1.1 Environmental Value Systems

Environmental Value Systems (EVSs)

Environmental value systems are an excellent way to start the course and get to know your students. I like to start by asking students to explore what they know already, who they are (in the context of the environment) and why they think the way they do. This then helps to explore why other people have different EVSs and thus opinions about the problems and solutions we encounter during the course.

As EVSs are interwoven throughout the course they are also a great way to keep students making links. They are also, intrinsically, linked to TOK. They ask students how knowledge is constructed and how it is applied. Understanding that different cultures may appreciate nature in different ways can help students link to Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

As this is the first unit of my course I have a variety of options for starting students to think about environmental issues.

Significant Ideas:

There is a wide spectrum of EVSs, each with its own premises and implications.

Recommended Teaching Time (not including practicals): 1.5 hours

From the Guide

For the Knowledge Statements see the IB ESS Guide 2015 Subtopic 1.1

At the end of this topic the student should be able to:

  • define an Environmental Value System and describe the differences between the Ecocentric, Technocentric and Anthropocentric EVSs.
  • explain how a particular EVS might approach an environmental issue
  • discuss the intrinsic value of the environment and how different EVSs feel about this
  • be able to evaluate how an environmental issue may be approached by a combination of many different EVSs

Checking Understanding: Are Your Ready?  Checking Your Understanding 

All these questions can be answered using the resources here and your textbook.

1. Justify, using examples as evidence, how historical influences have shaped the development of the modern environmental movement. To approach this question, use three examples (one of which much be local and one global in scale).

  •  Summarize the examples and comment on how awareness of a particular environmental issue changed, and to what scale (local, regional, global awareness).
  • Describe any changes that occurred, or should have occurred, because of the event. Did people change their habits (or not)? Were new laws passed (or not)? 

2. Identify the core values of ecocentrism, anthropocentrism, and technocentrism.

3. Explain how deep ecologists, soft ecologists, environmental managers, and cornucopians fit into this range of value systems.

4. Evaluate the implications of two contrasting EVSs in the context of given environmental issues. You will need to do this throughout the course for a number of issues (water resources, global warming, farming, etc). Often you will get an example or case study and ask how people with differing EVSs would approach the issue. 

6. Describe and give examples of how culture, religion, economic status, education and socio-political background can influence a person’s EVS.

7. Identify important aspects of your own life that influence your EVS and describe how they have shaped your personal environmental worldview.   

8. Compare and contrast two environmental worldviews and how they relate to environmental systems and societies. Some examples to consider are communism v. capitalism or Judeo-Christian v. Buddhism or Islam.

9. Discuss the view that the environment can have its own intrinsic value. 

Student Activities

1.1 Who am I? 

1.1 What do you think? What do they think? 

1.1 Applying the Environmental Value Systems 

1.1 Cultural Attitudes or try  1.1 Tribal Societies and  1.1 Exploring ideas of Intrinsic Value 

Extension Reading

These readings explore other ways that social scientists have used to argue about environmental values.

An Introduction to EVSs

The ESS Subject Guide defines an EVS as “a worldview or paradigmthat shapes the way an individual, or group of people, perceives and evaluates environmental issues, influenced by cultural, religious, economic and socio-political contexts.” We can investigate an individual's or society's EVS by using a systems approach and analysing the inputs and outputs of that person or group.

A great opportunity for students to examine how they think about environmental issues and for you to understand your students is this activity Who am I?

Here is an example for me:

The EVS Spectrum

There is a spectrum of EVSs and where you fit in this may depend on the issue. The different EVSs can overlap and should not be thought of as a linear pathway from ecocentric to technocentric.

Each culture may have a viewpoint which is derived from different historical, spiritual and cultural roots and be difficult to categorise with this western-centric taxonomy.

An Ecocentric

tends to:

  • Integrates social, spiritual and environmental dimensions into an holistic ideal.
  • Ecology and nature are central to humanity
  • Emphasises a less materialistic approach to life with greater self-sufficiency of societies.
  • prioritises biorights (a matter of morals)
  • Emphasises importance of education is key
  • Encourages self-restraint

Personally I feel I fit into this EVS on the issue of whaling as I would prioritise the biorights of the whale. ]

I see them as having an equal right to live, that they raise the value of humanity.

They play a crucial role in marine ecosystems, perhaps even as a keystone species.

An Anthropocentric

tends to:

  • Humans must sustainably manage the global system.
  • Might use taxes, environmental regulation and legislation
  • Debate encouraged to reach a consensus
  • Pragmatic approach to solving environmental problems

Personally I approach climate change largely as an anthropocentric as I think this would be the most effective solution. This would combine with my own ecocentric value system that we should practice self-restraint. In this case I have to be pragmatic that human nature is not always thinking about the greater good.

I would tax carbon, meat and products containing palm oil. I would subsidise electric vehicles, legislate for a fast conversion from carbon based fuels to renewables and set ambitious targets for becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

I would participate in world conferences on climate change and sustainable development.

A Technocentric

tends to:

  • Technology developments can provide solutions to environmental problems.
  • Largely optimistic view of the role humans can play in improving the lot of humanity
  • Scientific research is encouraged in order to form policies and to understand how systems can be controlled, manipulated or changed to solve resource depletion
  • A pro-growth agenda is deemed necessary for society’s improvement

Personally I often find it difficult to place myself in the technocentric spectrum. I do believe that technological developments are essential to help tackle climate change, for example in developing passive housing, and also that scientific research should be the basis for our decisions on climate change.

 Introduction to EVSs presentation  

Intrinsic Value

Some people believe that all / some elements of the natural environment have intrinsic value. They should be valued just because they exist.  There are a number of countries which have given an equal right to nature in their constitutions, such as Equador and Bolivia. There is also a growing movement to give rivers the right to exist, including in USA.

Here is a blog in Nature about Ecuador giving rights to Nature.

Heres a video (1m 44sec) that explains what Ecuador has done and why and here's some useful links.

Try using these questions to stimulate discussion.  Exploring ideas of Intrinsic Value 

Extension Reading: Other Ways of Evaluating Value Judgments

Trying to explain climate change denial is a challenge. One way psychologists have approached this problem is by categorising people as Hierarchical–individualistic people (HI) or Egalitarian-communitarian (EC) people: Stephan Lewandowsky and Lorraine Whitmarsh (March 2014). Mind Over Matter. Here is an article.

Another argument made by George Monbiot is against the idea of putting a value on nature as many economists argue should happen. 


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