Archive for June, 2012

I recently attended the ZSL symposium on “Economics as if life mattered: Can we shape economic policy to save species”.  It was an enjoyable event that raised some interesting points of discussion. Robert Alexander’s talk on the Pros and Cons of Trade Bans was a particular highlight. An economic approach to wildlife conservation and bans that argued for tackling the root causes of biodiversity loss.

A general theme of the day was criticism of mainstream economics/economists. Although I would not bracket myself as a ‘mainstream’ economist, the criticisms focused on some egregious examples of economic thinking while ignoring the benefits that market economies have brought the world. A coherent alternative to market economies was not discussed.

Yes, the current market  system we have has resulted in huge environmental and distributional problems and some assumptions of economic theory are highly improbable. But an economic system based on markets is likely to be in place for the foreseeable future even if there is a bigger role for the state (See this Anatole Kaletsky interview for some thoughts and recommended reading). As environmental/ecological economists we try to shift this system in such a way that recognises the importance of the environment.

Valuation came in for some stick on the day, some of the concerns were understandable. There are moral and methodological concerns that arise out of environmental valuation. But to quote Ice T “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game”. Policy makers all value the environment in some shape or form, and to echo political quote mentioned in the conference “if you are not at the table you are on the menu”. Valuation helps bring the environment to the table and gives it a voice amongst development threats.

I took away from the conference that environmental economists need to communicate more clearly, but also with a mind to allay the scepticism and fear surrounding economics.

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