Strategies for the maintenance of natural capital
Economic models cannot give us the information society needs to define the set of possible future scenarios facing the world. Thus "optimal" economic plans are susceptible to being overwhelmed by feedbacks of which humans are ignorant as economic systems increasingly stress ecosystems. These concerns have lead to a call for the maintenance of a fixed natural capital stock as a safe minimum standard. This paper analyzes the reasoning behind defining a class of inputs to production as natural capital. Two motivations are shown to be important justifications for the new class of capital: ecological criticality and non-human intrinsic values. We argue that these justifications require the maintenance of resources which are excluded from exploitation, but that the free market system cannot achieve this goal due to a basic assumption of trade-offs being derived from utilitarianism and the basis of constraints in economic value. Three methods which have been suggested for the protection of natural capital are reviewed; namely: compensating projects, cost-benefit analysis, and scientifically designated limits. Each of these approaches is shown to be inadequate at addressing the concerns which have led to the concept of natural capital. A, fourth, more interdisciplinary and inclusive approach is necessary and a type of systems analysis, employing Sustainability Assessment Maps, is put forward as a method which could fill that gap. This is a paper from the Ecological Economics discussion paper series edited by Clive L. Spash and run from Stirling University from 1994 to 1996. This particular paper was later published as (Spash and Clayton 1997). Spash, C.L. & A.M.H. Clayton. 1997. The maintenance of natural capital: Motivations and methods. In Space, Place and Environmental Ethics, eds. A. Light & J.M. Smith, 143-173. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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