All humans share a common ancestor with all the other species on planet earth. We co-evolved with other species within complex ecosystems, and many scientists argue that these origins are reflected in our biological makeup and even our social institutions. We are complex mammals that need some regular contact with nature and other species for our mental health and well-being. The biologist E. O. Wilson coined the term biophilia to describe the affinity humans have with other species. Evidence for the need humans have for some contact with the natural world has been found in numerous psychological studies and even in economic studies seeking to determine the value of particular species. Questionnaires are sometimes used by economists to elicit non-market values, using a technique called contingent valuation. In these studies a significant number of respondents state that a particular species (blue whales, eagles, or coyotes, for example) should be preserved no matter what the cost—a singularly noneconomic response.
Economists recognize that not all values are captured in market prices. Sometimes people want to preserve nature not to use immediately but to keep open the option of using it sometime in the future. This is called option value. In other cases people get some satisfaction just by knowing that particular living things exist—blue whales or giant squid, for example—even though there is a small chance that they will ever see them. This is called existence value, and surveys show that it may be the most important aspect of the value that humans place on biodiversity.
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