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Michael K. Orbach

Duke University Marine Laboratory


All public policy, including that involving the environmental issues which encompass coastal policy, is human value-based decisionmaking. When we make a public policy, the purpose of which is to guide or change human behavior, we do not directly change the behavior or condition of the physical environment; what we change is the behavior of people. A fisheries policy does not directly affect fish, it affects fishermen; a wetlands policy does not directly affect a wetland, it affects people who use the wetland; oil and gas policy does not directly affect petrochemical products, it affects those who extract, develop, and use those products.

Further, the principles upon which we base those public policies necessarily reflect an underlying human value, “value” being defined as some culturally-defined rule or standard. The fact that humans wish to conserve natural resources is a value standard defined by humans themselves. Public policies which allocate the use or benefit of natural resources are clearly based on value decisions concerning that use or benefit. Public policies which assign different importance to different components of the non-human physical environment, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, are clearly based on the cultural values humans associate with those components.

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