S T E P H E N
E L L E R T
The Value of Life BIOLOGICAL
Washington, D.C. â€¢ Covelo, California
A Shearwater Book published by Island Press Copyright © 1996 Island Press First paperback edition published in 1997 All rights reserved under International and PanAmerican Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher: Island Press, 1718 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009. Shearwater Books is a trademark of The Center for Resource Economics. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Kellert, Stephen R. The value of life: biological diversity and human society/ Stephen R. Kellert. p.
Includes bibliographical references (p.
) and index.
ISBN 1-55963-317-4 (cloth).-ISBN 1-55963-318-2 (pbk) 1. Human ecology-Philosophy. nature.
2. Philosophy of
3· Environmental degradation-Moral and
ethical aspects. 4· Nature conservationPhilosophy. Philosophy.
5· Biological diversity conservationI. Title.
GF21.K47 1996 179' .1--dc2o
Printed on recycled, acid-free paper @) Manufactured in the United States of America 109876543
To Cilia, Emily, Libby, and the boys for all their love and inspiration.
List of Tables and Figures Acknowledgments Prologue PART ONE:
XI Xlll XV
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Values
Chapter 3: American Society
Chapter 4: Activities
Chapter 6: Culture
Chapter 7: Endangered Species
Chapter 8: Conserving Biological Diversity
Chapter 9: Education and Ethics
I struggle, like many in our society, with the need to fashion a coherent sense of community and connection out of fragments. Often I feel sliced into separate, seemingly incompatible roles, each marked by complexity and abstraction, of relevance to only a small audience of others. Few opportunities exist for tying these many threads of a life together-for uniting my professional identity with the traditional roles of parent, spouse, friend, citizen, community member, and participant in a natural, less human-built and dominated world. The historical link between work, community, and nature, once the basis for a secure and sustainable sense of place, has eroded. A new kind of alienation has taken its stead. I find myself wrestling with such demons this early November morning, as my disconnected professional and personal roles clash with my desire for a more cohesive existence. Outside I hear the neighborhood stir with preparations for the new day, the busy pulse of work, school, and commerce projecting a hum of energy and purpose. What
seems lacking in all this activity, though, is a sence of integrity-an integration of work and community, a harmony of place and environment. I choose a time-honored tradition to make the transition from my current disconnection to the glimpse of a greater unity of direction and purpose. I gather my dogs for a short walk to the nearby park and its meandering river. The thick-set, hang-jowled, dumber spaniel and the sprightly poodle-like mixed breed anticipate my intentions, straining with enthusiasm, their keen senses poised in expectation of our ritual seeking of forests and watercourses. Exiting the house we gather rhythm and poise as we spy a quartermile away, the nearly thousand acres of undeveloped oasis. The park's towering feature, a huge traprock ridge, looms high above, perpendicular cliffs of red rock signifying the hardened lava which has survived the millennia of eroding years that leveled the soft surrounding sandstone. We aim for the floodplain, where the river snakes along the base of the great columnar cliffs. We cross a busy intersection before entering the bottomland forest. As the traffic speeds past, little chance exists that the drivers and I will recognize our basic commonality. The dogs strain with excitement as we descend the path to the river. We progress a few hundred yards and already the roar of the rushing traffic seems swallowed by the vegetative mass of the thick forest. A jostling of middle-aged oaks, tulips, maples, hickories, ashes, beeches, sassafras, willows, locusts, pines, hemlocks, dogwoods, and laurels has digested the muffled roar like some monstrous appetite, the machine sounds displaced by a great ambient thud. We have entered another world: richly textured interlacings of living matter, sweet soil, flowing waters, sand and stone, altogether calm and reassuring. We proceed along the trail, repeatedly distracted by details as we pause to examine and explore, feeding our appetite for discovery, although we have followed this path many times before. We maneuver through the deciduous forest that soon levels onto the floodplain. Life crowds all around us-a fever of animation reflected in a profusion of songbirds, small mammals, insects, trees, bushes, rustling leaves, and more. We have become enchanted by a kaleidoscope of living abundance and diversity. I use my eyes, mostly, sometimes my ears, the dogs utterly lost in an exotic world of richly textured scents and smells.
As the November trees have lost most of their leaves, the shallow, slow-moving river soon comes into view. A kingfisher's distinctive alarm sounds from a nearby bank. The path winds through a canopy of spicebush, bittersweet, wild grape, and creeper, heavy with autumn seeds and berries. The rustling of resident and migrating songbirds hints at the gathering of winter fat. A flock of migrating robins engorges itself nearby. Small groups of mallards, geese, and swans pocket corners of the meandering river. A trellis of bluish-black, red, and yellow berries forms a graceful arch over the path, a welcoming embrace, joining the adjacent willows and locusts. Winding through a belt of marsh grass and cattails, the path eventually leads to a footbridge elegantly spanning the river. It is a human creation distinctively in harmony with its landscape. I pause on top of the bridge. Below me I catch sight of the ancient elegance of a great blue heron crouching close to the river's edge, the cattails and phragmites stirring in the frosty morning air hinting at the coming of winter cold. Willows hang beside the riverbank casting pale green and yellow reflections on the slow-moving surface. Straining to see into the murky waters, I barely discern the ghostlike shadows of passing bass and shiners, two among the many fish who commingle in the brackish waters influenced by the nearby saltwater sound. The reflection of an undulating flicker catches my eye, its yellow glint and colorful underbody silhouetted against the river's surface. The stress of disconnected realities, the uncertainty of place and relation in an age of confusion, flow from my shoulders like sap from a wounded tree, the tension absorbed by the soft, forgiving ground. I feel settled. Not just a sense of relaxation, but an approaching tranquility. I experience the promise of well-being flowing from a feeling of connection with the varied life and nonlife around me. I feel an affinity with this vibrant landscape set against a backdrop of contemporary sameness and artificiality. And, there is more. A web of relationships links me with this pocket of nature, some physical, some emotional, a few intellectual, even a flirtation with the spiritual. Intimate affiliation with living diversity offers me knowledge and kinship, and I am nourished by the association. I take pleasure from the red and yellow vines of the bittersweet
canopy, the thick willows and locusts edging the river, the huge basaltic rock hovering above. There is satisfaction, too, in witnessing the fullness of the trees and the clouds reflected in the slow river. A raft ofbrants and mallards, their finely contrasting colors, represents yet another attraction: their unexpected burst into flight expresses spontaneity springing into motion. The successional forest, the wetlands, the surrounding vegetation, the myriad ofbiotic and abiotic relations-all feed the impression of ecological connection among the many parts, a systematic alliance that both transcends and includes my presence. Apart from the intellectual insight, I feel charged by my role as member of the ecological enterprise. The physical exertion, even in this tamed and diminished wildness, reaffirms my ancient roots and spurs confidence in my capacity for curiosity, exploration, and skill. My imagination aroused, I seek experience and understanding by pushing deeper into nature's maze. The magic well has again worked its curious transformation: the more I search, the more I recognize how much deeper and perhaps unending the searching mightbe. 1 I gather comfort from a material dependency, a gentle and sustainable utilization expressed along the way. I have encountered compatible instances of practical human intervention-the gentle arch of the footbridge, the old stone dam still impounding a portion of the city's water supply, the remains of a gun factory signifying the initial stirrings of an industrial revolution. Most of all, the still healthy river circulates the city's nutrients, controls its floods, decomposes its wastes, offers a nursery for its commercial fish, provides a host of free environmental services upon which all life, mine included, depends. I take sustenance, emotional and spiritual, from an ineffable feeling of kinship with the many creatures in this oasis of urban nature. I feel bonded with the dogs, of course, but also with the waterfowl, songbirds, chipmunks, even the invertebrates. Despite all the variety and diversity, I am comforted, and inspired, by the knowledge of an extraordinary degree of shared molecular and genetic relation. Even in this modern context of concrete, steel, and glass, there persists more life, of which I am part, than in all the dead stars and planets of the vast universe as we know it.
The sum of these affiliations with the living diversity which surrounds me translates into a sense of wholeness, a reminder of an underlying order, perhaps even purpose. A new reassurance has muted my earlier anxieties. My brief visit to the magic well has readied me for the tasks and challenges of the day. I feel invigorated intellectually, engaged emotionally, enlivened aesthetically, assured spiritually. My respite from the modern temper, and its sometimes overwhelming isolation, has allowed a timeless connection to emerge. As the dogs and I leave the park, an ancient Ojibway expression comes to mind: "Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky." 2