Nature, roads or hospitals? An empirical evaluation of ‘sustainable development preferences’
While a key proposition is that a sustainable path is one where wealth does not decline, whether losses in natural capital can be compensated in wellbeing terms by more produced, social or natural capital remains an area of controversy. In this paper, we seek to better understand preferences for different combinations of assets that comprise (part of) the asset portfolio of a nation. In a study of coastal and marine natural assets, we test for the existence of weak or strong sustainability preferences using different compensation options (respectively produced capital and natural capital) offered to a sample of the public in Spain in the case of possible future oil spills. As a further element of this test, we provide an empirical reflection on Aldred (2002, 2006) and Turner (2007) who speculate that individuals may not view money as compensating for certain environmental losses whereas investments in social assets may offer a more acceptable compensation option. Our results do appear to circumscribe in some way the acceptability of investing in produced capital and reveal a tendency towards a preference for social capital compensation. Nevertheless, the size of the oil spill and the environmental beliefs of respondents also influence choices over the natural capital compensation option.
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