The fundamental issue H 1 Are people allowed to do everything they are capable of? We constantly come up against this question where the use of new technologies is concerned, such as genetic engineering or human interventions in nature, such as the clearance of primary forests so that the land can be used for agriculture. Intuitively, everyone answers this question with a definitive ‘No’. In no way should people be allowed to do everything they are capable of doing.The same applies to everyday actions. Many options in daily life, from lying to minor deception, from breaking a promise to going behind a friend’s back, are obviously actions that are seen by all well-intentioned observers as unacceptable. However, it is much more difficult to assess those actions where the system of values is not so obvious. Actions where there are conflicts between positive and negative consequences or where a judgement could be made one way or the other with equally good justification are especially common in environmental policy. After all, there is hardly anyone who wilfully and without reason desecrates the environment, releases toxic pollutants or is cruel to animals out of pure desire. Conscious desecrators ofthe environment are obviously acting wrongly, and every legislator would do well to prevent these people from acting in this way through the threat of appropriate punishments. But there is a need for clarification where people bring about a change in the environment with the best intentions and for good reasons and, in the process, harm the environment. In ethics we talk about ‘conflicts of targets’ here. Most interventions in the environment are made for good reason: those who make such interventions may want to secure food for a growing population so that ever fewer people have to suffer hunger; they want to ensure long-term jobs and adequate incomes; they want to use natural resources for products and services that make life more pleasant for many people; they want to use nature as a receptacle for waste materials from production and consumption that are no longer needed. Of course, they do not do this out of pure love for humanity, but mainly for their own advantage without this being immoral on its own. The list of human activities that change the environment and are perpetrated for existential or economic reasons could be carried on into infinity. Human existence is bound to the use of nature. The more people populate the world, the more intensive this use will have to be. Therefore, to be able to make a well-founded judgement ofthe ethically acceptable extent ofthe appropriation of nature through human economic activity, the range of products and services created by that appropriation of nature has to be considered in relation to the losses that are inflicted on the environment and nature. With this comparison it can be seen that the serious interventions in nature andthe environment did not occur out of arrogance or indifference, but in order to provide the growing number of people with goods and services; these people need them to survive or as a prerequisite for a good life. However, at the same time it must not be forgotten that these interventions often inflict irreversible damage on the environment or deny future generations the possibility of use. Above and beyond this, for the human race, nature is a cradle of social, cultural, aesthetic and religious values, which, in turn, has a major influence on people’s well-being. On both sides ofthe equation, therefore, there are important assets that have to be appreciated whenever interventions are made in nature. But what form should such an appreciation take? If the pros and cons ofthe intervention in nature have to be weighed against each other, criteria are needed that can be used as yardsticks. Who can and may draw up such criteria? By what standards should the interventions be assessed? And how can the manifestations ofthe various options for action be compared with each other for each criterion? This chapter intends to provide answers to these questions. A deeper analysis can be found in the special report on ethical and economic assessment published by the Council (WBGU, 2000b). This special report deals in detail with the questions and problems that occur in the valuation of human interventions in the biosphere.
276 H Valuing the biosphere: An ethical and economic perspective The following section gives a brief overview ofthe options for placing a value on environmental assets. In this process, a simple distinction is initially made between categorical principles, ie those that must under no circumstances be exceeded or violated, and compensatory principles, ie those where compensation with other competing principles is allowed. This distinction consequently leads to a classification of environmental values, which, in turn, can be used as decision-making criteria for weighing up options for the formation of environmental policies. In the second part, these ideas of valuation will be taken up and used to translate the value categories into economic behaviour. At the heart ofthe considerations here is the issue of how the goals of ethically founded consideration can be supported and operationally implemented through economic valuation methods. The last part continues the idea ofthe operational implementation of normative and factual valuations and describes a procedure that largely heeds the conclusions from the previous sections and integrates the ethical and economically determined valuation criteria into a procedural model oftheir own. The section ends with its own conclusions for the conservation and sustainable use ofthe biosphere.