NCEAS Project 2292

Ecology and Economics

  • Joan Roughgarden

ActivityDatesFurther Information
Workshop29th May—1st June 1996Participant List  

Abstract
The work so far in ecological economics has been important in many respects but remains, in a sense, marginal to fundamental economic and ecological thought. We propose to examine what we believe are more foundational issues than previous workshops.

Here are some of the issues that have surfaced:

To what extent is a fundamental reevaluation of economic theory warranted by considering ecological constraints. Many economists believe that ecology can be properly dealt with simply by accounting for environmental externalities and therefore is not a topic on which major new theoretical work is needed. Ecologists tend to suppose that economic theory ``just can't deal'' with ecological reality, and that fundamental revision of economic theory will be needed before it can be applied to the environment. Clearly, both positions are incorrect. Many topics that ecologists feel are uniquely difficult to deal with, including valuation of life and lives, the role of ethical stands, and intergenerational equity, have in fact been the subject of active economic research for some time, irrespective of ecology. On the other hand, production functions used in economic models are often of a form that omits feedbacks between economic growth and the availability of environmental goods and services, and general equilibrium models rarely consider the intricate interdependencies inherent in the ecological system. At least some basic economic models are bound to be greatly altered when ecological processes are included. Therefore, a major task of the workshop will be to sort out where ecological information will make a fundamental difference to economic theory, and where existing economic theory of particular relevance to the environment can be readily adapted to this domain. Specific topics planned for discussion include role of ecological constraints (including dynamic constraints) on general equilibrium and welfare theory, growth theory, and trade theory. To what extent is there a general theory or approach to subsume renewable services, including harvestable resources, together with what might be called renewable hazards? In particular, are there general principles unifying the management of fisheries, forest, and land with the management of crop pests, and human infectious diseases? And more specifically, to what extent do detailed ecological models exist that can used to refine economic models of renewable and exhaustible resources?

How is a cost/benefit analysis of environmental goods and services to be carried out? The US Congress is presently mandating that costs as well as benefits be considered in environmental legistation. How should this be done? Related issues are how to conduct accounting, including national accounting, that includes the environment; and the relative merits of contingent and hedonic valuation in accounting. Should cost/benefit analysis of environmental regulations include intergenerational equity, and if so how?

What is the economic justification for environmental regulation? Environmental regulations are often criticized as retarding growth and economic progress. Under what contexts does environmental regulation promote economic growth? Are regulations that manage a renewable resource such as a forest or fishery for maximum revenue, regulations that prohibit environmental damage as in air and water pollution, and regulations that require vaccinations against infectious diseases, special cases of a general theory for managing common resources? To what extent can ecological considerations be represented in terms of common resources so that regulation can be done (at least in principle) using well developed methods for managing common property. To the extent that this paradigm cannot be applied, we will seek new methods.

What is sustainable development? To what extent are ecological models reliable enough to predict what is sustainable? How, if at all, do economists and ecologists differ in their concepts of sustainablity?

TypeProducts of NCEAS Research
Journal Article Armsworth, Paul R.; Roughgarden, Joan. 2001. An invitation to ecological economics. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Vol: 16. Pages 229-234.
Book Chapter Roughgarden, Joan; Armsworth, Paul R. 2001. Ecological economic theory for managing ecosystem services. Edited by Press, M. C.; Huntly, N.; Levin, S.. Ecology: Achievement and Challenge. Blackwell. London. Pages 337-356.
Journal Article Roughgarden, Joan. 2001. Guide to diplomatic relations with economists. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. Vol: 82. Pages 85-88.