The Benefits of Environmental Protection

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Depending on how one views the environment, different values can be placed on protecting it. The utilitarian considers the value of the environment only as long as it brings him happiness. Anything that does not affect him directly has little immediate value to him. Therefore, nobody can be easily persuaded to pay for expenses today even though he might eventually be rewarded by cheaper products, better health, and a more pleasant environment. The environmental ethicist, on the other hand, sees protecting the environment as a moral issue; the environment belongs not only to us, but also to all living organisms and to all future generations. Society should seek to protect it whether it directly benefits today’s humans or not (a).

Environmental protection has both market benefits and non-market benefits and may be broken down into values for generating revenues, providing non-monetary services to the community (use value), presenting unknown potential benefits (option value), and preserving the environment even if it does not benefit us directly (existence value). An example of the use value of a lake is an increase in the number of water sport enthusiasts, swimmers, and fishermen who use the lake. An example of option value is its value to future generations and the possibility that saving the environment and its ecological systems may one day provide the key to a currently non-curable disease. The existence value of the lake is the value individuals place on simply saving the ecosystem because of our belief that other creatures -- animals and plants -- have the same inherent right to these resources as humans.



(1) Toossi Reza, "Energy and the Environment:Sources, technologies, and impacts", Verve Publishers, 2005

Additional Comments

(a) The differentiation between utilitarians and environmentalists only makes sense when basic human needs are satisfied. The poor have not seen any point in protecting the environment, as they do not receive much of the benefits. When poor countries are given sufficient incentives, their attitude will necessarily change and they will see the value of environmental protection and conservation.

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