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How places matter: A new theory of environmental value.

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Rogelio Luque-Lora.

In 1972, the Navajo activist Katherine Smith told Senate investigators that she would never quit her home on Big Mountain. I will ‘never leave the land, this sacred place’, she said. ‘The land is part of me and I will one day be part of the land… All that has meaning is here.’

It is standard practice to conceive of the value of places in terms of the ‘ecosystem services’ they provide. For Smith, however, Big Mountain was not merely a service-provider. It was a part of her life. There is a need for a theory of environmental value that can accommodate such cases. In this talk, I present such a theory.

I begin with a description of the standard model of environmental value, according to which places such as Big Mountain have instrumental or ‘service’ value for us humans on account of their causal powers. I then argue that that model comes up short when applied to those cases when places have religious, political, historical, mythic or any other kind of cultural value. I then move on to present my own model of environmental value, according to which places can have constitutive value on account of the contributions they make to certain meaningful wholes. In the final part of the talk, I briefly consider that model’s implications for environmental policy.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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