Values can conflict with each other. Take, for example, the value that an important part of being alive is to experience, understand, and enjoy nature. Honoring this value, we would preserve WILDERNESS for our children and others in the future. But this value directly opposes a value at the root of much economic thinking: that the primary goal of human beings is to maximize their individual welfare, usually monetarily - for instance, when owners cut down ancient wilderness forests to make profits from lumber.
Value conflicts occur within a person as well as between people, though we don't always want to acknowledge such conflicts. People frequently say they want both low taxes and generous government services, or both protection of natural areas and freedom to do whatever they want in them - even though they may realize deep down that they can't have both at the same time.
The environmental movement is fundamentally based not on economic or scientific arguments but on moral and aesthetic values about what is right, fitting, beautiful, or satifying. While conflicts over environmental issues are often argued on "practical" grounds, most environmental debates ultimately involve value conflicts. Some fundamentalists believe that the end of the world will come soon, so it really doesn't matter if we humans cause terrible damage to the BIOSPHERE. People who believe that all animals have rights hold that human beings are wrong to eat other animals, to keep them in cages, or do damaging medical experiments on them. Ecologically oriented citizens believe that we have a moral obligation to achieve SUSTAINABILITY, so that we do not diminish the chances of future generations to meet their needs. Some economists believe that we can trust the working of economic laws to replace used-up resources and solve POLLUTION problems.
Such conflicting views can seem hopelessly at odds. However, there is often a possibility of mutual understanding and cooperation if we realize that although values exist inside our heads, they have consequences in the real world. We all share the consequences of value-based decisions. Religious people generally believe that their values are justified by religious texts or by the decisions of their churches, yet they can sometimes work with nonreligious people who feel that their values are justified science - if both sides are willing to talk about the the actual results of policy decisions. You often gain a new perspective on a value if you see what its concrete consequences are. Sometimes, too, when people talk respectfully together, it turns out that their values are not so far apart as they thought, or they find they can work together on behalf of one value they share although they disagree on others.
At some great turning points in history, dominant values become exhausted or problematic and people work out new values that they hope will enable them to survive better. With the rise of capitalism, Western peoples have adopted the belief that technology can solve all our problems and is the most important thing in life while religious and cultural matters have become secondary. At the moment, many Americans are seeking ways to escape the values of expansionist industrialism (embodied in the key idea of GROWTH) and live by new values associated with ecology (embodied in the key idea of sustainability). They don't let the earning and spending of money become their top priority. They dress simply but with flair and eat healthy foods. They focus on activities that have personal meaning to them, not just status appeal. They are conscientious about recycling, lessening consumption, and generally reducing their IMPACTS.
Transitions in values normally take centuries to work themselves out, through the practical experiences and rethinking of millions of people. This leisurely pace of value change may prove too slow to save us from catastrophes of DESERTIFICATION, DEFORESTATION, famine, and disease - brought on by global warming, ozone thinning, overpopulation, and drastic declines in primary productivity in the seas and on land. Thus it is urgent that we develop a widespread ethic of ecological responsibility.
Values are very important and I hope that a careful reading of the defintion of VALUES has lead you also to a better understanding of the definition of SUSTAINABILITY by Ernest Callenbach.