Spiritual Cultural Aesthetic and Recreational

Although many of the utilitarian values discussed previously have an economic basis, biodiversity is valued for noneconomic reasons as well. Most cultures place distinct aesthetic, spiritual, or recreational value on natural areas. People look to the natural world as a source of inspiration, beauty, and rejuvenation. They seek out natural areas in which to relax, surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. Some people believe that individual living organisms are valuable for their beauty, rarity, complexity, and adaptations (Rossow, 1981, reprinted in Van DeVeer and Pierce, 1998). Nature provides insight and understanding of our role in the world.

Biodiversity plays a central role in human spiritual traditions. Religions help define the relationships between humans and their environment. Nature is used in religious imagery, and many religious traditions view the contemplation of nature as an important spiritual value (Chevalier et al., 1997). In Thailand, trees are marked with yellow cloth to denote their sacredness to the Buddhist faith. This practice has saved some sacred groves from illegal logging, since to destroy these trees is a serious crime. Ancient Greek temples were situated in places noted for their natural beauty. Similarly, in Japan, Shinto temples are often located in large groves of trees, where spiritual forces are believed to exist. In the islands of the South Pacific, fishing families have a unique relationship with certain ani

A grizzly bear on the Alaska tundra. People look to the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it as sources of inspiration and rejuvenation. Some people believe that living organisms are valuable for their beauty, rarity, and complexity, even if they have no obvious utilitarian value. (John Conrad/Corbis)

A grizzly bear on the Alaska tundra. People look to the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it as sources of inspiration and rejuvenation. Some people believe that living organisms are valuable for their beauty, rarity, and complexity, even if they have no obvious utilitarian value. (John Conrad/Corbis)

mals, usually turtles or sharks. For each family, these special species (or groups of species) are considered sacred, and it is taboo to hunt them; this relationship is carried on through the generations. The idea of kinship between animals and people is known as totemism, and it is found in many parts of the world. Because totems are usually associated with taboos, they can help to control the harvest of species. In some fishing communities, taboos linked to the life cycle of certain species may restrict hunting when fish are breeding.

The natural world also provides a rich source of symbols used in art and literature. Plants and animals are central to mythology, dance, song, poetry, rituals, festivals, and holidays around the world. Different cultures can exhibit opposite attitudes toward a given species. Snakes, for example, are honored by some cultures and reviled by others. Rats are considered pests in much of Europe and North America, delicacies in many Asian countries, and sacred in some parts of India. Of course, within cultures individual attitudes can vary dramatically. For instance, in Britain many people dislike rodents, and yet there are several associations devoted to breeding them, including the National Mouse Club and the National Fancy Rat Club.

Natural areas provide a source of inspiration and a place to relax. Because of this, forests, lakes, mountains, and beaches offer opportunities for commercially valuable outdoor activities such as ecotourism, fishing, and hiking.

Costanza et al. (1997) estimate that the total recreational value of the world's resources could be as high as $800 billion annually. The growing ecotourism industry generates an enormous amount of money and is fast becoming a lucrative industry for some developing nations. For example, in Costa Rica tourism has expanded rapidly since the mid-1980s; it is now the leading source of foreign revenue, surpassing the banana industry.

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