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Philosopher brings human values to environmental decisions
Date:4/14/2010

AUSTIN, Texas When Conservation International began working with one of Indonesia's largest energy companies on an environmentally conscious development plan two years ago, the groups looked to a philosopher for guidance.

Sahotra Sarkar, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin and leader in the study of environmental ethics, worked with the conservationists and energy producers to develop strategies that balance economic development and biodiversity protection while respecting the needs of indigenous people.

"We really are talking about people's values," Sarkar says of his approach to environmental questions, "not just facts."

As the planet prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this month, Sarkar is among a growing group of scholars and environmentalists promoting the "social ecology" model of conservation that puts local values at the center in any decisions.

As a philosopher, Sarkar was first drawn to this idea by his interest in decision theory, which draws from mathematics and focuses on the values and variables people consider in making choices.

Sarkar rejects the so-called fortress model of preservation popular throughout much of the 20th century that espoused putting a fence around a region and making it off limits. And he dismisses the idea that environmentalists from developed countries know what's best for habitats around the world and can impose those values on less-developed regions.

"Local residents are privileged stakeholders," Sarkar, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, wrote in an article on the ethics and politics of conservation published last month in the journal Biological Conservation.

"Given that not every biotic feature can reasonably be targeted for protection, what we decide to protect must be a cultural choice," he wrote.

Such cultural choices vary among regions. And Sarkar's laboratory part of the Department o
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Contact: Gary Susswein
susswein@austin.utexas.edu
512-471-4945
University of Texas at Austin
Source:Eurekalert

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