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Environmental Values in Iran

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Iran has globally gained a low rank in the context of sustainable environmental indicators. One of the important indicators of the development of countries is their environmental performance or environmental development in the twenty-first century. The index is currently used to compare countries’ environmental development and is published every two years at the World Economic Forum in Davos in collaboration with Yale and Columbia Universities.

According to reports published in 2006, Iran ranked 53rd in the world in terms of environmental performance, 67th in 2008, 60th in 2010, and 114th in 2012. It then ranked 83rd out of 178 countries in 2014, but dropped to 105th out of 180 countries in the 2016 report and now is among the countries with the lowest environmental performance. This rank reached 80 in 2018 and 67 in 2020. The study of this index in Iran shows numerous fluctuations, which reveals the need to pay attention to the environment. It is very obvious there are serious inconsistencies in accounts and actual reports on the ground.

Another alarming aspect of Iran’s environment is the significant decrease in its forest area over four decades, declining from 21 million hectares to 14 million hectares. This decline has led to a per capita share of only 2% per hectare in Iran, in stark contrast to the global scale, which averages 8% per capita per hectare. Renewable water has been reduced per capita from 7000 cubic meters in 1961 to 2100 cubic meters in 1997, and it has been forecast to be reduced to 1300 cubic meters by 2016. Along comes Iran’s entry into the water stress stage.

Air pollution damage amounted to $8 billion in 2006, which reached $16 billion at the end of 2016. Erosion of 2.7 billion tons of soil per year, which is three times the Asian average, and 2.5 times the world average which is equivalent to the destruction of one million hectares of agricultural land, ranked thirteenth in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emission.

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Environmental protection is one of the basic prerequisites for the overall development of any country. Economic growth and development are to be established according to the natural potential of that country. There should be no country in the world that wouldn’t want to pursue such a strategy except the clerical regime of Iran.

Regarding biodiversity, it is essential to consider it in all development projects, making its protection the utmost element of sustainability. With the increasing awareness of environmental protection, human consciousness has grown, emphasizing the need to preserve the environment for both the current and future generations.

Therefore, any adverse impacts on the natural ecosystems must be prohibited. Education, social discipline, and law as scientific disciplines, play a significant role in these endeavors. However, in Iran, the laws are shaped by the words and personal will of the supreme leader, primarily serving the corrupt ruling clerics of the country, rather than the public welfare. New laws need to be established in response to emerging challenges while existing laws should be reviewed and overhauled as necessary. A system is required to ensure strict adherence to these laws.

Nature, specifically our ecosystems, has provided us with food to nourish, fiber to clothe, and materials to build homes and goods for millennia. Natural ecosystems have conditioned the air we breathe, regulated the global water cycle, and created the soil that sustained our agriculture. Soil as a unique ecosystem has decomposed, absorbed, and neutralized our wastes.

Nature has also accommodated many necessities for all mankind and rejuvenated the human spirit. But pressure on nature from the impact of about eight billion humans is taking its toll. Natural ecosystems worldwide are collapsing. Direct and indirect anthropogenic actions have caused changes in Earth’s biota ranging from depletion of Earth’s physical and chemical environment which, had directly influenced human and nonhuman lives. We had never had such a devastating effect on the natural ecosystems in previous generations.

When modern humans emerged some 200,000 years ago, changes were slow and over relatively small geographic scales. But now changes are fast, fueled by unconstrained population growth and advancing technologies.

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Without any sustainable plan, human-dominated ecosystems have not only devastating effects on the farmlands but also on the entire planet. The ecological footprint of modern societies is huge and in most ecosystems none reversible. The results are global ecological disruption and biotic impoverishment. Yet, modern societies continue to behave as if there were no long-term consequences of transforming the biosphere as if we were not connected to nature’s life-support systems.

One unsustainable example with a devastating impact due to the overexploitation of the natural environment today is the clerical regime of Iran. Severe air pollution, pesticide pollution, soil depletion, erosion, extreme water depletion and pollution, natural resource loss, lack of appropriate waste management, lead poisoning, deforestation, and desertification are just a few. Environmental policy and implementation are poor and non-existent. Iran is beset with interrelated crises of environmental degradation, extreme mismanagement, corruption, unemployment, poverty, and population growth.

Sustainability in Iran is being undermined at the cost of future generations. The clerics have created massive ecological problems which have grave consequences on the country’s geopolitics importance. Iran had a population of 67 million in 1995, a growth rate of 3.6%, and now more than 86 million. The country is having difficulty in maintaining its current infrastructure, housing, food, and educational facilities. However, at the same time, the country’s wealth is being spent on suppression of its people, warmongerings, destabilizing the governments in the Middle East, and terrorism in the region and around the globe.

Iran Regime Cannot Handle Environmental Crisis

In 1970, Iran was nearly self-sufficient in food production and even exported its surplus. However, today, it may be permanently dependent on food imports. Despite having abundant oil reserves, natural gas, copper, lead, and marketable items, the actions of the clerical regime have led to significant environmental challenges. They have consumed more than 100% of the country’s renewable water capacity, and during their rule, over 50% of the globally recognized Hyrcanian forests have been devastated. Additionally, desertification has advanced by at least 15%, and the list of environmental issues goes on.

Population growth leads to an increased demand for infrastructure and resources, but there is no effective response from the governing body. Iran has signed many international environmental agreements and has enacted detailed environmental policies and regulations. However, the actual enforcement of these policies is lacking or, in many cases, being omitted.

What do people care about constitutes their values? People’s values are often shaped by what they care about. These values encompass a range of elements, some of which are closely tied to features of the natural environment, including forests, trees, rangelands, animal habitats, wetlands, and plant species. Other values are interconnected with economic considerations, such as jobs in the resource sector, as well as social factors like the well-being of rural communities, and concerns related to health and safety. In the case of Iran, certain aspects of the country’s infrastructure have had an impact on emissions and air pollution.

Human values are first linked to satisfying their biological needs with the primary values of survival becoming the principle in daily life. Since all that we have, comes from what the earth provides us, there is an obvious connection between our values and the environment that everyone should care about. Also, we always must be reminded that there is only one planet that supports everyone’s life, saving and protecting it is everyone’s responsibility.

What is the value of an intact healthy ecosystem? This question may seem odd at first. But human lives are dependent upon a physical living system or habitat for their very existence. So, one might say the value of ecosystems is virtually infinite. Humans should place no limit on the value of this system.

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Most people hardly think about the many contributions ecosystems make to their everyday lives as this question is not explicitly posed to them. These values are so pervasive that they run unnoticed. People encounter many of these obscured contributions on a daily basis. Nevertheless, charting a rational policy toward protecting the human environment sustainably requires that we first recognize the huge contribution of ecological systems to human well-being and that we consider not only the marketable products derived from those systems but also the more intangible values, such as spiritual and non-instrumental values.

To choose appropriate conservation policies, one should know how to evaluate changes in the state of ecosystems, which are severely influenced by the internal dynamics of nature’s interactions resulting from actual and proposed actions and policies. The most common approaches to such evaluation are aggregative. They begin by identifying and estimating the value of elements or aspects of a natural system and attributing value to its parts. In these approaches, the value of larger systems is estimated by aggregating the value of their parts: the value of whole systems is the sum of the values of their parts.

Despite the dominance of aggregative approaches, no unified method has emerged yet for valuing ecosystems. There are varying opinions in the discourse about environmental value. Practitioners in different disciplines aggregate very different units of value. Economists evaluate actual and possible consumable units, while environmental ethicists value habitats and ecosystems as important units. Mainstream environmental economics and the dominant, non-anthropocentric school of environmental ethics, the two academic disciplines most likely to provide insights regarding natural value, are at odds regarding the nature of environmental value, despite sharing an aggregative approach. So, there has consequently emerged no common method for evaluating environmental change. This disagreement has blocked the emergence of a unified discourse so far for evaluating environmental change.

Economists measure environmental value using methods in the same way as pricing “commodities.” In other words, goods and services from nature that can be purchased in markets. Economists usually measure the preferences of individuals as behaviorally measurable “willingness-to-pay” and then use these prices as a guide to the welfare individual consumers seek. In the standard case, consumers signal their preference for a commodity and the individual welfare associated with purchasing units of that commodity, while balancing the unit price with the other preferences they have.

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While economists are most comfortable when their estimates of price values are revealed in actual behaviors, either direct or indirect, they also recognize that there are many valuable things in nature that are seldom traded in markets. Economists have therefore extended their efforts to evaluate aspects of nature that have “non-market” values. Their stated preference methods are designed to elicit estimates of individuals’ “willingness to pay” for a commodity. It is generally spoken of as “contingent valuation studies” if it were available in markets. Various techniques can be involved, like bidding games, interviews, questionnaires, etc., and their purpose is to represent the price value of commodities, such as improved views in a national park or the knowledge that polar bears can continue to exist in the Arctic, even though the valuer never expects to visit the Arctic. Economists have thus greatly expanded the range of goods and services that can be considered “environmental values.”

Such optimism, however, is belied by the daunting task of identifying all the possible commodities that would have to be listed and estimated. The apparent inability to list all economic measures preferences to express many of the values, including values felt for loved ones or deeply spiritual commitments to natural places. Still, most advocates of economic aggregation in the valuing of ecosystems suggest a “CBA” as only a starting point. Thus, the bold promise of providing an accounting of ecosystem values in a single, aggregative measure recedes. Of course, the important issue to recognize is that economic values are very relevant and important in evaluating changes in ecosystems. However, the accompanying sense that these methods must be supplemented with something more is a commitment to temper any economic indicators with a great deal of judgment and provable intentions.

Many are frustrated by the lack of awareness of how ecological systems and processes support human well-being and the failure of economists to take into account the regulative functions of natural systems that allow human adaptation. Then, it was suggested that ecologists could identify processes that provide “services” to human beings. The idea of “ecosystem services” has rapidly gained in popularity, and it is now a widely used concept in the evaluation of ecosystems.

The concept is clearly important in raising awareness of human dependencies on nature as it includes three major areas of services: provisioning food, and fiber, regulation (maintenance of water flow, energy flow, and community dynamics of systems), and cultural ecosystem services (such as the values of place). While cultural values of ecological services are regularly mentioned, few methods exist for either characterizing or measuring these values.

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Efforts have been made to estimate the total value humans derive from ecosystem services. Ecological economists have been criticized for introducing monetized measures that are not based on the methodologies of mainstream economics. It creates ambiguity in the measures used. These controversies, however, need not obviate the usefulness of ecosystem services as long as one does not aggregate monetized ecosystem service estimates with the willingness-to-pay values of mainstream environmental economists. Ecosystem service identifications will be seen as an important aspect of more procedural approaches to the evaluation of environmental values.

Environmental ethicists strongly criticized the aggregated commodity value approach, however, and insisted that all measures of economic value are unacceptably anthropocentric based on the utilitarian theory. Environmental ethicists argue that moral demands of ecosystem protection are not value instrumental to human well-being, but values intrinsic to nature itself. These ethicists believe elements of nature have intrinsic values and these values often defeat values instrumental to humans.

Non-anthropocentrism attributes intrinsic value to natural entities in varying ways. Some identify individual organisms, others identify species, and others identify ecological systems as the loci of such value. In either case, these aggregates have taken the intrinsic value of elements of nature. While there is little agreement about how exactly to do bookkeeping with respect to intrinsic value, intrinsic value theorists aggregate toward decisions for maximizing the protection and flourishing of all elements of nature, human, and nonhuman.

As a result, discussions of ecosystem values are polarized around two opposing theories about the nature of ecological value. Therefore, no unified approach for evaluating ecological change has emerged yet.

Nowadays, a second approach for evaluating ecosystem change has been presented, a “participative/process” approach, shifts the unit of analysis from particular changes to possible “development paths” or “scenarios.” On this approach, no attempt is made to provide a single total value of the system; rather, various evaluation policies affecting ecosystem changes can be carried out as a ranking of possible choices or holistically interpreted as possible development paths to expected outcomes of an ecosystem. The representative members of the affected societies discussed this evaluating method: first, evaluative criteria representing values considered important and, second, rank possible outcomes as preferred or less preferred according to the list of criteria.

The difference between the aggregative approach and the process approach, besides the pluralism with respect to values of the ecosystem depends upon movement toward consensus in action, rather than trying to calculate or compute a correct answer based on aggregation of a single kind of values.

The process approach, sometimes called “adaptive management” or “adaptive collaborative management,” thus directs its attention toward the development of improved processes of deliberation and considers decisions “rational” as long as they were arrived at by an “appropriate process“. This approach seems more appropriate in democratic societies that value nature in diverse ways, and it encourages social learning and public deliberation about the importance of monitoring and implementation.

Iran’s Environment About to Be Wiped off the Map

It turns out that the techniques and tools developed for aggregating goods can play a role in the valuation of ecosystems. As described above, aggregative analyses seek to provide, on the basis of careful analysis, the best solution to a problem affecting ecosystems. This analysis occurs independently of political and social processes. Those who reject aggregation do not believe there is an appropriate solution. So, they emphasize developing free and fair processes that allow incremental learning about what is possible and valuable. Process-oriented evaluators can thus incorporate economic and environmental considerations into the deliberative discourse, where the test of theory is its usefulness in reaching a holistic consensus. Identification and articulation of human dependencies on nature can be an important aspect of learning in adaptive and collaborative processes. The concept of ecosystem services, properly embedded in a social and political process, can be an important tool in a process-oriented and incremental learning approach to ecological management.

Taking all the issues said about environmental values and how to approach a result. Decades of mismanagement, corruption, wrong policies, terrorism expenditure, and unsustainable economic plans of ruling clerics in Iran have exacerbated the internal and external degradation factors, and as a whole have worked to destroy the natural fabric of Iran. Iran’s environmental crisis is intertwined with other socioeconomic crises. The salvation of such crises isn’t within the power of ruling clerics, nor the will of a corrupt, warmongering government system, and the Iranian uprisings for “Freedom and Water” have decided to bring down this government in its entirety, which is an enemy of humanity, freedom, peace, security, happiness, and the welfare of people. Now, which side must the free world take?

 

* Khalil Khani is an Environmental Specialist and a Human Rights activist. He holds a Ph.D. in Ecology, Botany, and Environmental Studies from Germany and has taught at the University of Tehran and the Hesse State University in Germany. He is also a Doctor of Medical Psychology from the United States.