits of economic development forgone in order to ensure the protection of the medicine yielding natural resources. The economic analysis, when honestly done, does not appear to give the answer that environmentalists want. A big hint that this is so comes from ‘big pharma’ whose sole raison d’etre is economic gain.” (206)

“Every decision is made despite the inevitability of better information that might guide a better choice later. A convincing case can often be made for more study and research.” “One might be tempted to think that it justifies an indefinite postponement of any decision that might feature a permanent removal of some development path from the collection of alternatives. But this would be a bad mistake in practical reasoning. It cannot be permissible to indefinitely postpone a decision that nonetheless could be made more optimally in light of still unavailable, but always possibly forthcoming, information” (259) “When development benefits are ones that meet basic human needs - say, by turning over an enclave of nature to farmers who can feed themselves from it - there might be a strong moral case for cutting off research quickly” (257) and not waiting to discover further costs and benefits.

For a rational calculation of the precautionary principle, see section on Option Value and Quasi Option Value, a bit in X-Risk.



Nature can Imbue Transformative New Values: 269-272

“A newly acquired preference might or might not be worthy of satisfaction; its object must be assessed on its own merits.”

“One might speculate that these advocates of biodiversity-as-novelty-generator trip over their view that creativity is acceptable so long as it does not alter the current, particular biodiverse state of affairs whose particular mix of kinds in various biological categories (not necessarily their biodiversity) more or less satisfactorily meets human desires and needs for resources and services.” (233)

It Is Our Moral Responsibility:

As for a moral obligation to protect biodiversity simply because we have the power to destroy it, Maier argues that possessing the power to destroy |a coffee mug| does not imply a responsibility to not |smash it| if he possessed the desire to do so. (162)

Other forms of biodiversity include biodiversity as a process of becoming, rather than emphasis on entities. This is suggested to be to “ “maintain, support and repair damage to their parts.” But what “parts” need repair? “ This also runs afoul of the idea of a “healthy” state of nature when “most ecosystems would fail it - because, as a matter of fact, stasis or equilibrium appears to be the exception rather than the rule. That is true now as it has been throughout geological history. Second, the test offers no non-arbitrary, scientific grounds for anointing any particular initial state as “healthy” and therefore the norm - in preference to some other state…” (124)

A short homage is paid to diversity of sentience and experience being potentially an inherent good. Maier cannot see an argument for it. (160)

A mountain from a plane.

A mountain from a plane.

Natural States, Undisturbed by Man: 273-275, 279-283

“Degrees of Naturalness” seems utterly powerless to adjudicate between real and imagined alternatives for biodiversity. Would a North America with Asian elephants tromping around as surrogates for the elephantids that existed on the continent 10,000 years ago be more or less naturally biodiverse than one without them? (281)

Aliens are introduced to control aliens. When an alien becomes naturalized, it stops being alien. When there are two natives, sometimes “balance” insists favoring one native and harming another native. When there is a predator and a prey, sometimes the non-native predator is nurtured at the expense of the native, simply because we like the predator (razorback fish)

Xyrauchen texanus, is a river fish lately become a lake fish. It is unclear whether this species is a native in a now-alien environment or an alien in its native environment. (320) Annual “Razorback Roundup” - to put them out of the voracious reach of recently arrived rainbow trout that lunch on the hatchlings. Hatchlings, thus spared an early demise are (literally) ferried to a hatchery where they are matured for three years. The trout are raised - for the pleasure of anglers - in the same hatchery as the razorback hatchlings are saved from being devoured by them. (321)

“Diminished in choices of both habitat and menu, and finding lots of Loggerheads in its neighborhood of last resort, the fox became the Shrike’s primary predator. Nature was out of balance again. For awhile, the conservation solution was to shoo the native fox - the conservationists thus assuming the predatory role for which the Golden Eagles were removed.” (507)

Cultural Value:

Cultural importance favors only a select group and the biodiversity of the world cannot hinge on the preferences of a small group of people. (126) It is necessary to name what the value is, and see it reflected in us all. For more, see definition of value of nature.

Biodiversity is the Source of Ecosystem Services:

What about biodiversity as a resource? Current and potential are the two varieties of this. For current resources, it is not biodiversity that provides the resource, but specific species which do. (163) The apple tree, the timber species, the honey bee.

So too, remember that when preserving all the species as a form of protecting the few beneficial ones, one is also promoting harmful species which cause great impediments to humanity and even other species (164). Why is it, for example, that farms are extraordinarily low in biodiversity if biodiversity is so good for us and our food supposedly so reliant on it(166)? We know that tons of species means chaos for our homes, gardens, climate, safety, health, and food supply. So we reduce species where we live until there are only a few manageable survivors.

Similarly, it is mysterious that there is no discussion of ecosystem disservices. (167) Those pesky processes that do us harm ought to go if the motivation is “nature provides” for us. Rather nature ought to be “developed” to provide more services and less disservices. In this way it very quickly becomes obvious that biodiversity is not a aspect or a reliable indicator of ecosystem services.(167) A second argument on this point is that an increase in biodiversity will likely include some undesirable species that brings us woe. (169)

And Biodiversity is not connected to ecosystem services. People have tried to attach ecosystem services to species, to strengthen the connection between the two, but like the functional traits discussed in the next section, ecosystem services refuse to stick. If a bee lives among evergreen trees, it ceases to have pollination services. If nitrogen is already present, a nitrogen fixing plant is providing no useful service. (177) And negative services such as malaria, herbivory, disease… are these ecosystem services? In some times and places, and not in others. (179) This is ignored, and ecosystem disservices do not get any air time. Instead, nice benefits are called “ecosystem services” and terrible repercussions are never related to biodiversity.

Ecosystem services are doomed to become refined further and further until few, specialized, favored species perform their duty. This is not dissimilar to farming. (186) It is practically our duty to thin the ranks of wasteful species which will not affect the health and productivity of the beneficial natural system. (188)

A cascade of water

A cascade of water

Nature is the Interconnection Between Species:

Referring to biodiversity as relationships, qualities, and characteristics quickly becomes problematic. If a plant has a characteristic of “supporting bison” and then the bison stop eating it, then does the plant still have the characteristic? Did it ever? Does the characteristic ever attach to the plant or does it appear and disappear quite independently? And how does one create more “propensities to be eaten” or “stirrings of wind” or “vehicle for seeds”? Characters can reverse too, and become “prevention of seed transport” under different combinations of species, or years with different properties. Not to mention whether negative traits, “does not eat seeds” might be characteristics all their own. (101-104) Trying to list and conserve or increase the number of all these functional traits becomes quite hopeless.

Medicinals, Biomimicry, Discoveries yet to be found:

When it comes to the precautionary principle applied to life-saving drugs, the odds are so poor as to be negligible. Only a few species provide our top medications. “According to the World Resources Institute. Of the 119 plant derived drugs used worldwide in 1991. Just 90 of the 270,000 described plant species and perhaps 320,000 estimated different plants (according to Spicer 2006, 27) can be credited with even a peripheral role).” (199) “Griefo and her coauthors find 86 in the top 150 (for the United states) that derive from some living thing. But many organisms are counted multiple times. Just 20 species excluding Homo sapiens which is listed as a derivative organism” plus various mammals which I infer to refer to lab animals used for testing. This is hardly an impressive representation of the 10-100 million organisms that dwell on earth.” (199)

“There is substantial evidence that bioactive molecules are often concentrated in groups of creatures that occupy nearby phylogenic perches in the tree of life.” Therefore for the sake of this “biodiversity value” of medicinal species: it is not biodiversity, but certain tactically chosen branches on the tree of life we should attend to. Even if many extinctions were to occur, we would likely not lose access to these life-saving medications since related chemistry and identical chemistry often occur in many species, not just one. Which can be saved via zoos and genebanks in either case. (206)

There is “dismally low pay off for bio-prospecting; that rational design of drugs is more efficient; that, even in the natural world, “second source” species are highly likely; that “big pharma” has largely abandoned bioprospecting for the sound economic reasons that maintain corporate profits; and that there is a very high potential for “enhancing the chemical diversity of an organism by adding to it a gene coding for alien enzymatic activity” “it argues that at least on the standard cost-benefit economic grounds, development at the expense of biodiversity is almost surely justified” (266)

Then once discovered, this value is removed as soon as we synthesize the chemical we have discovered in the plants.(206)

Using a giant camera to photograph an albatross a few feet away.

Using a giant camera to photograph an albatross a few feet away.

Biodiversity Increases Productivity In Ecosystems:

As a sadly misrepresented study David Tilman in 2001 conducted a study that showed productivity increases with biodiversity in grasses. (175) People naturally immediately took this wildly out of proportion and context to declare that biodiversity - increases every type of ecosystem service (not just productivity),
- at all times, - and places.

The experiment also showed that increased productivity (in grasses) slowed and began to plateau. They only experimented with 16 species and it was still increasing marginally. To engage in further pedantry, perhaps it was no biodiversity but nutrient availability, trophic structure, or some other relational effect. (176)

Furthermore ecosystem services are provided by a handful of species, and then this is called “biodiversity,” with an abundance of wishful lying. (181) Even the ecosystem services are dubious, such as “productivity” which is loved in some species and hated in others like kudzu, or “productivity” in the form of eutrophication. It only counts when it is things people like. So often ecosystem services, biodiversity, productivity are watery impingements to get nature to do more of what we like. (and only things we like count as “nature”) (182)

Lush closeup of moss.

Lush closeup of moss.

All Species are Important:

“The sad fact that few conservationists care to face is that many species, perhaps most, do not seem to have any conventional value at all, even hidden conventional value…. Many of these species were never common or ecologically influential; by no stretch of the imagination can we make them out to be vital in the ecological machine.” (174)

There are some core examples of extremely crucial species groups. The detritivores. The pollinators. The mycorrhizae. But this is still not biodiversity. At most we need a very few detritivores. There are already few crucial pollinators and mycorrhizae. What’s more these lynchpins tend to be robust, generalists, common, and resilient species. (175)

Even the things we describe as “low biodiversity” is often full of biodiversity, just not the kinds we like. Eutrophication aka deadzones may not have less species at all, just lower, useless, ugly species we disfavor. (183) Which ruins the whole point of biodiversity being unbiased about every species’ worth.

Most pollination is conducted by one species of bee in north america. (177) 15 of the worlds oxygen comes from a single species of marine cyanobacteria. (178)

Only a tiny percentage of species have ever benefited humanity, and this remains true today. (163) And these same species are highly likely to survive the onslaught of climate change. (163) And keep in mind that for it to make sense, the benefit of saving a species must outweigh the cost of saving that species. (164) If you have to build an arctic to save the polar bears, it’s going to be more costly than whatever the polars do for us in the future.

Biodiversity Increases Resilience, Ecosystem Services, etc:

The stability of ecosystems does not seem to be correlated to biodiversity. (183) The resistance to non-native invasions does not seem to be correlated to biodiversity. (184) Nativeness does not seem to increase biodiversity and non-nativeness seems to increase it. (184)

As for natural immunity against disease: There are few completely reliable “rules” about ecology. Rapoport’s rule is probably as reliable as any - at least for terrestrial (as opposed to marine) systems. It states that biodiversity increases as the distance to the equator decreases. As a corollary, this rule also applies to parasitic and infectious disease (PID’s): The diversity of PIDs is greatest in low latitudes (Guermier et al. 2004). So it is not surprising that human infection rates are highest in the tropics. The straightforward conclusion is that biodiversity is bad for human health. In fact, very, very bad. (214) More: 214-217

It would appear that there is no known correlation between biodiversity and ecosystem services, much less ecosystem functioning. (176)

Death Valley

Death Valley


He notes that there may be an invisible, thin line between continued survival and utter collapse which cannot be detected except by stepping over it. (160) However the geologic record and ecological sciences indicates that life will persist under a wide variety of very many conditions including all the ones in the last 3.5 billion years. This includes dramatic shifts from methane to oxygen etc. (193) He also notes that keeping more biodiversity is a door into some special deadly species or combination of species which are our undoing. (160) He finds it odd we don’t have an optimal upper boundary for “the right amount” of biodiversity. (161) Similarly the precautionary principle ought to account equally for the damage which holding back for precaution’s sake causes. (189, 197, 206) The Precautionary Principle requires a credible threat of harm. There is only one discovered negative feedback loop to extinction. That is inter-dependant relationships such as parasite and host, predator and prey, herbivores and host plants. This degree of specialization is not likely to arise in human generalists. (195)



Option Value: Calculating The Unknown Future Potential Value of Nature

Daniel Faith proposes “Option Value.” (236) This is a careful calculation, borrowed from economics of the possibility of future values, and losing access to those future values permanently. However, the way ecologists apply it once again ignores most of the things it is meant to calculate - what if future desire vanishes? What if other uses are preferable? What if biodiversity preservation is riskier than other choices?

Option value was once defined as “The additional amount a person would pay for some amenity, over and above its current value in consumption, to maintain the option of having the amenity available for the future, given the future availability of the amenity is uncertain.” (236, Maclaurin and Sterelny 2008) which comes word for word from (can Kooten and Bulte 2000) Defining option value as the “premium over … current value” fails to account for how this can be “negative, positive, or undefined. It can be negative even with risk-averse individuals.” It is expected value. “It is not a price, but a statistic computed from values that vary in various possible realized states of the world.” (237)

“Supply is (assumed) assured by conservation, it is (assumed) zero in the absence of conservation.” Uncertainty is an important component that is left out. “Uncertainty in the consumer’s demand for the good, which might or might not be conserved. The consumer might not want it at all.” (237) Preserving option value via biodiversity might not even be the right risk-averse move. “A risk-averse person … will prefer the choice of only having to pay for … a world in which she actually demands it; and then, preferably with low marginal utility dollars.” (250) “OP that is willingly paid with the knowledge of which states are possible and the knowledge of how likely it is for each state to occur, but without knowing which state does, in fact, obtain.” But instead, conservationists take for granted “OP… is always positive.” Their claim would seem to require a priori justification of a proposition that is a contingency that can tip either way.” (245)

Option Value is meant to determine “the question of whether or not, under these conditions, a consumer would willingly pay anything up front for the conservation project.” (248)

Here are examples of changes in demand for biodiversity: - Ms. Consumer’s income plummets, which causes her demand for any level of biodiversity to likewise plummet. On the other hand, she might win the lottery. - The cost of transportation to where biodiversity can be “consumed” - A facial massage and aromatherapy far more attractive than trying to get up close and personal with biodiversity in the personae of mosquitoes, skunks, and bears. - The park is thronging with rude, rowdy, and music-blaring yahoos, outnumbered only by the mosquitoes… or park park officials might have clamped down on rowdy miscreants and constructed trail signs that make it virtually impossible for a literate person to get lost; and successful knee surgery might have made her more mobile than ever. - She might change her mind about just how much she likes biodiversity. She might decide the risk … is too much to bear. (243)

There is also a lot of confusion over what option value and quasi option value mean. “For example, conservationist arguments routinely presume that option value is awarded for avoiding the risk of not conserving. But as economists define it, option value is not so much an expression of risk aversion as it is a choice between different ways of distributing risk. In fact, it is easy to see how circumstances can make conservation the risky choice.”



Quasi-Option Value: Uncertainty, Irreversibility, Information, and Time

“Waiting to Find Out if Nature is Invaluable” Quasi option value accounts for more sources of uncertainty. It does so by accounting for time, irreversibility, information gained, risk preference, and the cost and benefits of information and irreversibility.

Quasi Option Value depends on comparing how value changes over time. It requires something to be irreversible, but irreversible is difficult to define. Most applications mean “very costly to reverse.” (253) Information is meant in the form of reducing uncertainty. “by the time of a second decision opportunity, the benefit and costs experienced or uncovered as a consequence of the first decision are better known. New benefits and new costs might be uncovered.” (254)

“This means that quasi option value is better regarded as a rule for how best to conduct cost-benefit analysis as a multi-stage decision process. The rule directs a decision maker not to ignore the possibility that information newly available only at the second decision point will show that the optimal amount of development for both periods 1 and 2 is less than that already taken in period 1. For if this possibility is realized and if development cannot be reversed, then the decision maker will have failed to find the optimal cost-benefit solution for the two periods combined.” (258)

“It is somewhat baffling that a number of theorists presume that the information that informs decision 2 must concern only the existence or magnitude of conservation benefits.” There is great reason to think that conservation costs will become apparent. “Routinely ignored is a similar possibility that newly acquired knowledge - for example about how complex zoonotic disease systems work - might uncover new ways in which conserved species might come back to bite us people” (256) “The argument ignores the fact that engaging in even partial development might actually provide as well as the magnitude of costs that might become apparent as a result of some partial failure to conserve.” (255) “Some investments yield compound returns whose greatest benefits are realized only long after the initial investment. Second, some investments yield unexpected benefits. And third, investments sometimes lead to other, otherwise unrealizable and even previously unknown investment opportunities.”(256)

Suppose we knew “biodiversity will yield a cure for cancer. But if we really have this information, then quasi-option value collapses into a run-of-the-mill computation of the net expected value of conservation versus development. There is no need for a special category of economic value.” (258)



Other things in the Book:

Ways to Increase Biodiversity:

I’m not entirely sure why Maier shifts gears to enumerate several ways to increase biodiversity, but I’m very happy he did. It’s some real food for thought as to why we are, or are not pursuing these strategies, especially when they seem to be relatively actionable and viable ways to increase biodiversity.

Ways to increase biodiversity: 1) Resurrect extinct species 2) Increase the production of new species via technology 3) Encourage polyploid speciation 4) Invest in gene banks 5) Introduce species into new places where they are unlikely to displace natives 6) Strategically introduce species into new environments that are different than their origin 7) Create novel habitats, especially ones known to stimulate speciation 8) Create new biomes/ecotypes as their own sort of biodiversity 9) Genetically modify species to have different tolerances 10) Accelerate adaptation and mutations 11) Increase human human predation (shown to cause greater phenotypic change) 12) Increase nitrogen for n-limited habitats 13) Replace simple ecosystems with complex ones 14) Replace forests with multiple complex patterns of successional stages. (148-149)

A Simile for Biodiversity:

A poignant comparison Donald S Maier makes early on is between biodiversity with education. Education benefits from certain kinds of variety, but not others. Exposure to danger, distraction, and temptation are all sorts of non-beneficial variety. (69) When we say we want variety, we really mean we want beneficial variety only, and not the other kind. Therefore it is misleading to say we want “variety” when what we really mean is we want “many of the best educational things” instead of “variety.” It would help us navigate to that a lot more directly. This applies to all things.

Measure this.

Measure this.

Biodiversity is (not) a Good Metric of Nature:

If “N.nycicorax were replaced by N. violaceus, then the species present in the marsh would all have changed, but it would be hard to deny that the species diversity would not have been affected at all.” (120) Biodiversity is a number which is perfectly substitutable This is not likely what we mean by “nature” and poses a problem for representing it well. .

When it comes to biodiversity as an inventory it is not at all clear that more is better. Some shocking notes that Maier makes in passing are “euthrophic zones… does not appear to be any clear or well founded evidence for a decline in species diversity”(105) and “some of the simplest, least diverse, and most productive are salt marshes.” (107) Biodiversity does not seem to be correlated with anything valuable: ecosystem services, stability, resistance to invasion, productivity. And not for lack of trying. (134)

Ecologists tangle themselves up in knots, first trying to prove that biodiversity is an indicator of ecosystem services, then that low biodiversity places are still valuable… as ecosystem services. The case of the salt marsh is a great ecosystem service example with paltry biodiversity. (172)

More Problems with Biodiversity:

Ecologists Suck at Measuring:

There is recklessness in measuring biodiversity too, from entropy “combines species richness with eveness of species abundance. The index is maximized with maximum evenness- that is, when each species present is represented with an identical abundance of individuals. In fact it is possible to decrease the value of the index by adding individuals of one of several previously equally abundant species.” and “Simpson’s index can increase if a relatively rare species goes extinct or is extirpated. Simoson’s index an also decrease with the introduction of a relatively rare species. this breas repeating. If Simpson’s index is the measure of biodiversity, then it tells us that, in some situations, one method of increasing biodiversity is to ensure that a species goes extinct.” (117)

Endemism is poorly explained. It is not the same thing as hotspots of biodiversity, but it is often conflated. It is sometimes boiled down to “survival risk,”” at which point it might be worth putting greater effort into species which are more assured to benefit from conservation actions. Either way, endemism is not a valuable category to prioritize for their endemism separate from their survival risk directly. (128)

Sometimes low abundance species are favored. This does not seem useful since it would indicate a decreased chance of survival. Equiabundace does not seem to be “the most biodiverse” state of affairs. (129) There are also various claims and arguments that there is a correct amount or ratio of biodiversity, not too much and not too little, which Maier collapses into something he calls “Just So” models. The biggest problem being finding some kind of standard for which is the appropriate amount or kind of biodiversity. (136)



Requirements for a Definition Of the Value of Nature: 421-422

First, one should require a theory that is guided by a few simple, clearly deliminated, and general principles, which people might be able to endorse on clear and solid grounds. Second, it should be a theory based on principles that elucidate rather than obscure what I shall call the “core” value of the natural world is so unique it is not possessed by anything else in the pantheon of valuable things. In other words, the theory should avoid pushing value into a value sea of faceless anonymity. Third, a viable theory of natural value should be grounded in principles that show why the value of nature is not subject to whims and preferences. Fourth, a viable account of value of the natural world should adequately account for why anybody should care about it. The account should give us some reason to understand why people both individually and collectively should and would want to take nature’s value under consideration.

Maier’s Value of Nature: “Appropriate Fit”

“It is about finding value living with and accommodating a natural part of the world that operates according to rule not of our making, and whose operations neither demands nor could possibly be helped by human enforcement of it’s rules, because the natural world has no ends of its own, let alone an end that it has an interest in achieving. It is about finding a human place in a part of the world that is radically detached from human rules, human ends, and human interests, and where anthropomorphizing projection of these vital human elements is worse than meaningless.” (426)

Appropriate fit supplies no knockdown arguments for “saving nature”, let alone saving it at al costs. But I believe that the theory merits a preeminent place and a constant presence in or thinking about our many and frequent actions that impinge on nature. At the very least, it should make use aware that every time a field is cleared, a road is built, a mountain-side planted with wind turbines, a desert scraped clean and covered with solar reflecting panels, a river damned, or a fire regime implemented, we have decided and acted in a way that torques our human relationship to the natural world; and this is morally significant(439)

Nor can one do ill to nature - considered an anthropomorphized moral patient - for example, by failing to keep it in good health, or by failing to respect its autonomy or integrity. For, as I have argued at several previous junctures, nature simply does not have an interest in maintaining it’s health, making autonomous choices, or leading an existence in which its beliefs and actions (whatever those might consist in for nature) are well integrated in the morally relevant sense. therefore if any of the above-mentioned interactions make any sense at all, they do not have the sought-after moral implications(438)

We are not at our best when, without abatement, with feverish intensity, and with essentially single-minded focus, we try to make the world “right” or convenient or comfortable for ourselves. We are not at our best when we always and without hesitation transform our surrounds ot make them “ours.”(436)

At it’s core, it is that which is not emblematic of human desires and designs to achieve them. (450)



Maier on Interacting with Nature:

“I believe that there is still good reason for saying that, for now, we should make an effort to invite and welcome other creatures and plants to live in and among us human creatures in our unambiguously human-made, made for humans environments. … We can and ought to regard our human-made domains as welcoming of any and all organisms - insofar as it suits them as well as us.” We should provide “accommodation for certain creatures to live in our midst. But we should honestly acknowledge that this is an afterthought and that, as an afterthought, it carries no great and moral burdens. We should not make ourselves look foolish by contriving fancy ecosystem based justifications for any such effort. The rationale is simple and light-weight: the ecosystem in question is already part of the human-designed world and there seems to be no harm in modestly modifying that design to suit its designers’ fancy or the fancy of those human occupants for which it was designed.” (501) Providing elevator service for peregrine falcons should not be mistaken for anything that could be justified on the grounds of “enhancing natural value” or recovering the “natural systems” that the city long ago displaced.”

  1. The book is 500 pages long and I have reduced pages into sentences, I have tried to mark them with the page they came from. Maier is nothing if not thorough. If you have reservations, go to the text itself for elaborations on his arguments. Don’t expect the original text to have more references to research papers. This is not a book of evidence, but philosophical arguments. [return]