Amazon forest edge

Amazon forest edge, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo: Helder Faria / Getty Images .

Tropical deforestation has been recognized as a major and multi-faceted sustainability issue, frequently analyzed in terms of its economic drivers, the effectiveness of protection policies, or broader political dynamics. Meanwhile, the role of values as underlying social factors affecting land-use choices remains underexplored. Recognizing that values can, however, be important “deep” leverage points for transformative change, the authors delve into that dimension using the Brazilian Amazon as a case study.

Through a total of 72 key-informant interviews and field visits to 25 sustainable land-use initiatives in the states of Acre and Mato Grosso, the authors identify values that have motivated choices for conservation in deforestation frontiers and how stakeholders articulate them. Their results reveal that different land users make economic considerations, but these are interwoven with relational values — about connections to the landscape or social relations mediated by nature.

Eudaimonic values, such as increased meaningfulness, personal growth through learning and knowledge sharing, as well as a sense of contributing to the world, are shown to be key in those initiatives. These findings challenge the commonplace distinction between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ people, showing that relational values are relevant across the board and may deserve much more attention as leverage points.