Clive L. Spash
Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads
engineering features, and this might also be described as value within ecosystems themselves. Although, naming Nature as capital is a mechanistic approach which reduces the meaning of the underlying concept, similar in effect to ‘commodification’ of wildlife. Thus, for ecologists studying ecosystems health and economists discussing natural capital, ecosystems are in fact often regarded as purely functional production systems serving human ends. Indeed, there appears to be a concentration upon aspects of value which contribute either directly or indirectly to human well-being. For example, while discussions on the basis for sustainability have brought the land ethic of Aldo Leopold (1987) into play, the values expressed are mostly couched in terms of poverty alleviation and intergenerational equity (see Spash and Villena, 1999). Thus, recognition that non-human entities have value beyond reduction to individual human prefer- ences, expressed either in the market place or political arena, remains an issue for open debate in ecological economics. Any debate which does ensue will undoubtedly reflect different cultural values which themselves require greater acceptance within economics.
Neo-classical economist traditionally withdraw from such debates, claiming these matters are non-economic. They may therefore reject the results which indicate that people hold values diverging from theoretically accepted expectations, e.g., claiming studies have been poorly or unscientifically conducted. Ethical debates in cost-benefit analysis have resulted in open attacks on even philosophers studying environmental ethics let alone economists introducing such concerns. Methods, such as contingent valuation, may be rejected completely rather than asking what they actually indicate when unexpected results arise. Others try to extend the model to include any occurrence of wider concepts of value in a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. When confronted by the possibility that non-human existence may have some value in and of itself, some environmental economists have claimed this is approximated by human willingness to pay for a poorly defined concept of another entity’s existence. However, these same tools can be used to show the presence of rights based positions which can be consistent with rejecting this interpretation (Spash, 1998). The point here is that, in making values fit the a priori model, the concepts missing from economic theory or which fall outside the market are perverted, e.g. reducing ignorance to probabilities.
In a presidential address for the ISEE, Richard Norgaard (1998, p.7) briefly discussed a challenge he repeatedly faces, often from fellow economists (from both the political right and