2,085 research outputs found

    The Parable of the Bees: Beyond Proximate Causes in Ecosystem Service Valuation

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    Many ecological and environmental economists take a microeconomic approach to environmental valuation and view the macroeconomy as one big firm whose primary task is to efficiently allocate scarce resources. In this framework, replacing freely provided ecosystem services with costly human-provided substitutes is by definition inefficient. Using the example of apple tree pollination in Maoxian County, China we argue that destroying and replacing the free gifts of nature can be an economic benefit. We do not argue that the positive economic benefits justifies eliminating natural processes. On the contrary, the Maoxian case illustrates the danger of allowing the logic of the market to drive conservation policy. The conflict between the market economy and the natural world must be recognized and addressed in a more substantial way. The bees of Maoxian County are a parable for the relationship between humans and the natural world and show clearly the danger of leaving the fate of nature to the whims of the markets even if prices are “correct.”

    Neuroscience Can Help Us Understand Social Transitions

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    Human cultural adaptability helped our species get through several extreme environmental crises during the 200,000 year history of Homo sapiens. Richerson, Boyd and Henrich (2010) argue that this adaptability is a product of gene-culture coevolution. Much has been written about cultural evolution, but relatively little attention has been paid to the role human neurobiology plays in this process. I argue here that neuroscience can make important contributions to understanding human behavior within highly evolved social systems. This can help inform us as to how a transition to sustainability might be possible as we struggle to make it through the population, climate change, and resource bottlenecks of the 21st century. I argue further than the idea of homeostasis can serve as an organizing principle to understand individual, social and ecological sustainability.Creation-Date: 2010-11

    Toward a New Welfare Foundation for Sustainability

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    The debate over various definitions of sustainability has for the most part been conducted within the framework of traditional welfare economics. Discussion has centered on technical issues imbedded within the functional forms of various optimization models, especially the coefficient of the elasticity of substitution and the social discount rate. A more basic problem is that intractable theoretical difficulties within welfare economics call into question the results of traditional models of sustainability regarding intergenerational welfare. Another difficulty is that equating per capita consumption with welfare contradicts empirical evidence that suggests that the link between happiness and wealth/income is relatively weak. Alternative approaches to measuring well-being are being developed and these have great potential to move the sustainability debate forward.

    Valuing Nature For Climate Change Policy: From Discounting The Future To Truly Social Deliberation

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    The recent human impact on the environment is so unique in the geological record that the official geological body that defines the division of geological time, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, is considering designating a new geographical epoch called the Anthropocene, calling attention to the global impacts humans, and particularly the human economy, are having on the Earth’s biological, atmospheric and geological systems. Using the example of climate change, it is argued below that the magnitude, suddenness, and long-term consequences of the current human abuse of the natural world calls for a radical new approach to valuing nature, one based not on individual choice in the immediate present but rather on a socially embedded “deeper sense of time”. Such an approach would move beyond attempts to “correctly price” nature based on imputed market values and would instead rely on shared social values and a concern for future generations. These shared social values can be made concrete through discursive processes drawing upon our long evolutionary history of collectively solving the problem of intergenerational sustainability.

    The Revolution in Welfare Economics and its Implications for Environmental Valuation and Policy

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    Two research programs are brought together to contribute to the growing body of work on alternatives to standard welfare-based approaches to environmental valuation and policy. The first is the theoretical literature undermining the "new welfare economics." The second is the growing body of work on endogenous preferences. Both these research programs point to the necessity of interpersonal comparisons in welfare economics. This paper focuses on (1) the theoretical flaws in the use of Potential Pareto Improvements as a policy guide, (2) the "filtering" of expressed preferences through the axioms of consumer choice, and (3) the role of endogenous preferences in a reformulation of environmental valuation and policy.

    The Economics of the Mega-Greenhouse Effect: A Conceptual Framework

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    This paper examine the economics of the mega-greenhouse effect under two scenarios. One caps total CO2 levels and the other limits annual emission rates.

    Technology and Petroleum Exhaustion: Evidence from Two Mega-Oilfields

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    . In this paper we use results from the Hotelling model of non-renewable resources to examine the hypothesis that technology may increase petroleum reserves. We present empirical evidence from two well-documented mega-oilfields: the Forties in the North Sea and the Yates in West Texas. Patterns of depletion in these two fields suggest that when a resource is finite, technological improvements do increase supply temporarily. But in these two fields, the effect of new technology was to increase the rate of depletion without altering the fields' ultimate recovery - in line with Hotelling's predictions. Our results imply that temporary low prices may be misleading indicators of future resource scarcity and call into question the future ability of current mega-oilfields to meet a sharp increase in oil demand.

    Ecological Economics at a Crossroads

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    During the past decade theoretical and empirical advances in neoclassical economics have resulted in the virtual rejection of the two pillars of traditional welfare economics-- rational economic man and perfect competition. Surprisingly, many ecological economists are moving closer to the discredited neo-Walrasian welfare model just at the time it is being replaced within the mainstream. We call for a return to the roots of ecological economics and an engagement with current developments in mainstream theory.

    The Approach of Ecological Economics

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    This paper discusses the major tenets of ecological economics - including value pluralism, methodological pluralism, and multi-criteria policy assessment. Ecological economics offers viable alternatives to the theoretical foundations and policy recommendations of neoclassical welfare economics. A revolution in neoclassical economics is currently taking place and the core assumptions of welfare economics are being replaced with more realistic models of consumer and firm behavior. But we argue that these new theoretical and empirical findings are largely ignored in applied work and policy applications in environmental economics. As the only heterodox school of economics focusing on the human economy both as a social system and as one imbedded in the biophysical universe, and thus both holistic and scientifically based, ecological economics is poised to play a leading role in recasting the scope and method of economic science.

    The Relevance of Evolutionary Science For Economic Theory and Policy

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    NSF’s “Dear Colleague Letter” reflects the widely perceived need to go beyond current economic theory in the formulation of public policy. At the same time, there is a profound lack of unity among the disciplines that comprise the behavioral, social, and economic sciences. This white paper emphasizes the relevance of evolutionary science as a way to integrate the SBE sciences, similar to the integration that is more advanced in the biological sciences. Modern evolutionary science is broadly construed to include cultural in addition to biological evolution and the study of neural and psychological mechanisms (proximate causation) in addition to the environmental factors that brought the mechanisms into existence and result in the expression of specific behaviors (ultimate causation). It provides an exceptionally useful set of theoretical and empirical tools for integrating the many disciplines in the biological and SBE sciences required to formulate economic theory and public policy for the 21st century. The task of integration is already in progress and can be applied to the formulation of public policy without a long academic time lag. We therefore call for integration across disciplines and evolutionary science as an integrative framework to be recognized as a funding priority by NSF.
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