Analyzing Environmental Economics

From the MoJo blog, some thoughts on the potential downsides of attaching economics value to public land, including “ecosystem services”:

While the financial power of this line of thinking has been gaining broad acceptance among economists, forest managers, and others who are realize the potential benefits of preserving the natural state of the land, there is genuine concern that an environmental reliance on economics—which seems attractive when pitted against timber—may not always lead to desirable consequences. Says Mark Rey, who oversees the National Forests for the Bush administration:

The dialogue we need to have is whether all those uses of our national forests are compatible with one another, not whether recreation is two or three times the value of timber receipts or whether oil and gas are two to three times recreation receipts. If we get into that debate, then we’re probably going to end up making a compelling case for a lot more drilling in the national forests. And that’s not the case we want to make.

The point? Economic justification alone is a poor metric for gauging the health and value of public land. If we’re going to play a numbers game with this argument, its got to be one with foresight—whatever we can justify taking in economic terms has to be able to sustain the natural resource value of the land in perpetuity. Without such an ethic, the dividing lines between public and private land cease to exist.

This is an important caveat for all of us (including myself) who find the economic arguments attractive. They are, but we better make sure that we’re looking at all of the economic factors, or we could find ourselves outbid…

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