Skip to Main content

Languages of valuation

Environmental conflicts might arise out of clashes of different interests or because of the existence of different values. Take mangroves for instance, on the coast of Ecuador. Some people want to preserve them against the shrimp industry because they appreciate their ecological and aesthetic values. Other people want to preserve them because they make their livelihood and survive from them, and/or because they understand their practical role in coastal defence and as fish breeding grounds. Other people (or the same people, in other contexts) might appeal to the sense of culture and place that mangroves provide for their traditional inhabitants. They might even argue that there are sacred mangroves.

In all cases, environmental conflicts are expressed as conflicts of valuation, either within the parameters of one single standard of valuation or across plural values (Munda, 2008). Thus, in a gold mining conflict, the company will probably argue in terms of the money to be gained (and shared locally for employment, taxes and royalties), while the opposition may argue in terms of the uncertain risks to health from cyanide used in open cast mining, in terms of damage to water availability, in terms of the infringement of indigenous rights to the territory under Convention 169 of ILO, or in terms of the sacredness of a mountain or a river.

Which then is the true value of 1 pound of farm-raised shrimp or the true value of an ounce of gold? Who has the power to simplify complexity, ruling some viewpoints as out of order? These questions demonstrate that conventional conflict resolution through cost-benefit analysis and monetary compensation is inappropriate, because in simplifying complex value systems related to the environment into monetary units, it denies the legitimacy of other languages.


Munda, G. (2008) Social Multi-criteria Evaluation for a Sustainable Economy, Heidelberg, Springer.

This glossary entry is based on a contribution by Julien Francois Gerber

EJOLT glossary editors: Hali Healy, Sylvia Lorek and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

Comments are closed.