Friday, March 23, 2007

Brief comment on the value of nature

A commentator on Ecolog (an ecology list-serv to which I subscribe) had this to say:

"I say everything should have equal value and that value is priceless."

I emailed him a response, which I have copied below as it pertains to the subject of this blog:

Though you may say this, your behavior (as a normal human being, as clearly I do not know you personally) suggests otherwise. If all nature was of equal and infinite value, then by definition you would sacrifice anything to protect any part of it. In fact, I suspect that you spend some, even small, fraction of your resources to eat, travel, buy clothes, etc. However, you (like me) reach a point where, say, the next loaf of bread consumed is worth less than the preservation of a square foot of forest preserved, and you will sacrifice the loaf of bread to preserve forest. That is how you determine the relative price of forest preservation and bread. But rather than price everything in terms of bread and forest preserved, we use dollars for convenience. When economists valuate nature, they are not making an ethical statement, but describe how much, in aggregate, people are willing to sacrifice in order to preserve it. You deceive only yourself by saying that nature is of greater (infinite) value than your behavior demonstrates.

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