Unnatural Nature: Kellert’s Conflicting Nine Values of Nature and the Forbes Backyard

In a Tortoiseshell

This is an excerpt from my R1 for WRI 106: Seeking Nature. We were asked to “extend and refine” Stephen R. Kellert’s framework of the nine values of nature, using a place on Princeton’s campus as a case study. Kellert presents a series of nine “values” detailing the many ways in which humans interact with nature and provides the clear benefits of each, indicating that engagement with these values may result in increased desire to conserve the natural world. Among these is the “dominionsitic” value which describes a desire to control nature. I argue that Kellert neglects to consider that dominionism has the potential to erase other elements of nature, resulting in people’s partial appreciation for the natural world and hindering the very conservation efforts that Kellert’s framework aimed to support.

Excerpt / Fionnuala Moore

Examining the Forbes backyard demonstrates the negative impacts of pursuit of the dominionistic value, complicating Kellert’s proposal of all of his values acting equally in service of humans’ physical and spiritual survival. He suggests that “their cumulative, interactive, and synergistic impact may contribute to the possibility of a more fulfilling personal existence” (Kellert 60). However, he neglects to consider that interactions between the values may have a subtracting rather than a cumulative impact. Though he does briefly present the possibility of a single value to “possess the capacity for… exaggerated distortion and self-defeating manifestation”, any observable repercussions of such a prospect are largely ignored (Kellert 56). The Forbes backyard and Springdale Golf Course demonstrate such repercussions as they show the ecological dangers of the dominionistic value in their so-called idyllic lawns. Re:Wild Your Campus, an organization dedicated to promoting biodiversity on college campuses, explains that sites like these actually “wipe away local ecosystems and native plant life and replace it with European turf-grass” (“About Us: The Issue”). Additionally, maintenance practices such as the application of synthetic pesticides are harmful to all forms of life on a campus, from trees and other plants to insects, birds and the students living there (“About Us: The Issue”).  The fulfillment of the dominionistic value removes biodiversity and weakens ecosystems, significantly decreasing the potential for satisfying naturalistic experiences in affected locations. It is vital to consider these impacts in speaking and thinking about the categories Kellert provides – they are neither independent nor interchangeable. These contradictions present an argument against single-use natural sites designed for specific human applications and demonstrate the importance of sites being designed with many aspects of nature in mind to avoid erasing other values in an attempt to promote just one.

An understanding of the possible erasing effects of Kellert’s values can explain the origins of partial relationships with and appreciation for nature, a phenomenon which he introduces yet fails to explain. Kellert briefly explores this idea in mentioning a study of residents of the United States and Japan, two very prosperous countries. It was found that while the majority of the residents in these countries identify some connection with nature, they do not appreciate all elements of it. This phenomenon can be understood as  “‘a love of semi-nature’…respondents described it as a perspective of nature dominated by a preference for the artificial, abstract, and symbolic rather than any realistic experience of the natural world” (Kellert 65). Though Kellert does not form this connection, people’s familiarity with “semi-nature” seems to originate from interactions primarily with sites that allow for engagement with only some of his nine values, especially those created with a dominionistic purpose. These daily interactions impact people’s perception of the definition of nature. The official webpage of Forbes college advertises the terrace, patio and backyard by citing that they have “the best view on campus!”, and the sentiment is frequently repeated within the Princeton community (“Terrace, Patio and Back Yard”). People who praise this location in this way likely have limited experience with truly “natural” areas with which to compare the heavily manicured appearance of the Forbes’ backyard, showing evidence of a warped perspective of nature resulting from constant interactions with dominionsitically-motivated locations.

The consequences of partial relationships with nature go far beyond individual misconceptions, even threatening to hinder Kellert’s goal for his nine values to aid in conservation efforts. Near the end of his article, Kellert expresses a hopeful view of the impact of his nine values on conservation efforts. He proposes that if people have a greater understanding of the importance of nature in their lives, they may be more inclined to protect it, with the belief, as René Dubos suggests that “were it only for selfish reasons… we must maintain variety and harmony in nature” (Dubos qtd in Kellert 60). Despite this generally optimistic view, Kellert does consider the impacts of  partial relationships with nature on this conservation ethic. He notes that if the majority of people maintain their relationships with semi-nature, “this narrow emphasis on certain species and landscapes is clearly an insufficient basis for a fundamental shift in global consciousness” (Kellert 66). If people are only familiar with some elements of nature, they will logically only seek to conserve those types of natural spaces. Students on Princeton campus, for example, are not  aware of the full extent of human interventions in the Forbes Backyard. Students will believe that it is these kinds of spaces that must be protected rather than wild, unchanged locations with which they may be largely unfamiliar and will apply these perspectives to ecological protection efforts. In this way, people will believe themselves to be supporting sustainability efforts when, in reality, they are advocating for a continuation of ecologically damaging maintenance practices, such as pesticide use and removal of biodiversity on the Springdale Golf Course. From this perspective, if people approach conservation acting in their “best interests”, they will continue to alter the sites with which they are familiar and maintain ignorance of those that legitimately demand conservation. Incomplete understandings of natural sites as a result of the erasing effects of the dominionistic value of nature have the dangerous potential to interfere with conservation efforts of even genuinely dedicated individuals.

Works Cited

“About Us: The Issue.” Re:Wild Your Campus, Re:Wild, www.rewildyourcampus.org/about-re-wild-your-campus#the-issue. Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.

Kellert, Stephen R. “The Biological Basis for Human Values of Nature.” The Biophilia 

Hypothesis, edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Edward. O. Wilson, Island Press, 1993, pp. 42-69. 

“Terrace, Patio and Back Yard.” Forbes College, Trustees of Princeton University, forbescollege.princeton.edu/places/terrace. Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.

Author Commentary / Fionnuala Moore 

This was my first paper at Princeton, and through it, I learned how to find and apply motive. Like most first-years starting Writing Seminar, I had never explicitly considered the motive behind papers I was writing, but once I had developed an understanding of what it was, I’ve seen its value in every single essay I’ve written since. Often, it’s assumed that it’s easier to find motive if you have more control over your topic, but I think it’s just as important to find a genuinely interesting motive with less control over the topic in order to make the essay-writing process smoother and more enjoyable. I always like to think of it as searching for motive rather than creating it – there is always some kind of interesting tension when comparing sources, and I simply have to find it. This feels much less overwhelming than needing to create a sense of motive from nothing.

In this essay, for example, once I had decided on a nature site, I simply sat outside and observed things that seemed strange or notable. In this case, it was the constant sound and presence of maintenance equipment. Then, I repeated the process with Kellert, identifying points where I was confused and finding an interesting gap in Kellert’s thinking: he assumed that all of his nine values of nature interacted in perfect harmony. Finally, I tried to explain one of these tensions using the other, leading to interesting conclusions and an overarching sense of motive related to the dangers of a partial appreciation of nature and its implications in conservation. By using this strategy, even though I was provided with a topic with little choice, I was able to find a motive I found legitimately compelling.

Having found an exciting motive, I was able to arrive at a thesis. By following these steps, my motive was inherently threaded throughout all parts of my essay, but I also tried to be intentional in raising the stakes (increasing the sense of motive) as the essay progressed to build up my argument logically and in a way that felt interesting and communicated the urgency of my argument. The mounting pressure of the argument peaks in the third paragraph of this excerpt (the final body paragraph of the essay), when I connect the ideas I’ve introduced to the real-world issue of conservation.

Editor Commentary / Natalia Espinosa Dice  

Moore submitted three works to Tortoise: her R1, R2 and R3. Each was excellent in its own right, collectively showcasing Moore’s tremendous growth as a writer over the semester. While selecting the R3, the culminating research assignment of the semester, might have seemed the logical choice, Moore’s R1 stood out for a particularly impressive reason. 

Writing Seminar serves as a student’s first introduction to motive, a concept rather notorious for its elusiveness. To grasp motive by the end of the semester is an accomplishment to be proud of, yet Moore achieves this after just a few weeks in class. Indeed, as the very first paper, her R1’s success speaks not only to her talent as a writer but also to her wholehearted embrace of a new challenge. Above all else, Moore’s remarkable understanding of motive led us to select her R1 for publication, with the hope that her work is not only impressive but instructive, too. 

Moore’s motive identifies and refines a subtle tension within Kellert’s argument, but she does not stop there. Instead, she dives deeper, using her refinement to reevaluate a phenomenon that Kellert himself briefly mentions but cannot fully explain. She considers how this phenomenon might threaten Kellert’s conservation goals, thus complicating his argument in a nuanced and thoughtful manner. As she zooms out in scope, her meticulous build-up culminates in a global motive, concluding that failure to recognize the potential dangers of the dominionistic value might impede even the most well-intended conservation efforts. 

Her motive thus serves as the paper’s guiding thread and central source of dynamic energy, propelling her argument forward as it builds layers of complexity with each paragraph. Ultimately, motive enables her to achieve perhaps the second most challenging task of a Writing Seminar student: developing a progressive structure. Indeed, in harnessing the full power of motive, Moore demonstrates precisely why its pursuit is worth the effort. 

What makes Moore’s use of motive so exceptional is perhaps best described in her own words, “I always like to think of it as searching for motive rather than creating it.” This mindset proves pivotal to her success. By investing considerable effort early in her writing process, Moore finds a space to authentically engage with Kellert’s work. Instead of forcing a motive that aligns with her thesis, she allows motive to guide every step of her writing process, including the formation of her thesis itself. Asserting a framework that reconsiders Kellert’s nine values as interactive rather than static, she sustains a conversation within this identified space throughout her entire paper. Ultimately, when she applies this refined framework to the partial relationship phenomenon, she redefines this space as entirely her own, thus making a truly unique contribution to ongoing scholarly conversation. Indeed, by establishing an exemplary standard for future students to follow, her work assumes an equally valuable role in this publication.

The author

Fionnuala Moore

Fionnuala Moore ‘27 is a first-year student from Santa Fe, New Mexico planning to study molecular biology. She teaches group fitness classes at Dillon Gym, is a member of Princeton Running Club, and is a mentor for Hatch Tutors. She loves working out, reading, and obsessing over Agents of SHIELD.

Natalia Espinosa Dice ‘26 is a sophomore from Verona, New Jersey. She is majoring in Computer Science with plans to minor in History. In addition to working as a Fellow at the Writing Center, she rides for the Princeton Equestrian Team and is an Outdoor Action Leader Trainer. In her free time, she loves running, hiking and spending time with friends.