American Environmentalism: Values, Tactics, Priorities

By Joseph M. Petulla | Go to book overview
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Environmental Values

MOST people who think about environmental crises make some general assumptions about values. And one of those assumptions will be that questions of environmental values will be simple ones. Environmentalists lament what they think are universal attitudes of waste and economic values which reward despoilment of the natural environment. Even representatives of offending corporations, many labor unions, churches, and perhaps land developers will agree, adding their own moderating provisos. Government agencies fall in line with the peculiar jargon of official documents. If we listen to environmental debate, it will appear that there is even some kind of consensus regarding values.

Yet when you scratch the surface, when individuals--executives, labor officials, factory workers, teachers, professional workers, farmers, traveling salesmen--begin to tell you their own life stories, their hopes, needs, feelings, and opinions, you get a glimpse of the complexity of the problem of values. Very often the same person holds contradictory attitudes. Values seem to arise from economic interests, yet many of the oldest and most deeply embedded ones, like those prevalent for centuries in religious thought, enjoy an existence virtually independent of economic conditions. Attitudes toward waste can be understood as only a small cluster in the vast constellation of values coming from hundreds of cultural sources--family, religion, economic beliefs, even personality and character. Values are learned early in life and strengthened, lost, renounced, and compounded as

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