The Economist’s debate on the inherent value of wilderness, and the Vogons

I have trouble sometimes recognizing subscriber walls for some of the things I read, as I do subscribe to rather a large number of magazines and stay signed in online. I think this debate on the inherent value of wilderness from the Economist is free content.

It’s a nice introduction to the basic issues of environmental policy and wilderness set-asides, but I always wonder why we start from the position about whether wilderness has inherent value. The opposition never says that nature does not have inherent value; it simply points out,as Lee Lane does here, that depending on the context, other factors outweigh the value that wilderness has. Thus resolving whether wilderness has value itself rather misses the point; nobody but the Vogons* advocates for squashing flowers for the pleasure of squashing them. The point is the pluralistic values and priority weighting of those values in the public sphere surrounding environmental value, and the tradeoffs you are proposing at a given time.

* To quote the Wikipedia description, which is delightful: On Vogsphere, the Vogons would sit upon very elegant and beautiful gazelle-like creatures, whose backs would snap instantly if the Vogons tried to ride them. The Vogons were perfectly happy with just sitting on them. Another favorite Vogon pastime is to import millions of beautiful jewel-backed scuttling crabs from their native planet, cut down giant trees of breathtaking beauty, and spend a happy drunken night smashing the crabs to bits with iron mallets and cooking the crab meat by burning the trees. In the movie, the Vogons seem to smash the crabs for no apparent reason besides pure pleasure at killing something.

See? Even there the Vogons have a use value.